EDINBURG — Harlingen High’s Noah Huerta entered the 2023 season with some big shoes to fill. The sophomore running back took over the starting role after the graduation of 2022 Valley Morning Star Player of the Year Izaiah Bell.

As if following up Bell wasn’t pressure enough, Huerta is also the brother of former Harlingen High standout and current Texas State defensive end Nathan Huerta.

Huerta has begun to carve his own legacy despite the bar set by his predecessors, rushing for 762 yards and 15 touchdowns during the regular season.

He carried that momentum into the postseason, exploding for over 150 rushing yards and three touchdowns during his playoff debut to help lead the Cardinals to a dominant 42-0 victory over Edinburg High during their Class 6A DII bi-district round contest Thursday at Richard R. Flores Stadium in Edinburg.

The victory punches Harlingen High’s ticket to the Class 6A DII area round for a fourth straight year. They’ll take on San Antonio Harlan at a date, time and location to be determined.

“It has felt good this season,” Huerta said. “I’ve been getting more touches lately and just getting more comfortable with the game. I’ve been learning new things every week and getting into the end zone more. This season has been a great experience for me. Tonight, I just felt great out there. We were passing and running well. I couldn’t do anything without my lineman. All glory goes to God though. Great win and now we get another week to play.

Huerta got into the end zone early during the contest, bulldozing his way through the defense from three yards during the first to make it 14-0 after two offensive possessions for Harlingen High.

He took his game to another level during the second half, rushing for 105 yards and two of his three scores over the final 24 minutes.

The sophomore finished the game with 16 carries for 166 yards and three touchdowns, scoring on runs of 3, 16 and 54 yards.

“He (Noah) is really a defensive player,” Harlingen High head coach Manny Gomez said. “We saw his toughness and we needed a guy at running back and he stepped up. He comes from some good DNA. His brother, Nathan, was an all-world player for us a few years ago. He just has it in his heart and blood. He works extremely hard and that’s all we ask.”

Huerta wasn’t the only Cardinals player to shine during their first playoff start, with senior Drew Kornegay racking up 219 total yards and two touchdowns during his debut.

Kornegay opened the scoring for the Cardinals with a 18 yard touchdown pass to junior wideout Adam Sanchez during the first, adding a second touchdown pass to senior Aidan Cavazos to make it 35-0 after three.

He finished 15-of-19 for 153 yards and two touchdowns during his first playoff start, adding 66 rushing yards on nine carries.

The Cardinals’ offense finished with 418 total yards of offense behind Huerta and Kornegay’s big days, scoring on six of their nine offensive possessions.

Harlingen High quarterback Drew Kornegay, right, drops back to pass during a Class 6A DII bi-district game against Edinburg High on Thursday at Richard R. Flores Stadium in Edinburg. (Delcia Lopez | The Monitor)

“It starts with the offseason,” Kornegay said. “I always prepare like I’m QB1. That’s what my coaches instill in me. Really though, these guys up front that block for me and give me all the time in the world make it easy. The past few weeks everything has been working for us. We’ve been clicking on all cylinders. It just goes back to practice starting on Monday. We had a short week this week, so we had to focus up a little more. Our coaches put in a great game plan.”

Edinburg High’s offense struggled to find room against Harlingen High’s stout defense, mustering only 39 total yards during the first half.

The second half proved much of the same, with the Bobcats not sniffing the red zone until the fourth quarter when Harlingen High’s second unit entered the contest. All three red zone appearances ended in zero points, with the Cardinals defense holding on for the shutout.

Edinburg High finished with 179 total yards, led by senior running back Ryen Abrego’s 113 rushing yards on 19 carries.

Edinburg High quarterback JT Santa Maria is sacked by Harlingen High defensive linemen Julio Moreno, left, and Jacob Ortiz, right, during a Class 6A DII bi-district game Thursday at Richard R. Flores Stadium in Edinburg. (Delcia Lopez | The Monitor)

“At this stage of the game there is no going back to the drawing board,” Harlingen High head coach Manny Gomez said. “This is what makes it super exciting. Ain’t no time to relax. You’ve got to be at the edge of your seat. Every play has got to be like it’s your last. That’s why its exciting. Don’t get me wrong, the regular season is awesome, but this is where it is extra fun. Being around the block many times, I never get tired of this kind of stuff.”

[email protected]