EDINBURG — A few dozen members of the Edinburg High football team gathered Friday afternoon at city hall to petition the city and school district for the right to play the bi-district playoff game that the team qualified for by virtue of its win over PSJA High on Thursday night.

However, the school district released a statement stating that the decision to forfeit the playoff berth wasn’t necessarily left only up to the district, following an ugly on-field incident that saw the team’s star defensive player instigate a physical confrontation with a referee during the first half of that contest.

The district had released a statement earlier in the day, but clarified it Friday evening, explaining the University Interscholastic League’s stance on the incident.

“The UIL has made it clear to Interim Superintendent Gilbert Garza Jr. that UIL would have removed the football team from the playoffs if the district did not withdraw the team,” the Edinburg CISD statement said. “Under Texas law and district policy, the interim superintendent was authorized to move forward with the decision. Mr. Garza has confirmed this after consulting with the district’s legal counsel.”

Edinburg CISD’s earlier statement said only that the district had decided to remove the Edinburg High Bobcats from postseason play in response to senior Emmanual Duron charging the referee and colliding with him, sending the referee sprawling to the ground and needing medical attention.

“The district has decided to remove the Edinburg High School football team from the playoffs after an unexpected incident involving a student that occurred during a football game on December 3, 2020. We extend a sincere apology to the referee and his family. On behalf of the Edinburg CISD Board of Trustees and administration, we apologize to the athletes, staff, and our school community,” the Edinburg district said in a written statement.

“We will take the appropriate disciplinary action once we understand the facts and circumstances underlining this incident. The district takes these matters very seriously; however, we cannot comment further on a pending investigation.”

The incident led to Duron, an 18-year-old listed as 5-feet-11, 225 pounds, being charged with a class A assault during an arraignment Friday morning at the Edinburg Municipal Court. His cash surety bond has been set at $10,000. According to jail records, he posted bond later Friday through O. Castaneda Bail Bonds. He was released later in the evening.

The district’s announcement came on the heels of an emergency, last-minute school board meeting which was called for early Friday morning.

Edinburg High (3-2, 2-1) defeated PSJA High (1-4, 0-2) in a win-or-go-home District 31-6A zone play-in game 35-21, but the victory was marred after Duron, a star defensive end, physically attacked an official on the field.

Duron had been ejected from the contest following two flags on one play: one for roughing the passer after the whistle blew the play dead and a second for exchanging words with the official, 59-year-old Fred Gracia, who has been a referee with the Texas Association of Sports Officials (TASO) for 27 years.

Duron was escorted out of Edinburg’s Richard R. Flores Stadium by Edinburg CISD police officers after his physical altercation and ejection. He was not handcuffed and did not return to the premises Thursday night.

Gracia, meanwhile, was able to walk off the field under his power to cheers from the crowd on either side of the stadium. He was medically evaluated for a shoulder injury and concussion-like symptoms in an ambulance outside of the stadium.

Gracia did not return to the game and the officials carried on short-handed for the rest of the night.

Gracia’s daughter, Iris, tweeted a health update on her dad, stating, “He’s tough and I’m happy he was able to walk off the field on his own. Others aren’t always so lucky.”

The TASO and the (UIL), which oversee officiating and public high school sports across Texas, respectively, announced in a written statement that the organizations plan to launch an investigations into Thursday night’s on-field incident in Edinburg.

“On the evening of Dec. 3, 2020, another vicious and deliberate assault was inflected on a TASO Football Official by a player who had just been ejected from the contest. Unfortunately, this type of blind-sided assault on an official while working on the field is not new to Texas Football,” TASO said in a written statement Friday morning.

“Though this latest incident is only hours old, TASO has begun our investigation and started collaboration with the UIL to bring this matter to a suitable disposition.”

“The UIL strongly condemns the unsportsmanlike behavior displayed in the Edinburg vs. PSJA high school football game on December 3, 2020. Physical contact with a sports official is never appropriate,” the UIL said in a written response to an inquiry from The Monitor. “Our thoughts and well wishes are with the official involved. We applaud the Edinburg CISD administration for addressing this situation swiftly and taking appropriate action in removing themselves from the playoffs and for dealing with the student involved in the incident.

“The conduct witnessed in the Edinburg, PSJA game in no way represents the values taught through interscholastic activities including high school football,” said Dr. Charles Breithaupt, executive director of the UIL, in a written statement. “Respect, responsibility, fairness and concern for others are vital components of educational competition. Strong and appropriate measures are being taken by the school district and we hope that healing can come from this teachable moment.”

The result in regards to the playoffs means that Edinburg North and PSJA North will take both of District 31-6A’s two remaining playoff berths after PSJA High’s loss and Edinburg CISD banning the Bobcats from postseason play.

Edinburg North, the third seed in 31-6A’s north zone, and PSJA North, the second seed in the district’s south zone, were scheduled to play in the second of two zone play-in games at 7 p.m. Friday at PSJA Stadium in Pharr. That game between the Cougars and Raiders, who played once this season already in October, will be played as scheduled but without the high stakes.

As a result, the bi-district playoff matchups for every Class 6A team in the Rio Grande Valley are officially set.

PSJA North will travel to Brownsville Hanna in the opening round of the Class 6A DII playoffs next week, while Edinburg Vela will host Weslaco High in their first-round 6A DII matchup.

Mission High, meanwhile, will host San Benito in the first round of the Class 6A DI playoffs, and Edinburg North will go on the road to face Harlingen High in a 6A DI bi-district playoff tile.

Email: amcculloch@themonitor.com

Twitter: @ByAndyMcCulloch