PHARR — Tonight’s RGVSports.com Game of the Week between No. 1 Edinburg Vela and No. 3 PSJA North at 7 p.m. at PSJA Stadium has all the makings of a heavyweight fight.
The Raiders (4-0, 1-0) and SaberCats (4-0, 1-0) have been circling each other for seven months since the UIL’s latest realignment, which sent both teams down from the Class 6A level to Class 5A to compete against each other in the same district for the third straight season. Like title contenders in boxing sharing the same weight class, the two have been on a collision course that finally will be settled after 48 minutes on the gridiron.
“This is why kids play high school sports. You’re going to get a playoff atmosphere in midseason, PSJA Stadium is an awesome venue, some of the kids know each other, so it’s made for memories the rest of their life, and that’s ultimately what this is all about,” Edinburg Vela head coach John Campbell said.
In the red corner, PSJA North.
The Raiders have steamrolled their opposition this season, outscoring teams 171-41. PSJA North brings in District 15-5A DI’s top offense (519.3 yards per game) and top defense (171.3 yards allowed per game).
“Communication and discipline has allowed us to win those ballgames and be victorious. Going into a ballgame against Vela, we have to keep our focus and not take our foot off the gas,” PSJA North junior quarterback Ale Aparicio said.
In the blue corner, Edinburg Vela.
The SaberCats have dropped 50 or more points in all four games this season to outscore opponents 222-34. Edinburg Vela is the second-ranked defense in District 15-5A DI, surrendering 173 yards per game, and the offense ranks No. 3 with 422.3 yards per game.
“We can’t take it any different than any other opponent. We know it’s going to be a good game — we know it’s going to be a dogfight,” Edinburg Vela senior receiver and kick returner Justin Navarro said.
Both teams are coming off trips to the regional semifinal round of the playoffs in Class 6A in 2021. Now at the 5A level, both the Raiders and SaberCats have goals of breaking through to the regional final.
The two met during district play last year as Edinburg Vela secured a 24-0 win, their lowest margin of victory during the regular season. Both defenses made plays as PSJA North forced Vela into two red zone turnovers, and the SaberCats pitched the shutout.
“They were a tough team that didn’t back down. They kept the fight up the whole game, and I expect the same thing from this team,” Edinburg Vela defensive end Jake Dufner said.
“It’s definitely a big game, but it’s different now compared to last year,” PSJA North senior cornerback Nick Gaona said. “We’re a better team, have better chemistry and are more talented.”
While Edinburg Vela is used to playing in big games with district title and playoff implications, PSJA North is on its way with experience playing against Austin Westlake in Round 3 of the playoffs in San Antonio’s Alamodome last season.
“They just got to do what they do. The moment’s not going to be big for them because they played against Westlake and they didn’t back down to Westlake,” PSJA North head coach Marcus Kaufmann said. “We got killed, but they didn’t back down and played hard the whole time, so I expect that from them now. The only thing I want them to do is don’t get outside of yourself and don’t make the moment too big for yourself.”
OPENING THE PLAYBOOK
Widely known for running the ball and playing stingy defense, this year’s group of Raiders has drastically improved its aerial attack with Aparicio under and behind center.
PSJA North’s offense finished last season with 933 passing yards in 13 games. Through four games played this season, the Raiders have thrown for 638 yards and seven touchdowns. One of the biggest contributors has been tight end Julius Arredondo, who filled in at quarterback for Aparicio when he missed time with a shoulder injury during the 2021 season.
“I’m just trying to be a role player for the team, not trying to do anything selfish, just doing whatever is best for the team. If they need me at any position, I’m there for the team,” said Arredondo, who has seven catches for 172 yards and four touchdowns this season.
VELA’S DISTRICT STREAK
The SaberCats haven’t lost a district game since Nov. 8, 2019. They’ve won 13 straight district games and have captured two district titles with unblemished records in league play since then.
If Edinburg Vela can get through PSJA North, the SaberCats’ path to winning a seventh district championship in eight seasons becomes much clearer.
After dropping the district game during the 2019 season, the SaberCats went on to reach the regional semifinal round of the Class 6A playoffs.
MUSTANGS TURNED RAIDERS, SABERCATS
Multiple players taking the field tonight go back to their youth football days playing with the Mission Mustangs.
While they were teammates when they won the 2018 Texas Youth Football & Cheer Association state championship together a few years ago, they’re now playing at the highest level of football in the Rio Grande Valley in one of the biggest games of 2022.
Edinburg Vela players who were on the Mission Mustangs’ 2018 roster include Jamal Polley and Alexzander Sotelo. Polley leads Edinburg Vela’s rushing attack with 581 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, and Sotelo is a starter at defensive end that just so happened to score twice last week during a 63-0 win over McAllen Memorial on a blocked field goal returned for six and a blocked punt recovered in the end zone.
For PSJA North, Aparicio, Andre Matamoros, Joe Derek Vecchio, Jason and Jesse Montez, Jordan Brewster, Markus Rendon and Michael Gonzales all played for the Mission Mustangs. They all now play pivotal roles with the Raiders both offensively and defensively.