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With the district schedule looming, both Weslaco and Sharyland are looking to build momentum, yet a certain tension is palpable in the air. A win lets you know you’re headed in the right direction while a loss can send you reeling, wondering what needs to change. Although both teams, the Panthers (3-0) and the Rattlers (2-1), possess winning records, neither team is  immune to pressure of the impending district schedule. In this duel of fangs and feline prowess, the Panthers stealthily overpowered the Rattlers 28-7 in a non-district matchup.

“It’s an ugly win, but I’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss. I feel we took some steps back tonight, but all the credit to Coach Krell and Sharyland, they came prepared,” Weslaco head coac Roy Stroman said.

Much like their mascots, the Weslaco Panthers have methodically stalked their prey with a balanced offense averaging 353 yards a game and a menacing defense that has only allowed one offensive touchdown. The Panther harassed and pounced on Sharyland quarterback Bo Krell all night. During their first five possessions, Rattlers’ managed four punts and one turnover on downs. Leading the charge for the Panthers’ defense were Matt Garza and William Cannon. Garza recorded a sack on Sharyland’s first play from scrimmage and added a second early in the third. Garza and Cannon pursued Krell relentlessly. Cannon recorded two sacks as well.

The Rattlers’ venom manifests itself in takeaways and turnovers with six interceptions already this season, including four against McAllen Rowe. The Rattlers’ defense added another interception early in the first at the hands of Homero Garcia, but were unable to contain the Panther duo of Eli Rodriguez and Andres Sepulveda. 

Rodriguez slashed through the Rattlers defense on the first play of their second possession for an 85-yard touchdown. Rodriguez burst down the right side, and the Panthers led 7-0. Rodriguez scored two more times, but his most impressive run came on an almost impossible 3rd and 26, darting off the left, juking and sprinting his way to a first down.

“He (Rodriguez) really stepped up, I love him, we were backed up in our own end zone, and he got us out of that pickle,” Sepulveda said.

Even after the interception, errant passes and a couple of punts, Sepulveda looked unfazed. Sepulveda’s special brand of cool is evident as he walks up to the line, scans the field and then calmly calls for the ball. After the interception, Sepulveda converted good field position into an 18-yard touchdown strike to Harley Rodriguez, and the Panthers led 14-0 in the second quarter.

The Panthers were aware that a 14-0 lead at half was short of their 40-0 shutout from last week, and as a leader Sepulveda understood the moment. “We came out a little flat, and the defense kept us in the game and felt we took a step back coming off the big win,” Sepulveda said. 

The Rattlers coiled up and created some momentum late in the third. Bo Krell, son of head coach Craig Krell, found his rhythm and connected with his receivers Eric Gonzalez and Eduardo Mendoza. Mendoza’s 35-yard catch to the Panthers 9-yard had the Rattlers ready to strike, but the drive would be foiled by Chris Luna who also recorded an interception last week. Like his counterpart, Krell shook off the interception. The Rattlers constructed a drive behind the rushing of Santiago Longoria. Longoria was lethal on the ground, but his one-handed stab at the 1-yard remains the most vivid highlight. After the Panthers defense keyed on Longoria’s effort to be rewarded, Krell offered the sleight-of-hand fake and slithered into the end zone for a 1-yard score. 

“We got to get better on the offensive side, we’re trying to find the pieces of the puzzle…we need that chemistry,” coach Craig Krell said.

Sharyland will host Roma on Oct. 6 while the Panthers will face Harlingen. 

“You got some tough competition with Harlingen, then Los Fresnos, the Brownsville schools and San Benito at the end, anybody can beat anybody on any given night. It’s just that tough of a district,” Stroman said.