PHARR — With the clock ticking toward double zeros in the fourth quarter of the team’s season finale, PSJA High head coach Lupe Rodriguez paced down the home sideline.
The Bears’ offense had just picked up a first down and were getting ready to go into the victory formation and run out the rest of the clock. A swarm of Bears slowly gathered behind him as he looked on.
The players soaked their head coach in an ice-cold Gatorade bath as he tried to scramble away at the last minute and PSJA High celebrated its second district championship in a row as part of a dominant 43-7 win over La Joya Juarez-Lincoln on Thursday at PSJA ISD Stadium.
“Oh, yes, definitely,” Rodriguez said when asked if his Gatorade bath was a chilly one. “No, I did not see that (coming). I knew it would come because some kids were saying something, but I didn’t really quite see it there at the end.”
The win pushes the Bears to 7-3 overall on the season and 6-1 district play, guaranteeing them at least a share of the District 30-6A title pending the rest of the Week 11 results.
“I told our team it’s nice to win it once but to win it back-to-back is even more difficult and even sweeter to do that,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of people counted our team out; they didn’t even have us competing for a district championship, so it really means a lot. Our kids have been playing with a chip on their shoulders all year long and our coaching staff has done a great job.”
PSJA High narrowly captured a district crown in 2018 in its first season after redistricting. For defensive tackle Manny Castillo, it’s an unrivaled feeling to repeat with his fellow seniors on a veteran-heavy ballclub.
“Winning it my junior year was something else,” he said. “But to end my senior year like this, it’s the greatest feeling.”
The Bears title hopes appeared to be in jeopardy early when the Huskies drove the length of the field to score on the opening drive of the contest. Juarez-Lincoln was moving the ball seamlessly thanks to quarterback Benito Elizondo, who was making his first career start at the position.
“Coach said this team had nothing to lose, so we had to prepare for everything. They gave us everything they could, and we stopped it all,” Castillo said. “They were a good team, a solid team. They drove it down and we just switched our game plan and stopped them the rest of the game.”
The Huskies didn’t so much as sniff the end zone the rest of the night because of a lights-out effort defensively from PSJA High.
The Bears forced four turnovers — two fumbles and two interceptions — that helped lighten the load for their offense.
PSJA High knotted the game up and found the end zone for the first time after defensive back Isaac Espino recovered a Juarez-Lincoln fumble around midfield. Another big first half score was set up after defensive back Pablo Treviño intercepted Elizondo along the sideline and ran it back 32 yards to give the offense possession at the 3-yard line.
The Bears’ defense even got in on the scoring. After a disastrous series of events for the Huskies that included four personal flags and backed them up to their own 3-yard line, a group of PSJA High defenders gang-tackled Juarez-Lincoln’s rusher in the backfield for a safety.
“The defense has done a great job and I’m very proud of them and our coaching staff, they kept them in check. I know Juarez-Lincoln is a great ball club,” Rodriguez said. “They do a great job over there and Mission only beat them by one, so we wanted to make sure that they didn’t spoil this moment for us.”
The Bears were rolling on all cylinders offensively as well. Six different receivers caught passes, led by senior Miguel Flores who had game-highs with 14 catches and 194 yards through the air, from senior quarterback Justin Morales, who tallied 317 passing yards on 27-of-44 passing before leaving late in the second half with a right ankle injury.
Morales did not return to the contest and was seen with crutches on the sideline.
“He got a little dinged up there,” Rodriguez said. “We just didn’t want to take any measures as far as putting him back in, so we just left him out to ice it a little bit. He should be fine.”
If the current situation holds, the Bears would be playing at home in the opening round of the playoffs between the winner of Del Rio and Eagle Pass. However, the situation is still very fluid with McAllen Memorial and Mission High still in play.
So, for now, Castillo, Rodriguez and the rest of the Bears can only sit back and admire the newest addition to the team’s trophy case.
“We’re just going to enjoy this district championship. Like I told our kids, ‘We control our own destiny and let’s see where the chips fall.’”