PHARR — When the PSJA High Bears and PSJA North Raiders take the field to square off in The Monitor’s Game of the Week on Friday at PSJA ISD Stadium, it will be a clash between two fierce rivals and will pit one of the Valley’s best offenses against one of its top defenses.
More specifically, it will be a matchup between arguably the area’s top receiving corps and secondaries. Both position groups regularly outperform their competition but there will be added motivation for each pitted against a top-flight, familiar foe.
“Out of the four schools that are here, the top two schools are PSJA North and PSJA High. It’s bragging rights for the whole year,” PSJA High head coach Lupe Rodriguez said. “Just like any rivalry out there in the Valley, it’s just one of those games you see on the schedule, you try not to think or worry about it because anything can happen. It’s not always the best team that wins; it’s the team that comes out and plays that night.”
That was certainly the case when the Bears and Raiders met last in 2018. Most fans, media pundits, players and coaches expected a high-scoring offensive shootout, but instead witnessed a defensive slugfest.
“We ended the year at No. 1 and No. 2. Both of us averaged more than 35 points a game and it was 10-7. You never know what you’re going to get. I’ve been a part of some big rivalry situations,” PSJA North head coach Marcus Kaufmann said. “It’s a little bit different; it’s a lot more personal with these kids. For these guys, it’s a big deal and they’ll talk smack about it for the rest of the year. These guys have been having to listen to it for a year now, so it’s going to be a big deal.”
The only players to score touchdowns in last year’s clash — PSJA High’s Trey Guajardo and PSJA North’s Arturo Beltran — have both since graduated, setting the stage for a high-stakes matchup between another pair of long-time varsity starters.
The key matchup this time around will center around PSJA High’s leading wide receiver senior Miguel Flores and PSJA North’s standout safety Seven Sanchez.
Flores not only leads the Bears’ veteran receiving corps, but he sits atop District 30-6A in receptions (29), receiving yards (441) and receiving touchdowns (five) while averaging 15.2 yards per catch.
He posted his biggest numbers of the season in a 70-14 beatdown of La Joya High in the Bears’ district opener, tallying nine receptions for 136 yards and three touchdowns through the air while adding a fourth score on the ground. The last time he faced the Raiders’ black-shirt defense, though, he was limited to four receptions and 54 yards.
Rodriguez credits his star wideout’s recent success to the continued development of senior quarterback Justin Morales and the team’s offensive line.
“Our offense scored 70 points last week against La Joya and that’s what we wanted to do: Get some momentum heading into this game and get our guys believing that our offense can score that many points,” he said. “Those guys have been there — Miguel, Marco and Ethan — those guys have been here since they were sophomores. The question for us was more of our quarterback and our O-line giving him enough time and him getting comfortable at the position.”
On the opposite side, it will be Sanchez’s task to reign in the talented trio of Bears’ wide receivers. He excelled in last year’s contest, tallying a team-leading 17 tackles and three sacks, and made his presence felt in both the running and passing game.
“We went in there hoping to shut them out,” Sanchez said. “We just strapped up, focused up and got the job done.”
He had a huge game in the Raiders’ district opener, stripping Juarez-Lincoln quarterback Josh Briones at the goal line and picking him off on the Huskies’ potential game-tying drive in the closing moments.
Rodriguez and PSJA High acknowledge that the key to repeating last year’s success will be limiting Sanchez’s big-play ability.
“I know like the previous years they’ve done a good job of playing deep and not giving us the deep ball. For us, it’s just ball control and taking what they give us,” he said. “We’re going to nickel and dime them, going down the field, keeping their offense off the field and avoiding any mistakes or avoiding Seven making any big plays against us.”
For Sanchez and PSJA North, it’s all about getting fired up for the competition and maintaining constant communication in order to prevent any game-breaking plays by Flores or his fellow pass catchers.
“I love whenever there’s competition,” Sanchez said. “We just have to focus. Last week we had some mental mistakes. This week we’re hoping to minimize that.”
The Bears and Raiders will kick off at 7:30 tonight in Pharr.