PHARR — With time winding down in the fourth quarter, PSJA High senior quarterback Justin Morales broke the huddle and stood behind center in the midst of a deafening crowd.
Morales took the snap out of the shotgun and watched his receivers scatter across the short field. He weaved around in the pocket dodging the oncoming blitz from a crowd of PSJA North defenders before rolling out to the right.
He scanned the end zone looking for an open receiver and threw a dart on the run to senior wideout Miguel Flores. An open Flores caught Morales’ bullet pass right in the chest to score the go-ahead touchdown and the third straight score for the Bears, who rallied from a multi-possession deficit to earn a come-from-behind win over the cross-town rival Raiders, 20-14, in The Monitor’s Game of the Week on Friday night at PSJA ISD Stadium.
It was a chaotic exclamation point that capped an incredible scoring run for PSJA High in which the team scored 20 unanswered points to eke out a narrow victory after being shutout for the first two-plus quarters of play.
The Bears squandered multiple scoring opportunities toward the end of the first half. Kicker Jared De Leon missed a 41-yard field goal late in the second quarter on what to that point was the longest drive of the game by either side.
They failed to score again when Morales scrambled toward the end zone with time winding down in the first half only to be halted at the PSJA North 3-yard line with no timeouts remaining to enter halftime locked in a scoreless tie.
It was an ugly, defensively dominant first half for both teams that featured three lost fumbles, an interception and multiple turnovers on downs for both the Bears and Raiders.
PSJA High unsuccessfully tried an onside kick to open the third quarter, but PSJA North gained possession at the Bears’ 39-yard line after a flag for kick catch interference. The Raiders used the great field position to notch the first score of the night on a 1-yard touchdown run by Jonathon Arias, after being set up by a 30-yard pass from senior quarterback Iziaah Rangel to receiver John John Garza.
PSJA North struck again on its next drive on a 65-yard touchdown pass from Rangel to wideout Joe Barberena to move ahead of its rival 14-0 midway through the third quarter.
But that’s when the Bears started their charge. They responded with a 74-yard touchdown drive thanks to several quick-hitting passes from Morales to Flores and fellow senior receiver Marco Guajardo.
Morales capped off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown scamper to put the Bears on the board late in the quarter. It was part of a terrific day on the ground for the senior signal caller, who ran for 56 yards and the one score on 17 carries while accounting for more than half of his team’s yards on the ground in the contest.
Not to be outdone by the black-shirt defense and its turnover throne on the opposite sideline, PSJA High’s defense made one big play after another and forced several critical turnovers down the stretch.
Defensive back Nevin Herrera intercepted a deep pass from Rangel and took it 36 yards to the house for the game’s only defensive touchdown to it up again at 14-14 only 78 seconds after PSJA High’s first touchdown.
The Raiders turned the ball over on downs at their opponent’s 36-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter, and the Bears again capitalized on the opportunity.
Morales made several excellent passes while leading his team down the field on a 5-minute, 26-second drive that was sealed by his 17-yard connection with Flores in the back of the end zone.
A missed PAT attempt by De Leon gave the Bears a 20-14 advantage — their first lead of the evening — and gave the Raiders breathing room with 6:26 to play.
PSJA North earned three more opportunities to try to score a go-ahead touchdown of its own, but struggled greatly to move the ball on the ground against a stingy PSJA High defense down the stretch like much of the first half.
The Raiders finished the night with 130 yards rushing but needed 33 carries to get there. Sophomore back Isaac Gonzalez toted the ball 15 times for 75 yards, but more than half of that yardage came in the latter half of the fourth quarter.
PSJA North turned the ball over on downs and Rangel ultimately threw a pair of interceptions, both to PSJA High defensive back Isaac Espino, on the team’s final three drives of the night to seal the win for the Bears.
Rangel struggled to throw the ball deep downfield all night, especially down the stretch, and finished the evening with 124 yards through the air on 6-of-25 passing to go along with four interceptions and his team’s lone passing score.
Morales, on the other hand, had his finest performance of the first half of the season throwing for 221 yards and a touchdown on 19-of-37 passing with no interceptions for the second week in a row.
Flores was the dominant force in the Bears’ passing attack, registering game-highs with nine catches for 124 receiving yards and the game-winning score. Guajardo added 60 yards on five receptions, while senior receiver Ethan Castillo chipped in 30 yards on three timely catches late in the second half.
PSJA High (3-2, 2-0) will return to action to face No. 2 McAllen Memorial (4-1, 1-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Pharr, while PSJA North (3-2, 1-1) will square off against No. 6 McAllen Rowe (5-0, 2-0) at the same time in McAllen.