GRULLA — The 2020 season came to an unceremonious end for the Grulla Gators after punching their ticket to the playoffs but having to forfeit their bi-district game due to COVID-19 concerns.

One year later, the Gators (4-4, 2-2) have done enough to earn their way back into the postseason. This time around, they’re relishing the opportunity.

“Last year was heartbreaking not being able to play that playoff game and seeing our seniors not getting the chance to play,” senior linebacker Derick Amaro said. “We’re excited to be here and play this year, and we’re hoping to get a win.”

Head coach Abel Gonzalez leads his team into a first-round playoff matchup against Port Lavaca Calhoun at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Alice Memorial Stadium in Alice.

“A lot of teams in Texas have already hung it up and put away the pads and helmets, but we’re still rolling. Playoff football, playoff practice, there’s nothing like it,” he said. “… Representing District 16-4A DI as the second seed, I’m really proud of this team and excited the way some of the kids have stepped up in key roles and put us in this position.”

The 2021 season hasn’t come without adversity, however.

The injury bug bit the Gators early during the season, which resulted in losing starting senior quarterback Austin Garcia for the year. Sophomore safety Andrew Sanchez flipped to the other side of the ball to fill his shoes, and he delivered by helping lead Grulla to district wins over Hidalgo and Zapata.

“I’m very proud of him (Sanchez) as a sophomore to come in there and he’s learning every week. His demeanor, the way he presents himself on the field, it’s all positive, so it’s exciting,” Gonzalez said. “I felt bad for Austin, a senior who had paid his dues to be there, but he’s been awesome for us too as a coach on the sideline.”

One of the constants for the Gators is the play of a solid offensive line led by senior right tackle and four-year letterman Jovanny Lopez.

“We’re the ones that are going to control the game. You feel our punch, and our offensive line is up there with the best in the district,” he said.

Grulla’s defense will also be put to the test against a powerful running game from Port Lavaca Calhoun that has 3,634 rushing yards in nine games this season.

The Gators are up to the challenge.

“It’s all business. We’re just getting the work done, grinding, getting ready,” senior linebacker Jorge Guerrero said. “We have to play aggressive and violent.”

“We understand it’s going to be a tough matchup,” Gonzalez said. “Port LaVaca Calhoun is a very strong team that plays in a strong district. They’re physical, but our kids are up for the challenge and we’re excited to go up there to Alice on Friday and battle.”

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