Battle of the Arroyo remains one of the Valley’s fiercest matchups - Valley Morning Star : Football

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Battle of the Arroyo remains one of the Valley’s fiercest matchups

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Posted: Friday, August 2, 2013 11:37 pm

When a stranger takes a drive along U.S. Business Highway 77 between Harlingen and San Benito, it’s difficult to tell where one town ends and the other begins.

But to the locals, the distinction is very clear – especially on one Friday night each fall.

It’s Harlingen High vs. San Benito.

It’s Big Red vs. Purple Thunder.

It’s the Battle of the Arroyo.

Ask anyone who knows anything about what is arguably the most storied rivalry in Valley high school football history, and the word “intense” is used in the description.

“I don’t know if there’s a way to describe it,” said Bobby Lucio, a 1978 graduate of Harlingen High, who has been an assis-tant coach with the Cardinals for 27 seasons. “It gets intense. I don’t know if it’s because it’s neighboring towns, and it’s an ‘Our town is better than your town thing.’ Or it’s because some people move from San Benito to Harlingen and vise-versa. It’s more like a family feud. If anything, it’s like the Hatfields and McCoys more than the Yankees-Red Sox.”

On paper, one might find it difficult to believe the game is a rivalry at all. Harlingen has dominated the series with a 57-20-5 record. They have met twice in the postseason with the Cardinals taking both contests.

History may favor the Cardinals, but the rivalry is still strong decades after they first met in 1930.

“That doesn’t take away from San Benito’s intensity for us,” Lucio said.

Lucio, like many who live in the area, are sometimes caught in between. Lucio’s parents are from San Benito, and he still has plenty of family from there. Lucio was the first in his family to attend Harlingen High.

While the bloodlines are strong, they take a backseat when it’s Battle of the Arroyo time.

“You are still going to lose, Bobby,” one of Lucio’s aunts tell him during the week of the big game.

Virgil Garcia, now a retired former assistant coach for Harlingen, has also been caught in between the rivalry’s lines. Garcia played on San Benito’s 1961 team that advanced to the Class 3A semifinals.

Garcia worked as an assistant coach at Harlingen for two stints – the first form 1978 to 1980 and the second from 1986 to his retirement in 2000. Garcia said the first year he donned the Cardinal red as a coach and played against his alma mater was a little strange.

“There were mixed emotions for me,” Garcia said. “I wanted to beat them, but I didn’t want to beat them real bad. I really wanted to beat them. I played three years for the Greyhounds, and I’m a Greyhound at heart, but my checks were red and white.”


Just where the name, “Battle of the Arroyo,” originated is anyone’s guess, even to those who grew up in the Harlingen-San Benito area. The towns were once divided by the Arroyo Colorado. According to the Texas State Historical Association, the Arroyo Colorado is 52-miles long and meanders from the Delta area in Hidalgo Country to Cameron and Willacy counties. It flows all the way to the Laguna Madre.

What was once the San Benito end of the arroyo is now within the Harlingen city limits. In some ways, that is symbolic of Harlingen’s domination of the rivalry. Although the Cardinals have dominated the series, the Greyhounds have enjoyed some pockets of success. Perhaps the most successful coach for San Benito in the storied series is Mario Pena, who coached the Greyhounds from 2003 to 2008. In those six seasons, Pena’s Greyhounds went 3-3.

While Pena had heard about the Battle of the Arroyo, he had no idea how intense it was until his first one in 2003.

“It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” said Pena, who is now the coach at Mission High. “When you talk about the Battle of the Arroyo, you are taking it to another level, man. When you walk out for pregame warmups and look up at the bleachers – one side is purple and the other side is a sea of red. There’s electricity in the air.”

The Cardinals romped in that 2003 contest – 54-14. That whipping set the stage for San Benito’s glorious 12-1 season in in 2004, which included a 35-32 victory over the Cardinals. After 2003, the Greyhounds won three of the next five. Pena credits his relative success against the Cardinals to several things – a change of culture and his trademark defense.

“We changed their attitude and mindset,” Pena said. “On the defensive side, we could stop teams. We did not depend on outscoring people, and we got our players to buy into it. We were not intimidated. We made them believe that they could not only play with them, but beat them.”


There have been five ties in the 82 games of the series. One was a scoreless tie in 1963. The Cardinals and Greyhounds tied in successive years in 1993 and 1994. These games came right before the UIL used overtime to break ties. Many believe those two contests are among the best in the rivalry’s history.

In 1993, Juanito Torres made a 30-yard field goal as time expired for San Benito for an 18-18 tie. The Greyhounds battled back after trailing 18-7. The winning kick was set up when Gabe Villegas returned an interception 33 yards to the San Benito 38 with 23 seconds remaining. Quarterback Ronnie Gonzalez completed passes to Steven Rivera (42 yards) and Larry Moore (eight yards) before Torres’ field goal.

In 1994, Harlingen and San Benito met on the final week of the regular season. The Cardinals entered as the heavy favorite. After a 5-0 start, the Greyhounds were reeling having lost four in a row heading into the game. Meanwhile, the Cardinals were aiming for their first perfect regular season since 1976. They also had the state’s leading rusher, Maurice Hunter.

Bob Boyd, who coached the Cardinals then told the Valley Morning Star during the week leading up to the game: “I expect a smash-mouth football game. If we think we can just throw our hat on the field and beat these guys, we’ll be in for a long night.”

