ELSA — The moment the clock on the Benny Layton Sr., Memorial Stadium scoreboard struck zero Friday night, Mercedes and its faithful fandom threw up five fingers on one hand and two on the other.
It was a symbol representing the seven consecutive victories the Tigers have stacked up over the rival Edcouch-Elsa Yellow Jackets as Mercedes pulled out a 34-21 win on the road Friday night in a battle of previously unbeaten teams.
“We’re just excited about the opportunity to come out here and compete. This rivalry game is huge for both communities, so to be able to play it and come out here, to go down early and to come back and fight through it, it’s a roller coaster of emotions,” Mercedes head coach Roger Adame said.
That roller coaster for Mercedes (4-0, 2-0) began going down early as Edcouch-Elsa (2-1, 0-1) quickly jumped on the Tigers.
The Yellow Jackets’ “Thunder Defense” forced two Mercedes turnovers to open the game, and their “Lightning Offense” responded by turning those stops into points. Edcouch-Elsa running backs Justin Galan and Shawn Alvarado combined for more than 200 yards rushing as the combo gave the Yellow Jackets an early 14-0 lead.
Junior running back Miguel Jimenez sparked the Tigers with hard-nosed running during the second quarter as he ripped off big gains repeatedly and ended up in the end zone twice to send the game into the locker room with Mercedes trailing 14-13.
“It was a good game, but I have to give credit to my offensive line. They did a good job of blocking and giving me room to run,” Jimenez said after a three-touchdown performance.
After the Tigers rode the momentum to a 28-21 lead midway through the fourth quarter, Mercedes had the ball and was looking to kill clock or to score points. Facing a third-and-5 from their own 45-yard line, junior quarterback Mike Cisneros took the snap in shotgun, looked up and saw a wide open Josiah Cantu streaking out of the slot and behind his man. Cisneros threw it up, Cantu came down with it and turned on the burners to get into the end zone for the dagger.
“In my opinion, (Cantu’s) the top receiver in the Valley, and if they play man on him, of course I’m going to take a shot because I trust him and he trusts me,” Cisneros said.
“It’s awesome. They’ve been together for a long time now and they’ve got a special connection,” Adame said of his quarterback and receiver combination. “We called a play to run some clock, but Mike has that freedom in the offense, and Josiah’s a playmaker, and we always say ‘big time players make big time plays in big time games’ and he did come through for us tonight.”
Linebacker Roan Galvan and the Tigers’ front-seven played a pivotal role in slowing Edcouch-Elsa’s rushing attack, which gashed the Mercedes defense at times during the first half. The defense came together, made some changes and were able to hold the Yellow Jackets to just one second-half touchdown, which came on the half’s opening drive.
Galvan finished with multiple stops, one fumble recovery and one late sack, which shut the door on Edcouch-Elsa.
“They scored 14 on us fast, but we came together as a defensive unit and said we’re better than this and we can do better than this. We came together and changed some stuff around and we were able to hold them to just seven points in the second half,” Galvan said.
Next up for the Tigers is another District 16-5A DI East Zone matchup as Mercedes hosts PSJA Southwest (1-1, 0-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Meanwhile, the Edcouch-Elsa Yellow Jackets will travel to Pharr for an East Zone contest against PSJA Memorial (0-2, 0-1) slated for 7 p.m. Thursday.