LAREDO — For the third consecutive year, Edinburg Vela’s season has come to an end in the third round of the playoffs.

The SaberCats went toe-to-toe against an unbeaten San Antonio Brandeis team with a chance to tie the game on their final possession, but Vela didn’t complete the comeback attempt as a late interception sealed their fate by a score of 21-14 on Friday at the Student Activity Complex.

“It was everything that you want a third-round playoff game to be. It goes down to the final possession, and we just didn’t make the plays that you need to in a close game like this,” Edinburg Vela head coach John Campbell said. “I think we had a couple of turnovers and you know, every possession is super critical when you got a close ball game. But hats off, obviously, to Brandeis. They’re undefeated for a reason.”

The SaberCats roared out to a 14-0 lead in the first half as junior quarterback AJ Sotelo connected with Kevin Rojas twice for scores, first on a curl route in the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown, and second on a play-action pass that left Rojas open racing to the pylon for another six. Senior receiver Justin Cantu also made multiple catches to help march the SaberCats’ offense downfield.

Vela’s defensive intensity was on display during the first quarter as safety Jaime Perez and company forced the Brandeis Broncos’ offense into two three-and-outs and one turnover on downs.

With all the momentum in the SaberCats’ favor, Brandeis needed a quick response, and they got precisely that from their junior quarterback, Jordan Battles.

Battles led the Broncos on two touchdown drives during the second quarter with his legs doing most of the work. He got Brandeis on the scoreboard with a 21-yard run up the middle and found a wide-open Josh Suarez for a 58-yard touchdown to send the game into halftime knotted at 14-14.

Two third quarter interceptions prevented the SaberCats from scoring again and allowed Brandeis to steal the lead off another touchdown pass by Battles to Suarez, this time on a slant over the middle from 7 yards out.

After the Vela defense forced a punt to give the ball back to its offense down seven with 3:06 left remaining in the game, Brandeis once again came away with an interception to secure the win and end the SaberCats’ year.

Edinburg Vela’s season comes to a close in the Class 6A Division II regional semifinals with a 9-4 record on the year.

“This one was a little bit of a roller coaster compared to the previous years. I know it’s kind of a coach’s cliché in terms of youth, but we’ve got a lot of faces that came back, obviously some that we were familiar with,” Campbell said. “But at the end of the day, and I think I heard (Weslaco East’s) coach (Mike) Burget say it the best: three area championships in three years, you know, that’s what these seniors get to hand off to the next group to see if they can make it a fourth next year. So, ultimately, it’s not where you start, but it’s where you finish, and we finished here in the regional round against undefeated opponent and play to a close 21-14 ball game that basically went down last possession.”

bramos@themonitor.com