SAN BENITO — For the second straight week, competing in another colossal District 32-6A game, the Harlingen South Hawks found themselves trailing after a slow start during the first quarter.

Again, the Hawks rallied and earned a hard-fought, thrilling victory. No. 4 Harlingen South (6-0, 3-0) defeated the No. 3 San Benito Greyhounds (5-1, 2-1) 28-21 on Friday at Bobby Morrow Stadium in another impressive win.

“We weren’t ourselves the first few drives, but after that I went up to the guys and I said, ‘We got this. This is our game.’ And we went out and did it,” Hawks senior quarterback Xander Casarez said. “32-6A is a meat-grinder, and we were playing one of the toughest teams in the district. Much respect to San Benito, they’re a great ball club. We’re thankful and just want to give glory to God. We’re letting the Valley know who Harlingen South really is.”

San Benito forced a turnover on downs and a three-and-out on South’s first two possessions during the opening quarter. The aggressive and quick Greyhounds defense swarmed Hawks runners and did well in the secondary to keep South’s playmakers covered and contained. The linebacker duo of Mauricio Padilla and Armando Bonilla made their presence known early.

The ’Hounds used a fast offensive start and an efficient opening drive to take a 7-0 lead. Sophomore running back Fabian Garcia made an immediate impact, slipping tackles and picking up first downs. Senior receiver Jermaine Corbin pushed through for a 2-yard touchdown run.

South’s defense, led by senior Levi Ince and junior Caleb Anaya, adjusted to slow down the run. The Hawks forced a turnover on downs to start the second quarter, setting the tone for the comeback.

San Benito Greyhounds’ Fabian Garcia (14) brings up his arm to protect the ball as Harlingen South Hawks’ Rene Reyna (31) and Andrew Luna (35) go for the tackle Friday during the District 32-6A game between Harlingen South Hawks and the San Benito Greyhounds at Bobby Morrow Stadium.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

The Hawks opened up the field and Casarez shined to give South a 14-7 advantage at halftime. Casarez completed seven passes to four different targets to get the Hawks rolling during the second quarter. He found sophomore Jacob Cano on third down for a 20-yard touchdown pass midway through the frame. Just before half, Casarez pitched to Jeremiah Rivera, and the senior do-it-all weapon delivered an 18-yard touchdown pass to senior Elias Ledesma for the lead.

“It helps a lot just to know when the defense is covering up our guys, it’s not just one guy, I can throw to whoever I want, hand the ball to whoever I want to, and we’ll make plays,” Casarez said. “I want to thank the O-line for everything they do.”

San Benito’s halftime adjustments immediately paid dividends. The ’Hounds controlled the third quarter, stifling South’s offense and scoring 14 points to regain the lead. Junior quarterback Rodney Rodriguez, running back Atticus DeLeon and Garcia moved the Greyhounds steadily down field. Rodriguez reached the end zone twice, first on a 4-yard keep around the edge and then after showcasing his speed on a breakaway 53-yard touchdown run.

Casarez led a quick South response with two huge passing gains to senior Fidencio Mesa and Ledesma, setting up a 1-yard rushing touchdown for Rivera in the fourth quarter. The PAT was missed, keeping the ’Hounds on top 21-20.

Rene Reyna, Gilbert Lerma and Jayden Galindo helped South’s tremendous defensive effort during the final frame. After forcing a three-and-out, South marched down the field behind tough runs from Marcos Gonzales. The senior running back escaped a tackle on a 26-yard rushing touchdown, then junior Ethan Garza converted the 2-point attempt for the lead.

San Benito punted and turned it over on downs on its next two possessions, failing to take advantage of a fumble recovery. But the defense came up with a huge stop on South’s last possession, giving the Greyhounds one chance with less than one minute remaining to tie or win.

San Benito Greyhounds’ DeAnthony Mireles (24) hangs on as Harlingen South Hakws’ Xander Casarez (8) tries and fails to shake him off Friday during the District 32-6A game between Harlingen South Hawks and the San Benito Greyhounds at Bobby Morrow Stadium.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)
Harlingen South Hawks’ Esteban Morales (80) punts the ball over nearby San Benito Greyhounds’ defense Friday during the District 32-6A game between Harlingen South Hawks and the San Benito Greyhounds at Bobby Morrow Stadium.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

“‘Defense, please do it again. Jesus Christ, help us out,’ that’s what was going through my mind,” South coach Israel Gonzalez said.

South’s defense did indeed get another stop, using heavy pressure to rush the quarterback and a great effort in the secondary to prevent big plays, maintaining the perfect record.

“It feels amazing. These young men deserve it. They’ve grown up so much, they’ve worked so hard. This coaching staff has put in so much time and effort. It’s tremendous. I can’t explain the feeling in words,” Gonzalez said. “They’re learning to finish, learning to be tenacious and to have some grit, and they’re showing true Hawk character. I’m so proud of these guys.”

Next week, the Hawks will take on Donna North. San Benito has another big game, with the Battle of the Arroyo against Harlingen High looming.

“Hat’s off to (South). It was exactly what we thought it was going to be. It was a competitive ballgame, both teams played their hearts out,” Greyhounds coach Dan Gomez said. “I’m proud of our boys (for) not giving up all the way to the end. That’s all we ask these kids to do, play hard and give it all on the field, and that’s what they did tonight. Learn from it and move on.”

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