By ANDREW McCULLOCH, Staff Writer
WESLACO — Weslaco East Wildcats running back Russell Garza lined up in the backfield with his team dying for a big play.
Garza took a handoff and dashed to the right before cutting and reversing field, racing up the visiting sideline on a 53-yard run that set his team up at the Cardinals’ 18-yard line — the Wildcats’ best field position of the game to that point.
Three plays later, he punched it into the end zone on a 7-yard run to help his team claw within one possession of the lead in the third quarter. But that was the only score of the night for Garza and Weslaco East, which struggled to prolong drives and contain a relentless rushing attack from Harlingen High in a 20-7 loss Friday night at Bobby Lackey Stadium in Weslaco.
“For sure, resiliency in terms of playing 48 minutes,” Harlingen High coach Manny Gomez said of his team’s wire-to-wire victory. “That’s one of the things I feel that we have not been able to put together as a team. Tonight, it showed. The effort was there, and it was good to see that kind of physical game and come out victorious.”
The Cardinals started the game with a long, methodical 14-play, 75-yard opening drive that was capped off with a 5-yard touchdown scramble by quarterback Jaime Galvan. Galvan and Rayden Berry, the Cardinals’ primary ball carrier, ran all over a Weslaco East defense that struggled to stop the duo from the inside or on the outside.
The pair combined for 42 carries and 223 yards on the ground, outgaining the Wildcats’ offense by themselves.
A late drive at the end of the half gave Harlingen High a short field goal to push its lead to 10-0 entering halftime.
“I don’t know how in the first four games we haven’t played a very good first half, but we’ve always played great in the second. We have to figure that out,” Weslaco East coach Mike Burget said.
Harlingen High effectively beat Weslaco East at its own game, outrushing its opponent 219-196 on the evening.
“It’s something that we set up,” Gomez said of his team’s balanced offensive attack. “Our running back had (around) 30 carries tonight and he carried it a bunch, but it’s one those things where it’s a give-and-take offense. With the way we do things, the opportunity presented itself and we were able to take advantage when we had to.”
The Wildcats’ rushing attack was effective too, though. Garza recorded 113 yards on the ground off 13 carries, and teammates Hector Muniz, Gio Guerra, Randy Cardoza and Edward Villalobos also chipped with 13 or more rushing yards each.
Problems arose for Weslaco East when penalties derailed drives and kept its defense on the field. The Wildcats gifted the Cardinals a first down on fourth and long after successive penalties for having too many men on the field and running into the kicker.
The flags gave Harlingen High’s drive new life on the opposite side of the 50, and the Cardinals drove down to the 4-yard line before settling for a short field goal — one of two kicks from inside the red zone.
“I thought we controlled the second half even though I know it doesn’t look like that with the score,” Burget said. “A couple of mistakes and couple of calls that went against us (hurt), but sometimes breaks don’t always go your way. You’ve got to keep fighting and keep going, and hope everybody can do their job.”
But the other big issue for Weslaco East on Friday night came in the passing game: completing its own passes and slowing Galvan’s aerial attack for Harlingen.
Between Villalobos and Ramsey Vasquez behind center, the Wildcats didn’t complete a pass and waited until they were down in the fourth quarter to attempt their first. The one-dimensional offensive attack enabled Harlingen High to load the box and overwhelm the line of scrimmage to stop the run.
“They’re tough kids. We’re going to have to get a little bit better at handling some situations,” Burget said. “I think the coaches are definitely going to have to do a better job at what we do, but we’ll see.”
On the other side, Galvan shredded the Weslaco East secondary with his excellent field vision and pinpoint accuracy. The Cardinals’ signal caller didn’t fire an incompletion until the final drive of the first half, when he spiked the ball.
Galvan finished the night with 99 yards through the air on 12-of-16 passing. His dual-threat ability helped lead Harlingen High to a big bounceback victory after the Cardinals lost on the road to Converse Judson — one of the top 10 teams in the state according to Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine — 39-0 in Week 3.
“One of the hardest things to do is rebound from a loss,” Gomez said. “It just shows a lot of resiliency, want to and will that these kids have. Collectively we came out and did our thing. Everybody put their best foot forwards, and that’s what usually happens. We don’t preach winning. It usually happens indirectly by just going out there and giving it your best.”
Weslaco East (1-3) will go on the road to try to snap a three-game skid and kick off district play in its next game against Donna North (0-4) at 7:30 p.m. next Friday. Harlingen High (3-1) will return home to square off against Midland High at 11 a.m. next Saturday.