ALAMO — When PSJA High took the field for its season opener in Corpus Christi against Flour Bluff a year ago, two powerful offenses traded blows all night in a high-scoring thriller.
The electric 2018 contest, however, left a sour taste in the mouths of the Bears as they fell to the Hornets 33-28 in heartbreaking fashion.
“They started off fast and then we picked it up, scored and went into the half leading 21-7. We came back in the second half a little flat and they made a run,” PSJA High head coach Lupe Rodriguez said. “During the fourth quarter it was one of those games that was going back and forth and it was going to be whoever had the ball last had an opportunity to win. We definitely had a chance to win. I felt like we won and time ran out because one of our receivers jumped into the end zone halfway in and halfway out, they called him down and game over.”
But after playing wire-to-wire against Flour Bluff — a team that advanced to the third round of the 5A playoffs last year — and winning a district crown, PSJA will be looking to send a message in its season kickoff this time around.
The Bears will be the only team between Brownsville and Laredo playing at home tonight and they’re relishing the opportunity to be alone in the limelight.
“We know other Valley teams are going to be in the stands watching us and we want to put on a show for everybody to show we’re not backing down,” senior linebacker Jayden Arrington said. “We’re coming right after everybody just like we did last season. We have one goal and one goal only and that’s a district championship.”
Both teams will interestingly be sliding a former wide receiver into a starting quarterback role, as the Bears will turn to senior Justin Morales, while the Hornets will plug Andru Schmidt in behind center.
Morales looked sharp in PSJA’s scrimmage against Edinburg Vela a week ago in his first game at the position in two years. He demonstrated excellent timing and chemistry with his talented group of wide receivers, but it was his legs instead of his arm that stood out against the SaberCats.
The senior signal caller showed that he can make plays on his feet when the pocket collapses, and along with senior running back JR Vasquez — who ran for 754 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018 — should provide the Bears with an underrated, stout running game that the Hornets didn’t see last year.
“We have a lot of receivers back, which still spreads out the offense,” Vasquez said. “When we run the ball more, it’s going to mix up the defense.”
Defensively, PSJA will be happy to defend someone other than former Flour Bluff quarterback Braden Sherron, who burned the team through the air and on the ground. Arrington and his teammates believe they’ll be able to fluster the Hornets’ new quarterback all night in his first game at the position.
“It makes us excited because we can bring a little more intensity and a little more aggressiveness,” he said. “We’re going to open his eyes, show him we’re the real deal and bring it to him that night every play. When he sees us, he’s going to know it’s not going to come easy.”
The key for the Bears’ defense will be shutting down the centerpiece of the Hornets’ offense: junior running back Isaac Miles. Miles — who rushed for 1,848 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2018 — tallied 113 yards and two scores against PSJA last season and he’ll be looking to top that behind a veteran offensive line.
But with inexperience at quarterback and several returning starters along their front seven, Rodriguez and the Bears believe the Hornets’ rushing attack will play right into their defensive strengths.
“Our box is pretty solid and I think that plays into our hands because of that,” Rodriguez said. “They do have a running back coming back, but I feel our defense is ready for the challenge.”
“We’re excited to show that our box doesn’t play around,” Arrington said. “You can bring the best and we’re going to give you our best just to show that we’re not afraid of any talent that comes our way and we’re going to shut down anything that comes our way.”
PSJA will need to improve its secondary and offensive line play after a scrimmage against Edinburg Vela last week. The performance proved that the Bears will need to be better at making open-field tackles to limit the big plays and protecting against the pass rush up front to allow Morales and his trio of talented receivers — Miguel Flores, Ethan Castillo and Marco Guajardo — more time to set up deep passes.
But as the first team to host a game in the area on the opening weekend of the season, the Bears are eager to make a statement to all their on-lookers.
“We’re going to try to show that we’re here and we came ready,” Arrington said. “We’re going to show everyone that the Bears are back and we’re going to win another district championship.”