HARLINGEN — On the first play of his team’s second drive, senior running back Campbell Speights took a handoff to the left of center in the backfield, bounced outside past a tackle, shed a diving linebacker and was off to the races down the sideline.
The McAllen Memorial star back galloped 68 yards for his team’s first score of the game, as the Mustangs newly revamped, high-octane offense breezed past the Harlingen South Hawks, 20-7, in a two-quarter scrimmage Friday at the Harlingen South Mini Stadium.
“They were doing a good job at containing me and our offense, actually, during the first 15 or 20 plays, so we just kept adjusting and adjusting. My running back coach told me to be more patient with it and that there was going to be a cut, there was going to be a crease,” Speights said. “So after seeing and realizing what they were doing, it was almost too easy to pick up what they were doing and make a play off of it. My offensive line gave me the chance to do that and my lead back made a good block and so did my receivers. After that, it was off to the races.”
The game-breaking run came after the Mustangs struggled with their first drives offensively and defensively to start the contest. When the defense took the field, it allowed the Hawks to slowly chip away driving 70 yards for a touchdown after holding onto the ball for the first nine minutes.
In its opening possession, Memorial handed the ball off to Speights three times but failed to pick up a first down and punted. That exhausted the entire length of the first quarter.
“Once we got into the team part of it after the first series on defense, I thought we played really good football. We played a better team game, but we’ve got to get a whole lot better,” McAllen Memorial head coach Bill Littleton said. “I saw some glimpses of what could be a pretty good football team as long as we continue to get better and continue to do the little things. Passing game was good tonight and the running game made plays when we needed them to.”
Speights’ long touchdown run knotted the score up at 7. On their next defensive possession, the Mustangs allowed the Hawks to drive halfway across the field into field goal range but ultimately pushed them back and forced Harlingen South to settle for a 49-yard field goal attempt, which missed badly.
From that point on, Memorial’s stingy defense only allowed 36 yards to the Hawks in their final four drives combined. Senior cornerback Michael Pequeño and senior linebacker Michael Morales both had big performances breaking up passes and stuffing Harlingen South’s outside rushing attack.
“In a real ball game, you can’t worry about what happened in the past and you’ve just got to go forward with the next series,” Littleton said referring to the first defensive series of the scrimmage. “Get on the bench, coach them up and get things fixed, and that’s what my coaches did. They did a good job of fixing some things tonight.”
From there it was all about senior quarterback Joseph Lara and the Mustangs’ vertical passing attack. In the early controlled part of the scrimmage, Lara attempted mostly short and mid-range passes along the sideline, but that all changed once the clock started rolling.
On the first play of Memorial’s third drive and his first pass attempt of the night, Lara would air it out deep over the told of the Harlingen South defense toward the middle of the field and connect with senior wide receiver Zyan Gregory, who outraced the one defender to beat to the end zone for a 74-yard touchdown pass. A missed extra point gave the Mustangs a 13-7 lead.
“He has a cannon. I think he has one of the best arms I’ve ever seen,” Speights said of his quarterback. “He doesn’t get to display it a lot, but I know it’s there and when he gets his opportunities he’s going to put the ball out there. We have great receivers as you saw tonight, and I think we could be a very dangerous, balanced team.”
Lara led Memorial on a methodical drive on its fourth and final possession of the evening. Using some hard quality runs by Speights, Lara connected with senior tight end Nick Nelson twice. The first was a 36-yard bomb just over the outstretched hands of a leaping safety.
The second, however, was a sharp 24-yard spiral that found Nelson again, this time in the right corner of the end zone in the scrimmage’s waning seconds to give the Mustangs their 20-7 final score. Lara would end the night completing all three of his pass attempts for 134 yards and two passing touchdowns.
“He had a good night tonight. The line did a great job protecting him,” Littleton said. “The backs did a good job of stepping up and picking up blitzes. I was real pleased with that.”
McAllen Memorial will kick off its regular season schedule against Brownsville Hanna at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium.