EDINBURG — The Edinburg Vela SaberCats entered their District 31-6A matchup against Weslaco High riding a 33-game winning streak in district play.

The Panthers put an end to that Thursday night.

Weslaco High took down the SaberCats 44-28 at Richard R. Flores Stadium to hand Vela its first district loss since the 2014 campaign. The win sends Weslaco High to a 5-1 record on the year and 2-0 in 31-6A action, placing the Panthers on the inside track toward their ultimate goal of winning a district title.

Weslaco High coach Roy Stroman said the victory is huge for the Panthers.

“We had two weeks to prepare for them, and I thought we had two great weeks of practice. These guys were focused. We hadn’t had practice like that all year long,” Stroman said. “It was about trusting the process. Our defense made some key turnovers, and our offense took advantage of those opportunities with the field position. It was a hostile environment, and that’s a great coached team (Vela) over there.”

For a matchup featuring the top two offenses in 31-6A, it was Weslaco’s special teams and defense that set the tone during the first half. The Panthers blocked a SaberCats punt on their first possession and took over in Vela territory, resulting in three points. Three possessions later, defensive end Elijah Estevanes jumped on a SaberCats fumble, which set up a rushing touchdown by quarterback Jacob Cavazos.

“We just woke up. We’re a different animal now,” Estevanes said. “People doubted us, but we’re on the come up and we’re going to make noise.”

The player who made the most noise Thursday was Cavazos, the Panthers’ senior quarterback. He finished with 197 rushing yards, 183 passing yards and four touchdowns on the ground, including a 65-yard scamper to start the fourth quarter.

At halftime, the directive to “finish the job” was heard coming out of the Weslaco High locker room. The last time the two faced off in 2018, the Panthers took a 7-0 lead into the break, only to see it evaporate during the second half in a 17-7 defeat. Cavazos was determined to not let it happen again.

“We came into this focused on what we needed to get done. We came in with a good plan and people just executed,” Cavazos said. “We talked about finishing today because we kind of relaxed at halftime last year, so we didn’t want to make that same mistake.”

Stroman said Cavazos leads by example on and off the field, which encourages others to step up and lead in their own way.

“The role comes with being quarterback. You got to embrace it all the time,” Cavazos said. “Being a leader is more than just scoring touchdowns. There’s a lot that goes into it. If my job is to pick up people, then my job is to pick up people. There’s some great leaders on this team, not just me, and everybody just fed off each other tonight.”

Still, the SaberCats fought until the final horn. Vela trimmed Weslaco’s 11-point lead to just three after a 52-yard touchdown pass by A.J. Sotelo to Kevin Rojas with 6:39 remaining. Sotelo finished with 252 yards and two touchdown passes to Rojas, who racked up 12 catches for 187 yards. Vela running back P.J. Rivera also ran for 188 yards and one touchdown on the ground on 19 carries.

“Our hats are off to Weslaco,” Edinburg Vela head coach John Campbell said. “It’s not a good feeling to be on the losing end, but people that paid for this game got their money’s worth. Both sides played hard, we had our opportunities (and) we didn’t convert on those opportunities. Weslaco did and you see the end results.”

Next up for the Panthers is a home game against Donna North on Oct. 18.

Meanwhile, the SaberCats (5-2, 2-1) have a bye before resuming district play in Week 9 against Donna North on Oct. 25.

bramos@themonitor.com