EDINBURG — The Edinburg Vela SaberCats showcased their top ranked defense in the Rio Grande Valley with a 17-7 win over San Benito on Thursday at Richard R. Flores Stadium in Region IV-6A Division II bi-district action.

It’s the fifth consecutive first-round playoff win for the District 31-6A champion SaberCats. The SaberCats advance to the area round to face the winner of San Antonio Taft (8-2, 6-2) and Del Rio (4-6, 3-3).

“They’re a very scrappy, well-coached bunch,” Edinburg Vela head coach John Campbell said of San Benito. “We knew it was going to be a challenge and we thought we had some opportunities that we didn’t necessarily capitalize on, but a lot of that credit goes to San Benito and how they prepared. Good game, obviously we came out with the victory and that’s what matters most.”

The Edinburg Vela defense came away with a pair of interceptions by defensive backs Justin Navarro and Miguel Ibarra, and a game-sealing pick by middle linebacker and team captain Ryan Rodriguez. The special teams unit got in on the action as Joshua Garcia blocked a San Benito punt.

Edinburg Vela offensive weapon PJ Rivera provided a spark with a 32-yard touchdown reception on his first touch of the game. He finished as the workhorse for the SaberCats with 139 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.

“PJ was where it was at,” Campbell said. “He had some big plays in the passing game and obviously was a threat in the running game. He’s been a very versatile player for us at receiver and in the backfield, so without PJ tonight, it would have been tough.”

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Edinburg Vela’s PJ Rivera (1)bursts up the middle for yardage as San Benito’s Mauricio Padilla (28) gives chase during the 1st half of a playoff game at Richard R. Flores Stadium on Thursday Nov.11,2021 in Edinburg.(Delcia Lopez/The Monitor | [email protected])

Kicker Job Juarez added a 28-yard field goal to give Vela a 10-7 halftime lead.

San Benito scored on a 5-yard play action pass by Atticus De Leon to tight end Chris Thrailkill to tie the game at 7-7 late during the first quarter.

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