PHARR — Two high-powered offenses collided, but Edinburg Vela topped PSJA High in a two-quarter scrimmage between two defending district champions, 24-0, Thursday night at PSJA Stadium.
At first glance, the final score could be a bit deceiving as the Bears’ offense was humming at times and picking up plenty of yards, while the SaberCats struggled a lot offensively at the outset but benefited from a couple of big plays later on.
“We came out a little sluggish, but that’s part of it. In the first scrimmage, you’re going to get all the rust off,” Bears senior quarterback Justin Morales said. “Hopefully it just prepares us for the rest of the season. We played a quality opponent so it should help us for the rest of the year.”
Morales looked sharp in his first live action at quarterback since starting for PSJA’s JV squad as a sophomore. His transition back to the position appeared to be mostly a smooth one as he proved he could consistently connect with his wide receivers on short and mid-range throws and demonstrated an ability to run with the ball too.
He tallied 17 rushing yards in limited action, while senior running back JR Vasquez also added 20 on the ground. The duo showed potential for the Bears to add a solid running attack to their pass-heavy offense.
“We know a lot of teams are going to key on our passing, knowing these past couple of years that we pass the ball a lot,” Morales said. “We have a quality running back in JR and a big thing for me this past summer was getting faster, getting my speed up so I could become a true dual threat. I feel like I did have a couple of runs here and there that helped me out a little bit. I think that running threat is going to help out a lot down the road.”
PSJA’s talented senior trio of wide receivers — Marco Guajardo, Ethan Castillo and Miguel Flores — were effective catching balls over the middle of the field and did most of their damage running in open space after the catch. Guajardo had a team-high 36 receiving yards, while Flores also chipped in 28.
Morales and the trio were unable to connect on any deep balls but said that they liked the chemistry and timing that was there.
“We tried a couple of times to go for that deep ball, those 30- or 40-yard throws, but what was working a lot was those little 5-yard and 10-yard throws that were moving the ball and gaining yards,” Guajardo said. “It brings everyone together like, ‘Hey we’ve got momentum on this.’ That’s what we need. Starting out in a scrimmage, you just want to find out what you can get out of your offense.”
Another obstacle for the Bears’ offense: spotty offensive line play that left Morales little time to stay in the pocket long enough to connect on deep passes. Costly holding penalties also blew up the team’s first drive inside the 10-yard line and later pushed the team out of field goal range.
“Definitely we never got into a rhythm during the live portion of it. During the first drive, I told our team we needed to make a statement and have a good drive,” PSJA High head coach Lupe Rodriguez said. “We had a drive, but that penalty killed us and we put ourselves in a bad situation. Definitely a learning experience for our group and wake up call for us that we need to get on track.”
Defensively, the Bears snagged a tipped-ball interception but really struggled against the big play. Vela had two long touchdowns to put it ahead 14-0 in the first quarter.
On the first, senior quarterback AJ Sotelo threw a 62-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline after his receiver shook off a tackler and waltzed into the end zone with no defenders behind him. Sotelo would end the night with 89 yards through the air to go with his interception and touchdown pass.
On the second, senior running back Kevin McKinney weaved through the middle of the defense evading would-be tacklers on his way to a 50-yard touchdown run. He would score another later with mostly backups in the game after being set up by a long interception return on a deep ball by Morales.
“Defensively we need to work on our secondary a little bit more. We got burned deep a couple of times,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve got some new guys, some new faces at that position and as coaches I think we just need to go to work to make those adjustments and put people in the right place.”
Despite the loss, the Bears were happy to kick off their season against a quality team like the SaberCats in order to prepare for a tough non-district schedule and a competitive district slate.
“I think it’s good that we scheduled a quality opponent like Vela,” Morales said. “It gets us ready for the rest of the season and that’s also why we have three tough non-district opponents to start the year to get us ready for district season and so on.”
PSJA High will welcome Flour Bluff to kick off its season at 7 p.m. Thursday, while Edinburg Vela will travel to Laredo United for its first game at the same time.