PHARR — With time winding down in the first half, PSJA North senior quarterback Iziaah Rangel took the snap and dropped back into the pocket.
After what seemed like an eternity scanning the field, Rangel spotted receiver RJ Zuniga streaking toward the end zone uncovered. He delivered a bomb to Zuniga, hitting him in stride for a walk-in 42-yard touchdown.
It was his second passing touchdown of the opening half and his third overall, as the Raiders opened up a big lead early in Rangel’s return to the gridiron and held off a late comeback attempt to escape with a 34-19 win over La Joya Juarez-Lincoln on Thursday night at PSJA Stadium.
“I felt good. The intensity and everything was great, and my leg was feeling good,” Rangel said. “It felt really good knowing that receivers can get open when they want to and our lineman blocking for me just let me do my thing.”
Rangel was making his first start since a Week 2 home win over Harlingen South, but shook off any rust quickly. He completed 12-of-18 first-half passes for 219 yards.
He connected with sophomore running back Isaac Gonzalez on an 8-yard touchdown toss in the back-right corner of the end zone on PSJA North’s second drive to take an early 7-3 advantage. He added a rushing touchdown, too, on a 1-yard quarterback sneak before connecting with Zuniga to give the Raiders a 21-3 halftime edge.
“Everyone was having fun and playing hard,” Rangel said. “Everyone just did their thing.”
Rangel added another touchdown through the air on a 28-yard pass to receiver John John Garza. After a somewhat sluggish second half, he finished the night with 275 yards on 17-of-29 passing with a total of four touchdowns — three through the air and one on the ground.
“He played really, really well because he hasn’t done much in three weeks,” Raiders head coach Marcus Kaufmann said of his quarterback’s play. “His deal was his leadership out there. He was able to get the guys together, get them going and do all of that stuff. He did what he needed to do tonight in his role that we were trying to keep him in.”
Juarez-Lincoln ran into a brick wall — several times — during the first half when it tried to run against the Raiders’ physical defense. The Huskies, however, were able to score a pair of touchdowns after the break on big plays from receiver Luis Flores.
On the first possession of the third quarter, Huskies quarterback Josh Briones connected with Flores streaking down the sideline for a 67-yard touchdown pass to kickstart the Huskies’ second-half rally. Flores scored again after taking a direct snap in the wildcat formation and sprinting into the end zone untouched to bring Juarez-Lincoln to within a score and trim the deficit to five points.
He finished the night with three receptions for a team-high 74 yards and 35 yards on the ground off three rushing attempts.
“We missed a lot of tackles early and the quarterback scrambled a lot,” PSJA North senior safety Seven Sanchez said. “We weren’t satisfied with that.”
However, the Huskies were hampered by lost opportunities due to costly turnovers and inefficient play within the red zone.
Juarez-Lincoln drove inside its opponent’s 20-yard line on three separate occasions and failed to push into the end zone each time. Twice the team settled for short field goals, from 26 and 30 yards.
But the most-costly red zone trip for the Huskies resulted in one of two takeaways for PSJA North’s Sanchez. Quarterback Josh Briones bounced to the outside on a designed quarterback run and met Sanchez at the goal line.
“Coach put me in a perfect position over in the middle of the field, and I just saw the quarterback sweep to the outside, but he had the ball inside,” Sanchez said. “I tried grabbing it and I ripped once, but it didn’t come out. I saw he was about to score, I wanted it and I went right under (the ball) with my arm.”
The ball became loose right before Briones could cross the plane and rolled out of bounds in the end zone, allowing the Raiders to take over at their own 20-yard line after the touchback.
But Sanchez’s most clutch contribution of the evening came on Juarez-Lincoln’s final drive with about 2 minutes remaining in the contest. The Huskies took over at the PSJA North 46-yard line trailing by eight, and Briones dropped back looking for the home run ball on the first play of the drive.
He slung the ball deep down the middle of the field missing his intended receiver but nailing the Raiders’ biggest defensive playmaker. Sanchez leaped and extended his arm backward, palming the tip of the ball and cradling it back toward his body as he fell to the ground on a sensational interception.
“I misplayed the ball to be honest,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t get under it and I just had to try. I put my hand up and just prayed to God that I would catch it.”
“I was like, ‘Dude, thank you!’” Kaufmann said. “We needed a play there and Seven went out and made a play — a big play that belongs on a highlight reel.”
The first play after the pick, Gonzalez chugged to the end zone shaking off tacklers all the way for an 87-yard touchdown scamper to ice the contest.
Gonzalez finished the night with four receptions for 69 yards and 22 carries for 188 yards on the ground and a pair of touchdowns — the game’s first and last. It was part of a superb rushing performance for the Raiders, who combined to run for 238 yards on 35 carries.
Briones played well behind center for the Huskies, throwing for 229 yards on 16-of-32 passing, but ultimately his two costly turnovers to Sanchez cost Juarez-Lincoln the chance to complete its late comeback bid.
PSJA North (3-1) returns to action when it hosts the PSJA High Bears (1-2) in a fierce cross-town rivalry game at 7:30 p.m. next Friday, while La Joya Juarez-Lincoln will host the unbeaten McAllen Rowe Warriors (3-0) at the same time.