HIDALGO — With time winding down in the first half, Hidalgo running back Zach Carrera lined up behind center at the back of an I-formation.
The Pirates’ senior took a pitch toward the near sideline, cut back to the middle of the field, spun, broke a tackle and reached both hands back behind his head to push the ball over the plane of the goal line.
It was Carrera’s second rushing touchdown of the night and the third of five rushing scores for Hidalgo (3-0, 3-0), which downed La Feria (3-1, 3-1) 35-10 in The Monitor’s Game of the Week and the de facto District 16-4A DI championship game on Friday night at Bill Pate Memorial Stadium.
The victory marks the Pirates’ first win over La Feria since 2012.
“It feels incredible and I’m happy for the kids,” fourth-year Hidalgo head coach Monty Stumbaugh said after a celebratory sideline Gatorade bath. “These kids have put in a lot of work. When I came here, people said these kids couldn’t make the playoffs and couldn’t be champions. These kids are winners. They just needed someone to tell them that they’re winners. They’ve worked really hard and they did a really good job. I’m happy for them and Hidalgo because they’ve supported these kids through all of it.”
The Pirates hit the ground running from the opening whistle, but it was the team’s defense that truly carried the day.
Hidalgo’s defense, one of the Rio Grande Valley’s finest through the opening month of the season, made a statement right out of the gates stripping and recovering a fumble on La Feria’s second play from scrimmage inside the opponent’s red zone.
A few plays later, Pirates’ senior quarterback Jacob Martinez dove into the end zone on a one-yard QB keeper to draw first blood and seize a 7-0 advantage in the opening 2 minutes of play.
The Lions, meanwhile, were able to move the ball fairly efficiently throughout most of the first half and for a moment looked as if they were primed for a shootout with the Pirates. La Feria senior quarterback Dario Sanchez was finding quick passing opportunities and running room outside of the pocket, but the offense struggled to string together first downs.
Ultimately, though, it was the Pirates’ defense that pulled through forcing five total turnovers on the night to stall the Lions’ offense at several crucial moments throughout the game. The flurry of turnovers marred La Feria’s second drive too, which came to an end after Carrera — playing defensive back for the Pirates — forced and recovered a fumble at his team’s own 2-yard line to save a touchdown.
“Honestly the first quarter was pretty intense,” Carrera said. “The defense came up big and just took over the whole game. We’re blessed to come out with another win and it feels awesome.”
On the ensuing Hidalgo drive, Carrera would quickly tack on another score on his first rushing touchdown of the night to jump out to a 14-0 lead before adding his second. A La Feria field goal made it 21-3 at the half, but that proved to be too big of a hole against the stingy Pirates’ defense.
“We work hard every day,” said senior defensive end Dakota Cervantes, one of the Pirates’ biggest two-way playmakers. “We’re running liners, hash-to-hash 100-yard dashes (in practice) and we’re doing everything we have to do to stay conditioned and on top of our game.”
Linebacker Robert Toledano led the charge, stuffing the run and meeting La Feria backs Aaron Trevino and Dereck Perez frequently between the tackles and mostly helped prevent them from breaking through the second layer of the defense.
Cervantes and senior defensive ends Kyle Perales led a ferocious pass rush that couldn’t be contained and made things difficult for Sanchez in the pocket by tallying several big sacks and poking a few fumbles free too that Hidalgo recovered.
Cervantes even got in on the fun offensively, too, scoring Hidalgo’s final touchdown of the night on a four-yard run, while La Feria added its only touchdown of the night on a short pass play with 36 seconds remaining.
“To be honest, it’s all about the linemen,” Cervantes said. “We don’t get the yards or the touchdowns and we’re not able to do what we do without the linemen and the whole team. It was really a whole team effort.”
The win is a signature, program-defining moment for Stumbaugh, Carrera, Cervantes and the rest of Hidalgo’s senior class, who saw the Pirates’ varsity football squad grow from an 0-10 squad their freshman season to an undefeated team on the verge of its first solo district title in more than a decade.
Now, Hidalgo will wait to go on the road to face the Zapata Hawks at 7 p.m. Friday with an uncontested district title on the line.
“We’ll come in tomorrow, hit the weights, watch film and do our homework from Friday,” Stumbaugh said. “We’ll come up with a game plan this weekend and come back Monday and go. We’re just trying to be 1-0 every week like everybody. We’ll enjoy this one, and then it’s Zapata. Then it’s the playoffs, so we’ve got to keep things rolling.”