Hawks soar past Eagles in district opener

HARLINGEN — The Harlingen South Hawks have been flying high during the first part of the season, and their winning ways continued when they opened District 32-6A play Friday at Boggus Stadium.

The Hawks soared to a 41-12 victory over Brownsville Hanna (1-3, 0-1 in 32-6A), fueled by another big performance from senior do-it-all standout Jeremiah Rivera. Harlingen South’s defense kept Hanna’s offense contained, recording a first-half shutout and two turnovers during the second half.

“God is good to the utmost degree. We’re super excited about where we’re at,” South coach Israel Gonzalez said. “We’re going to enjoy it tonight, but we’re back to work when the sun rises.”

Rivera and the Hawks (4-0, 1-0) started hot, scoring on their first two possessions. On the second play of the game, Rivera broke loose for a 74-yard rushing touchdown. He made it 14-0 midway through the first quarter on a 9-yard rushing score. Senior quarterback Xander Casarez connected with Rivera and senior receiver Elias Ledesma to keep the 60-yard scoring drive moving efficiently.

The Eagles’ defense forced two punts and a turnover on downs to keep the game within reach at halftime. Senior Humberto Garcia and junior Manrique Cantu helped the defensive line stop South’s run game, and senior defensive back Anthony Ambriz shored up the secondary.

But Hanna’s offense couldn’t get going during the first half. South’s Joe Jimenez, Andrew Luna and Levi Ince kept the Eagles from having much success running the ball. After punting on their first four possessions, the Eagles turned to the pass and got a rhythm going late in the second quarter.

Senior backup quarterback Marco Mancha hit senior receiver Ethan Pena for a 16-yard reception, picking up Hanna’s first first-down of the contest. Pena made two more nice catches, including a tip-toe grab on South’s sideline, and had a big run to help Hanna get to first-and-goal on the 4-yard-line.

The Eagles couldn’t finish after throwing six incomplete passes inside the red zone, one of which was tipped as South’s Marcus Jasso leaped into the air on a good defensive play.

“Defense has done a tremendous job all year. The staff does a tremendous job with the game plan, the kids believe in the game plan, and they came out and executed,” Gonzalez said.

Hanna came out with some fire in the second half. The Eagles scored on their first possession as junior running back Kriz Pena busted through tackles after a pass from junior quarterback Josh Vela, the starter, for a 33-yard pickup. Kriz Pena followed a great block from senior offensive lineman German Woo to get downfield. Vela scored on a 2-yard carry, but the PAT was missed.

“I always preach to our kids, ‘We don’t get what we think we deserve, we get what we earn,’” Hanna coach Mark Guess said. “These guys work their tails off, they’re giving us every ounce that they got, we just got to keep getting better.”

South answered quickly as Casarez delivered a strike to a well-defended Fidencio Mesa for a 24-yard touchdown. On the ensuing Hanna drive, Jayden Galindo notched an interception that the Hawks cashed in on Rivera’s third score. Casarez dumped off a third-down pass to Rivera, and he followed blockers through the defense for a 37-yard score.

“I felt pretty good. It was all thanks to my O-linemen, they had some very good blocks, and my receivers, too. They were helping me score all my touchdowns,” Rivera said. “At halftime we made some adjustments, everybody came together and we were just explosive. It feels really great right now, but we have to get back to work tomorrow.”

After the interception, Ambriz became the third Eagles player to line up at quarterback, but South continued to stifle Hanna’s offense. Vela returned and hit Kriz Pena on a short pass, and the junior showed his elusiveness to get 70 yards downfield, setting up a 3-yard rushing touchdown from Vela. Hanna had two tries at the two-point conversion following a penalty, and both were unsuccessful.

“We’ve got to get someone (at quarterback) that’s going to move the ball and get us into the end zone. We’re trying to work on some things, see what we can do to get a spark in our offense,” Guess said.

South kept its foot on the pedal throughout the fourth. Casarez and Mesa linked up again for a 58-yard touchdown. Senior running back Marcos Gonzales plowed through the defense for a 4-yard rushing touchdown, adding to an impressive and well-distributed offensive performance conducted by Casarez. Jared Rivera notched an interception in the end zone on Hanna’s last possession.

“(Casarez is) calm, cool and collected,” Gonzalez said. “He’s a senior, he’s used to the pressure. He’s the leader of this football team, and he does a tremendous job. We know he’s going to be able to handle any situation, and we love him to death.”

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