EDINBURG — After holding the opposing offense to another three-and-out, the Edinburg North Cougars lined up for a punt return.
Edinburg Economedes was again punting from the shadow of its own goal posts after a series of outside runs drove the team backwards. The Jaguars’ punter caught the long snap, bobbled the ball in his grip and awkwardly kicked the ball out of his own end zone.
It was a low line drive punt that traveled less than 10 yards right into the hands of Cougars’ defensive back JJ Rodriguez, who pulled the ball in and rumbled 6 yards into the end zone. It was the second special teams score of the night for the Cougars, who used their power running game and opportunistic defense to secure a playoff berth and defeat rival Edinburg Economedes 33-8 on Thursday night at Richard R. Flores Stadium.
“I didn’t even see the first one because I was talking to my offensive line. I heard the roar, I looked and I see JJ running in with the ball,” Edinburg North head coach Damian Gonzalez. “I was like, ‘What the heck happened?’ We blocked it, it fell into his hands and he ran it in.”
The Cougars would strike again on another punt attempt by the Jaguars. Punting from its own 36-yard line, Economedes’ snap flew a mile over the head of its punter and rolled 40 yards backwards into the end zone.
The Jaguars’ punter made a quick turn to retrieve the loose ball, but slipped and fell which allowed defensive back Moises Maldonado and pack of Cougars to swarm to the ball and fall on it in the end zone for the second touchdown of the game.
“The other one was just a bad snap. Fortunately, we were able to jump on it and get that across,” Gonzalez said. “It helped us early on. That aspect of our game did a great job of keeping us in the game and getting us going.”
The victory secured the fourth and final playoff spot in District 31-6A for Edinburg North and put the team back in the playoffs for the first since 2016, giving every current Cougar their first taste of the postseason.
“We clicked as a team. It was a great feeling at the end of the game when we came out with the W,” Peralez said. “We’re definitely building up momentum to try to go farther and farther. We’ve just got to trust the process.”
Kicker Christopher Villarreal added a pair of 35-yard field goals to help the cause, but it was really running back Jacob Peralez and a stout defensive front that lifted the Cougars to their third win in four weeks.
Edinburg North’s relentless rushing attack picked up 270 yards on the ground led by Peralez, who ran for 150 yards and two second-half touchdowns on 27 carries. Peralez credits the outstanding play of his offensive line, which consistently opened holes and created offensive opportunities, for his big night on the ground.
“Our O-linemen are beasts. They block every single play and they’re good,” he said. “They were firing and exploding off the ball. We’ve done everything our coaches have asked us to do and our O-line is probably one of the best in the Valley.”
In conjunction with their lights-out defensive play, the Cougars used their vaunted rushing attack to dictate tempo and dominate the time of possession in the second half, leaving the Jaguars with few opportunities to claw back into the contest.
“We came back out of the half and controlled the clock and controlled the tempo. We got a lot of first downs and the guys executed a lot better in the second half,” Gonzalez said. “But I’m an o-line guy, I’ve coached offensive line my whole life and I thought we did a great job of running the ball and executing our blocks.”
North’s defense regularly forced Economedes into game-altering mistakes. The defense forced five turnovers — two interceptions and three recovered fumbles out of half a dozen total — and was exceptional in pushing the Jaguars’ offense off the field on key third and fourth down conversion attempts.
“We gave up some big plays, but at the end of the day they did a great job responding and they made some big time plays with some turnovers,” Rodriguez said. “The guys really came through when we needed them, and I’m really proud of that. They hang their hat on trying to shut teams out and making some big defensive stops and they did that tonight.”
The loss concludes the Jaguars season, while the Cougars will return to action for their regular season finale against Weslaco High (8-1, 4-0) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Richard R. Flores Stadium in Edinburg.