Tarpons not taking ‘puppies’ to area this season

PORT ISABEL — Port Isabel has returned to the area round of the playoffs for a third straight season, and out of the previous three trips this might be the Tarpons’ best chance of making it to the third round.

Port Isabel faces Geronimo Navarro at 7:30 p.m. Friday in San Diego for a Class 4A DII area-round game.

It might be the best chance, but it is not going to be easy against Navarro. The Panthers whopped the Tarpons two seasons ago in this round, 55-7, and come from one of the toughest — if not the toughest — districts in Region IV-4A DII, District 13-4A DII.

The Tarpons lost 35-21 to Jarrell, also from District 13-4A DII, last season, but Jarrell’s system was a tough ask for Port Isabel.

Port Isabel Tarpons offense defends the ball from Rio Hondo Bobcats Thursday evening. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

However, Navarro runs the slot-T, the same offense as Port Isabel.

“I think we are pretty evenly matched,” Port Isabel head coach Tony Villarreal said. “I think two years ago when we went over there we were a little bit undermatched. We did the best we could, but this year we got players that played two years ago as sophomores and freshmen … now they have grown to pretty good young men. We are going over there for a dogfight, and we are not taking a bunch of puppies. We are taking some full-grown dogs.”

The Tarpons are a physical team and rely on that mindset like most run-heavy offenses. Port Isabel expects a fight along the line as both teams will look to implement their slot-T offense.

“It is going to be a really tough game,” said Steven Martinez, a junior guard and defensive lineman. “The most physical team is going to win the game. The team that stays low and wins the most battles is going to win the game.”

Port Isabel’s defensive line at practice on Wednesday, Sep. 27, 2023. From left to right, bottom: Carlos Cabrera, Michael Torres, Alex Perez and Chris Gonzalez. Top: Enrique Vasquez, Steve Martinez and Brian Cienfuegos. Not in the picture, Ryantino Martinez. (Edward Severn/The Brownsville Herald)

It is easier from a preparation standpoint, going against the same offense. Robstown provided Port Isabel with some problems and the Tarpons made some mistakes themselves in the first round as they shook off some rust after taking a week off before playoffs.

The Tarpons spotted Robstown 13 points before scoring 28 straight points. Robstown came back, but Port Isabel is built for shootouts despite having a run-heavy offense and ended up winning 42-38.

“We did not panic,” senior fullback and linebacker Tristan Garcia said. “We know that we can come back and win. The moment you panic is when you are going to probably mess up a play or something like that.”

Port Isabel Tarpon running back Tristan Garcia (24) scores a touchdown against Raymondville Bearkats Friday night at Tarpon Stadium. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

Garcia, along with Luis Ramos and Jose Ochoa, rushed for more than 100 yards against Robstown. Villarreal said he did not remember the last time he had three rushers go for 100 each.

“I have had to step it up a lot,” Ochoa said. “It has been tough, but I have been going in a lot and getting tired. I like it.”

Ochoa and other running backs have had to step up since the season-ending injury to senior running back Andrew LeBlanc. Some of them also have to play defense.

Raymondville Bearkats battle to keep possession of the ball Friday night against Port Isabel Tarpons. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

But the Tarpons have played in this system. Seniors and juniors all have played on offense or defense, or provided scout team looks for each other.

Senior backup quarterback and starting safety Kevin Morales said play recognition could be key when he takes the field defensively because of his role on the Tarpons’ offense.

“I feel like I can read their line, their guards pulling,” Morales said. “I will know what play they are running, more or less. That will help me out a lot because 349 is one of their strongest plays. So if I see them block down, I am ripping down the hole and getting them.”

Port Isabel vs. Robstown Highlights on Hudl

The play ‘349’ is a weak-side sweep that will go to Navarro running back Antwoin Mebane. The senior back took that play numerous times for big gains against YMLA in the first round.

The Panthers won 48-0.

Mebane rushed for 1,184 yards with 11 rushing touchdowns during the season. The Panthers also have a hard-running fullback named Diego Chapa that they like to run on early downs, and the quarterback that can push the ball downfield on the play-action.

Morales and the defense are ready for the test against Navarro. Linebacker Daniel Galvan made plays and stepped up against Robstown, like Morales, Martinez, Garcia, Ramos, Ochoa and many others.

Galvan broke his hand against Robstown and is going to cast it up for Navarro.

“I am ready,” Galvan said. “I do not think it is going to stop me. I am ready to go in there, have confidence when trying to stop these guys and get my seniors to the next round.”