HARLINGEN — For the second time this season, the Harlingen High Cardinals will be playing in a game celebrated by the Great American Rivalry Series.
Two weeks removed from the Bird Bowl, the Cardinals now have their sights set on one of the Rio Grande Valley’s most iconic rivalries — the Battle of the Arroyo. Its legend has spread beyond South Texas as the tradition grows.
No. 3 Harlingen High (4-2, 2-1) will travel to Bobby Morrow Stadium at 7 p.m. today to take on the No. 4 San Benito Greyhounds (5-1, 2-1) in a District 32-6A game. The winner will take an important step to maintaining its place in second in the district standings.
“It’s going to be a different environment, especially because we’re not playing at home. But we’ve put in so much work, we’re going to be ready,” junior running back Izaiah Bell said. “(Knowing the importance) keeps us on our toes. We have to work for it, and we can’t take no plays off. We’re going to do what we got to do.”
Bell serves as the workhorse in the Cardinals’ backfield, grinding out yards and scoring touchdowns behind his powerful running style. He said he’s grown as a player since last season, focusing on his mentality and work ethic to handle the responsibility he has on offense.
“Last year, I didn’t play as well as I should have, but I put a lot of work in and I prepared for this. I knew I had to do some things to get better,” Bell said.
Along with himself, Bell said the whole team has grown up during this season. He praised the offensive line’s improvement from the first day of practice to now. Also, he said senior quarterback Joe Lopez and the receiving corps of Aiden Sandoval, Isaiah Perales, Zachary Sauceda and Ian Solis makes plays when it is called upon.
Bell expects Friday’s game to be competitive and said the Greyhounds’ speedy defense has been a point of emphasis for the Cardinals’ offense.
“They move pretty quickly, they don’t just let themselves get blocked, so we’re gonna have to be more physical and work harder to block them,” Bell said. “I feel like it’s going to be wild, it’s going to be crazy. I think it’s going to be a good game.”
Defensively, senior linebacker JC Moradel is a top contributor in a talented bunch. He and senior defensive lineman Nathan Huerta are longtime standouts for Harlingen High, but Moradel also credited senior defensive back Julio Sanchez for “stepping up to lead the younger DBs.”
Moradel said the Cardinals don’t change the way they prepare just because it’s a rivalry game. They’ve watched film, and he feels confident in Harlingen High’s chances at stopping San Benito’s offense.
“I’m hoping to see full domination,” Moradel said. “Our defense plays very aggressive. We’re very smart, too. We take time off the field to prepare for what’s on the field. We also play fast. … I expect everybody to be on point. Yeah, it’s a big game, and it can get to some people’s minds. But I just try to keep everybody straight as a leader and try to lead my team to victory.”
One of Moradel’s objectives as a leader is to bring the energy. He doesn’t have to try too hard to do that before a game like this, but his special relationship with the BOTA gives him extra ammunition and more desire to close his career with a 3-0 record in the rivalry.
“My sophomore year, this was my first game starting, so it means a lot to me going in to play San Benito,” Moradel said. “I do feel extra adrenaline running through me. I try to hype up my dogs, my teammates. I like talking to them 1-on-1. I like feeding their heart, and I want them to feed my heart as well. I want them to feel how much it means to me and for them to carry on the tradition, because in Harlingen it’s all about tradition.”