BROWNSVILLE — The Los Fresnos Falcons showed how impactful special teams can be Saturday at Sams Memorial Stadium.
Los Fresnos (3-2, 2-1 in District 32-6A) cruised to a 39-6 victory over the Brownsville Rivera Raiders (2-4, 0-3). The win was fueled by two huge special teams plays that led to the Falcons scoring 18 points during a two-minute span just before halftime.
“It was great. These coaches put together a great game plan for us, and everybody executed and we came out victorious,” Falcons senior quarterback Matthew Padilla said. “Those (special teams) guys are just as important as first-team offense, first-team defense. They made big plays for us, and it gave us momentum for the rest of the game. … We’ve been fighting hard for one another. It’s great to be a part of this team.”
Both teams started slow and struggled to find a rhythm on offense, exchanging punts after short drives. Los Fresnos took the lead with 2:58 on the clock in the first quarter, capping a 78-yard drive with a 22-yard rushing touchdown by Padilla. Early in the second, Falcons senior athlete Hector Muniz extended the lead behind a strong run for a 10-yard touchdown.
During the final three minutes of the second quarter, Los Fresnos scored three times — all because of special teams. First, sophomore kicker Jose Contreras nailed a 42-yard field goal. Then, the Falcons spoiled back-to-back kickoff return attempts by Rivera, giving Los Fresnos’ offense the ball on the 21- and 19-yard line to start possessions.
Padilla connected with Muniz for a 15-yard passing touchdown following the first possession, and on the PAT, senior holder Rex Halford took the snap to the end zone for the two-point conversion. Padilla cashed in the second turnover with a 6-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Edsson Picazo, making it 32-0 at halftime.
“Coach Greg Pena, our special teams coordinator, put a lot of little new things in there and the kids executed. That was big,” Falcons coach David Cantu said. “Offensively, we got our run game going, which was nice. We did just enough in the pass game to keep it balanced, so I’m pleased with that. It feels like (we’re finding our rhythm).”
The Raiders made solid adjustments at halftime and played lights-out defensively during the second half, holding the Falcons to just one late score that came when both teams had backups in.
Junior Eric Arevalo and senior Arnold Rodarte were dominant as they anchored Rivera’s defensive line. Arevalo busted through the Falcons’ O-line and found himself in the backfield often, recording tackles and knocking down or deflecting several passes. Juniors linebacker Abel Campos and defensive back Alek Guzman contributed to the strong defensive performance during the second half.
“The first half, we had a tough time setting that edge. They were getting around on us. Our (defensive coordinator) Hugo Ramirez did a good job with halftime adjustments. They started setting that edge, slowed them down and held them,” Raiders coach Beto Leal said. “Our defense is our catalyst. We hang our hat on our defense. I’m glad they didn’t quit.”
Even with the defense shutting down Los Fresnos, the Raiders couldn’t put together a comeback attempt because of inconsistency on offense. Senior quarterback Ramsey Rocha played well, but he was rushed out of the pocket far too often as the Falcons’ defensive line manhandled Rivera’s offensive line.
When he had time, Rocha delivered nice passes to top targets senior Adrian Arriaga and junior Devin Parker for big gains. Junior running back Luis Reyes ran hard but didn’t have a block to follow or lane to bust through often enough.
Rivera scored during the third quarter on a 10-yard pass from Rocha to Parker, who reeled in the reception despite pass interference. Again, Los Fresnos’ special teams had a signature moment as senior linebacker Jayden Moreno blocked the PAT.
“We got to get something going (on offense),” Leal said. “Ramsey’s doing everything he can, but our O-line, it was a bad night for our O-line. We’re going to fix it.”
Moreno had a huge game for Los Fresnos. He was influential in both kickoff return blunders, recovering the loose ball after the first stop. He added an interception to his highlight reel during the fourth quarter. Junior defensive lineman Vicente Rocio and junior linebacker RJ Limon played well to help lead the Falcons defensively.
On Los Fresnos’ last possession, Halford took over at quarterback and led a 70-yard scoring drive that was helped by penalties against the Raiders. Halford’s 11-yard rushing touchdown spoiled the second-half shutout.
The Falcons did have issues with false start penalties, but overall they put together a second straight solid performance in a district contest.
“We got to control our emotions and fix the penalties. And we have to get healthy. We’re pretty banged up, so hopefully the kids can bounce back,” Cantu said. “I’m proud of the kids tonight.”