PHARR — On his team’s first play from scrimmage, San Benito quarterback Smiley Silva dropped back in the pocket and hurled a deep pass to Juan Constante for a 68-yard touchdown through the air.
It was a speedy response from the Greyhounds after PSJA High began the contest with a long, methodical touchdown drive of its own. But Silva would strike again on the first play from scrimmage to start the second half, chugging down the sideline for a 54-yard touchdown run to increase his team’s lead.
That was the theme of the night for San Benito, which utilized big plays offensively and key takeaways in the second half to snag a 34-13 victory over PSJA High on Thursday night in Pharr.
“That’s been the key for us: big plays,” PSJA High head coach Lupe Rodriguez said. “First play of the first half they score. Second half, same thing: first play they score. If we can minimize those big plays, we’ll be fine.”
The Bears were humming offensively early in the contest and had no problems racking up yards. Where they struggled was finishing drives and putting points on the board.
Senior quarterback Justin Morales led PSJA High with his arm and legs behind a much-improved o-line on a 74-yard scoring drive on the first possession of the game, capping it off with a 29-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Marco Guajardo.
“You saw us today against the No. 3-ranked team in the Valley, we were connecting a lot,” Guajardo said. “We were moving the ball a lot down the field. Of course we couldn’t finish those drives like we needed to. There were some key plays that just needed that one extra yard.”
But that was the only time the Bears would find the end zone in the first half. They had a drive stall inside the San Benito 10-yard line before settling for a chip-shot field goal, and a potential touchdown pass from Morales to senior receiver Ethan Castillo right before the half was taken off the board because of flag for an illegal receiver downfield.
PSJA High would try to knock home a long field goal attempt, but came up short and entered the break trailing 12-10.
“Every drive we just moved, moved, moved the ball,” Guajardo said. “Now we just need to work on finishing drives and coming together at the end. When you’re at the 20-yard line, 10-yard line where you’ve got to push through. We can’t let them stop us for a field goal and that happened twice.”
Defensively, the Bears played well throughout the first half. After the long touchdown pass on the Greyhounds’ first offensive play, they were limited to just 34 total yards offense for the rest of the opening half.
Senior defensive lineman Manny Castillo had a pair of big sacks and the PSJA High defense repeatedly stuffed ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage.
“Our defense was lights out in the first half,” Rodriguez said. “We kind of slipped and bent a little bit in the second half, but we were still within range. … The defense played well enough for us to win and we need to do a better job of scoring.”
But everything changed on the first play of the third quarter. That put the Bears in a 19-10 hole from which they struggled to claw their way back out of.
Castillo had a long 62-yard kickoff return following San Benito’s score that set his team up at the 26-yard line. Morales and the offense stalled again inside the 10-yard line, though, and settled for another short field goal.
Silva ripped off another long 54-yard run on the first play of the Greyhounds’ next drive that set them up for another touchdown. Between three quarterback keepers on San Benito’s first two drives of the second half, he accounted for 117 of 228 total yards of offense.
“That killed us coming out of half time and them scoring on the first play,” Castillo said. “We’ve just got to take those (big plays) away. But we’ll get better.”
Silva would end the night with 96 yards through the air on 3-of-6 passing and added 187 rushing yards on 24 carries.
Turnovers started to hurt the Bears’ comeback effort after a muffed punt inside their own 30-yard line set up San Benito for its third score of the half. Then shortly after, a fumble on a botched snap at midfield and an interception on a deep pass attempt would cut two promising scoring drives short again.
“When they stopped us with those field goals and turnovers in the second half, it was tough,” Guajardo said. “But we can’t lose ourselves. It was still the third quarter and we were only down two touchdowns. We could have scored, gotten a stop and scored again and been right back in it, but who knows. That’s why you can’t lose yourself.”
Morales ended the night completing 22-of-40 passes for 201 yards, a touchdown and a pick, while adding 65 yards on the ground off 12 rushes.
The offense finished the contest with 270 total yards, but ultimately its inability to prolong drives kept the PSJA High defense on the field for too much of the second half to make a successful comeback bid realistic.
“That punt killed us, that fumble and that interception killed us,” Castillo said. “We were on the field a lot, but we’re not going to go down and we’ll keep on fighting.”
The Bears will have an off week upcoming before returning to action to face La Joya High at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 27 at La Joya ISD Stadium. The Greyhounds, meanwhile, will face Laredo United in their next contest 7 p.m. on Sept. 21 in Laredo.