PHARR — Third times a charm.
That’s been the message floating around the PSJA High locker room heading into Friday’s Class 6A DI bi-district matchup against Los Fresnos after dropping their last two meetings to its District 32-6A rival.
Last year, a last second touchdown stunned the Bears 36-33 at home during a non-district contest against the Falcons. This season, it was another heartbreaker for PSJA High, with a 19-yard field goal by Jose Contreras during the fourth giving Los Fresnos a 23-22 victory.
The two teams are set to square off once again at 7 p.m. Friday, this time with the winner advancing to the second round of the playoffs and the loser going home.
“We’ve talked to the guys about just finishing,” PSJA High head coach Lupe Rodriguez said. “We made little mistakes early on last meeting on special teams and then we dropped a ball right before the half. I mentioned to our guys this past week that third time is the charm for us. We’re just going to go out there and take care of business and let everything else fall where it may.”
The Bears enter the contest as a completely different team from the last time the two faced off. The loss to the Falcons marked their third straight to start the season, dropping to 0-3.
Since then, the Bears have roared to life, reeling off seven straight wins, including a 5-0 mark during District 31-6A play to capture their first outright district crown since 2018.
“All that hard work in the offseason really paid off,” PSJA High senior quarterback Jaime Lopez said. “Reflecting back on losing those first three games, we worked so hard that folding would not have been the right thing. We came back and competed. We’ve been working hard in practice and doing it all right.”
A revamped balanced offensive attack led by four-year starter Lopez behind center and breakout junior running back Jorge Alanis has been key to the Bears resurgence.
Lopez threw for a career-high 3,315 passing yards and 32 touchdowns in 10 appearances this season, while cutting his interceptions number from 16 to five.
Alanis also enjoyed a career-year, more than doubling his total yardage from last year, finishing with 1,207 total yards (921 rushing, 286 receiving) and 16 total touchdowns.
The Bears’ duo has the offense averaging 429.9 total yards and 35.5 points per game heading into the playoffs.
“This year I think we’ve done a better job at being balanced,” Rodriguez said. “Credit to our offensive line because they’ve done a great job at protecting Jaime (Lopez) and opening holes for Jorge (Alanis). In the past we’ve been a little one dimensional because we didn’t have this line. This year, Jorge is almost at 1,000 yards rushing. We’re more balanced than we’ve ever been before, and it makes it tough on defenses. That has been our key to success the past couple of games.”
Defensively, the Bears also field one of the toughest among the RGV’s Class 6A teams, ranking fourth out of the 12 squads.
PSJA High enters the postseason allowing just 297.7 total yards and 17.5 points per game.
“As good as our offense has been doing, our defense has been doing just as great,” Rodriguez said. “The philosophy on defense has been bend but don’t break. Those tough teams we played early on have helped them. A lot of heavy run teams in non-district with he likes of PSJA North, Weslaco East, Los Fresnos and Brownsville Veterans. It has made things easier for us. Our defense is ready for the challenge this week.”
Back-to-back losses to the Falcons have the Bears hungry for a win against their District 32-6A foe.
More than that, however, PSJA High has its sights set on that elusive first round win, getting bounced in the first round of the postseason during each of their last five appearances.
Led by a revitalized offense and a hard-nosed defense, this year’s Bears feel ready to snap a 15-year streak without a playoff win, while also getting a small dose of revenge against the Falcons.
“We definitely want to get this game back,” PSJA High senior defensive back Adam Pina said. “We don’t feel pressure though. It would mean a lot more to get this first playoff win. It has been a long time since we’ve had one at PSJA. I think we have the group to do it. I don’t want this Friday to be our last game. We have our eyes on going out with a good run. We’re trying to go three deep and make this last ride really special.”