LOS FRESNOS — This season wasn’t exactly what the Harlingen South Hawks hoped it would be, but they closed it out strong with a 14-3 victory over the Los Fresnos Falcons on Thursday night.
Sideline demeanor played a factor in South’s win. The Hawks were loose and energetic from the first whistle, supporting their teammates and having fun. That translated onto the field, and they put together an effort coach Brian Ricci said was one of their best this season.
“We tried to get everybody in the game and let them all just have fun. I think that’s when you play your best, when you’re having fun,” Ricci said. “It’s been a rough year, and there’s been a lot of adversity that we had to overcome. They stuck together and came out here today with a purpose, and they played hard and had a lot of energy. I’m proud of them, especially the seniors, and glad they got to play a season because we weren’t sure if that was even going to happen.”
Junior Jeremiah Rivera provided the spark to set up an opening-drive touchdown for the Hawks. After good running by senior running back Enrique Mabulay and junior quarterback Xander Casarez, Rivera carried four straight times to get down to the 8-yard-line. Sophomore Ethan Garza cashed in with an 8-yard rushing touchdown, and junior Joaquin Ovalle’s PAT made it 7-0.
The Falcons cut into the lead on a 23-yard field goal from sophomore Adolfo Hernandez midway through the second quarter. The running back tandem of junior Miles McWhorter and senior Chris Resendiz, along with senior quarterback Adrian Longoria, moved the ball into the red zone. McWhorter converted on fourth-and-1 to keep the drive alive.
There was only one completed pass between the squads for most of the first half, until South opened up the field on its final drive of the second quarter. The Hawks drove 67 yards in less than two minutes to make it 14-3 at halftime after a 2-yard touchdown pass from Casarez to senior AJ Flores.
Casarez connected with senior receiver JonAdam Bustamante on back-to-back plays to start the drive. A penalty against the Falcons got the Hawks into the red zone, and then consecutive carries by Rivera put them on the 1-yard-line.
Senior defensive end Alan Torres and the linebacker duo of junior Gregory Jones and sophomore RJ Limon led a Falcons defense that made it difficult for the Hawks to score. On fourth-and-goal, Casarez escaped pressure and found Flores wide open in the end zone for the score.
The defenses stole the show during the second half to keep the offenses from lighting up the scoreboard.
South’s defense was fired up all night and channeled that energy to really challenge the Falcons in the second half. Senior David Cortez and junior Devin Montemayor led a secondary that helped contain the Los Fresnos runners, and junior defensive lineman Isaac Torres had a monster game up front.
“It feels great (ending on a win). I can’t even put into words how I feel right now,” said an emotional Cortez after his final game. “This whole season we’ve been here and there, but we finally were able to put it all together tonight, and I can’t be more proud of these guys. (My South career) means the world. I grew up a Hawk, and just being able to play here, I can’t even put into words how it makes me feel. I’m blessed that I was able to do it one more time. Even though not all of our goals were met, just to be able to come out with those guys meant the world.”
Isaac Torres recovered two fumbles during the third quarter, and South forced three turnovers in the second half. Los Fresnos almost lost a fourth fumble, but Longoria recovered after a number of players knocked the ball around while attempting to reel it in.
Limon was a defensive standout for the Falcons. He recorded a number of tackles throughout the contest and recovered a fumble during the fourth quarter. Israel Martinez made a nice defensive play to save a would-be South touchdown. Martinez chased down a Hawks runner and stripped the ball just before it broke the plane, resulting in a turnover after the ball rolled out of the back of the end zone.
Though neither team will see the playoffs this year, both squads have plenty to look forward to next season with a number of young playmakers returning.
“I love our seniors. They’re great kids and they stuck it out, and it’s great that they were able to end on this note,” Ricci said. “We got a really solid young group, and they get better every week. Unfortunately it was a short season, but big things are ahead for those guys.”