The Greyhounds nearly pulled it off. For the most part, they slowed down Hunter. However, Hunter, a junior that season, dazzled when he needed. He scored all three touchdowns for the Cardinals on runs of 80, 40 and 67 yards in a game that ended in a 21-21 tie. Hunter’s 67-yarder with 11:34 remaining in the fourth quarter enabled the Cardinals to rally from a 21-7 deficit. Hunter finished with 243 yards on 28 carries. In 25 of those carries, he managed just 56 yards and lost three fumbles.

“It was real intense,” Hunter said recently of that 1994 contest. “They bottled me up. We had a young team, a team that wasn’t supposed to do anything. I didn’t want to lose to San Benito. I could take over a game, and I told them to keep blocking for me and I’ll break one.”

After that game, Hunter became only the second rushing from the Valley at that point to surpass the 2,000-yard mark. Later that season, he was named the state’s Class 5A offensive player of the year.

Hunter’s performance extended San Benito’s streak of futility against the Cardinals to 28 years. That changed the following season when the Greyhounds pulled off a 15-6 victory over Harlingen.

Adding to the intrigue of that game was the fact the Greyhounds’ coach Tommy Roberts was in Austin the morning of the contest, attending a hearing of the UIL executive committee. The UIL slapped Roberts with a one-year probation and a public reprimand for “inappropriate action with a game official.”

“It’s ridiculous,” Roberts told the Valley Morning Star as he stormed out of the hearing.

When Roberts returned to the Valley later to coach his Greyhounds in the regular-season closer. More than pride was at stake for the Greyhounds – they needed a victory to advance to the playoffs.

They Greyhounds took advantage of two Cardinals fumbles and converted them in to field goals for a 6-0 halftime lead. San Benito carried a 9-6 lead into the fourth quarter before the Greyhounds sealed the game with a 44-yard touchdown reception by Jason Montemayor from Eddie Benavidez with 7:37 remaining.

Understandably, Roberts was in a better mood after that game. He told the Valley Morning Star: “They waited for this a long time. I love those kids.”


Although the proliferation of multi-school towns have watered down several rivalries, there’s no indication that will happen to the Battle of the Arroyo. The opening of Harlingen South hasn’t taken away from the luster of the Battle. San Benito is still a one-high school town.

While the Bird Bowl – the annual game between Harlingen High and Harlingen South has gained some traction as an in-tense rivalry, it pales in comparison to the Battle of the Arroyo. It doesn’t seem the Battle will end anytime soon.

“I think it’s going to last forever,” Garcia said.

Battle of the Arroyo results

HARLINGEN — The following are the year-by-year results of the annual Battle of the Arroyo between the Harlingen Cardinals and San Benito Greyhounds. The Cardinals lead the all-time series 57-20-5 and 2-0 in the postseason.

1930: Harlingen, 19-0

1931: Harlingen, 19-6

1932: San Benito, 6-0

1933: San Benito, 30-0

1934: San Benito, 13-0

1935: Harlingen, 13-0

1936: San Benito, 6-0

1937: San Benito, 13-12

1938: Harlingen, 13-7

1939: Harlingen, 41-6

1940: Harlingen, 19-0

1941: Harlingen, 28-20

1942: San Benito, 32-6

1943: Harlingen, 20-0

1944: 6-6 tie

1945: San Benito, 7-0

1946: Harlingen, 16-14

1947: Harlingen, 31-0

1948: San Benito, 32-7

1949: Harlingen, 19-6

1950: Harlingen, 52-18

1951: Harlingen, 13-0

1952: Harlingen, 13-7

1953: Harlingen, 55-19

1954: Harlingen, 52-13

1955: Harlingen, 20-19

1956: Harlingen, 27-12

1957: Harlingen, 20-6

1958: San Benito, 26-18

1959: Harlingen, 28-6

1960: San Benito, 29-6

1961: San Benito, 30-6

1962: San Benito, 25-6

1963: 0-0 tie

1964: Haringen, 20-0

1965: San Benito, 13-9

1966: Harlingen, 9-0

1967: San Benito, 7-0

1968: Harlingen, 27-0

1969: Harlingen, 40-0

1970: Harlingen, 36-14

1971: Harlingen, 35-12

1972: Harlingen, 41-0

1973: Harlingen, 23-0

1974: 7-7 tie

1975: Harlingen, 27-7

1976: Harlingen, 19-0

1977: Harlingen, 15-0

1978: Harlingen, 42-7

1979: Harlingen, 29-7

1980: Harlingen, 27-0

1981: Harlingen, 28-7

1982: Harlingen, 35-30

1983: Harlingen, 13-11

1984: Harlingen, 20-0

1985: Harlingen, 27-7

1986: Harlingen, 49-0

1987: Harlingen, 20-8

1988: Harlingen, 43-6

1989: Harlingen, 27-2

1990: Harlingen, 15-0

1991: Harlingen, 21-13

1992: Harlingen, 27-16

1993: 18-18 tie

1994: 21-21 tie

1995: San Benito, 15-6

1996: Harlingen, 43-18

1997: Harlingen, 21-10

1998: Harlingen, 20-12

1999: San Benito, 8-0

2000: Harlingen, 21-14

2001: Harlingen, 21-20

2002: Harlingen, 28-10

2003: Harlingen, 54-14

2004: San Benito, 35-32

2005: Harlingen, 29-22

2006: San Benito, 29-0

2007: San Benito, 15-4

2008: Harlingen, 34-17

2009: Harlingen 35-6

2009: Harlingen 41-21 (playoff)

2010: Harlingen 45-21

2010: Harlingen 49-14 (playoff)

2011: Harlingen 49, San Benito 7

2012: San Bentio 7, Harlingen 3

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