BY IVAN PALACIOS | SPECIAL TO THE MONITOR
EDINBURG — The Edinburg North Cougars held off a late comeback attempt by the PSJA Bears on Friday night, stopping wide receiver Andrew Castillo 9 yards short of the end zone at the end of regulation. It was a fitting ending for the Cougars as their defense led the way, forcing six Bear turnovers in their 29-22 District 31-6A-opening win.
The Cougar defense came out ready to play, forcing PSJA to fourth-and-19 on the opening drive following a sack by junior defensive tackle Trebor Acuna. On the ensuing play, a bad snap by the Bears flew out of the back of the end zone, giving the Cougars an early 2-0 lead.
Both teams showed first-game rust as the offenses struggled early. It wasn’t until late in the first quarter that the Cougars’ offense came to life behind the powerful running of junior running back Jean Carlo Reyes. Reyes scored his first of two touchdowns on the night with 1:48 left in the first, putting the Cougars up 8-0 to start the second quarter.
The Bears wasted no time answering, taking the ball down the field on the following drive behind the legs of freshman starting quarterback Jaime Lopez. Lopez caped the drive going untouched down the middle on a 1-yard quarterback sneak making the score 8-6 midway through the second.
The Cougars opened the second half with a bang as quarterback Michael Rodriguez exploded around the edge for a 66-yard touchdown just 46 seconds into the half to lead 15-6. The Cougars’ defense stepped up and picked off Lopez on the first play of the ensuing drive, giving the Cougars the ball back on their 25-yard line.
The Cougars offense was unable to capitalize as a missed 37-yard field goal gave the ball back to the Bears, who gave the ball right back after a three-and-out.
Late in the third, the Bears fumbled at the 6 on a punt return, setting up the Cougars with first-and-goal on the 6-yard line. The Cougars took advantage of the turnover this time as Reyes rumbled in for his second touchdown, giving them a 22-6 advantage with 4:38 left in the third.
Lopez dumped off a quick screen pass for a 53-yard score cutting into the Cougars lead. The Bears converted on a 2-point conversion making the score 22-14 with 4:23 left in the third.
Following another fumble by the Bears, the Cougars took over on the 27 and marched down the field behind the running of Reyes and Rodriguez. Rodriguez ended the drive with a 4-yard touchdown off a draw giving the Cougars a 29-14 lead with 9:38 left in regulation.
Lopez drove his team down the field for another touchdown pass with 2:24 left on the clock. Following a forced punt by the Bears defense, the offense got one last chance to tie the game.
Led by the arm and legs of Lopez, the Bears marched 54 yards down the field only to be stopped short of the end zone by the stingy Cougar defense.
Up next for the Cougars (1-1, 1-0) is a road game against Edinburg Vela at 7:30 p.m. next Friday. The Bears (0-1, 0-1) will host Mission High at 7 p.m. Thursday.