It was a tale of two halves for the Brownsville Hanna Golden Eagles under the hot Texas sun Saturday at Sams Memorial Stadium.
During the first half, Hanna’s defense struggled to contain the Sharyland High, and the offense sputtered. In the second, the Eagles (1-1) came roaring back, scoring 30 points to earn a thrilling 37-26 victory over the Rattlers (1-1).
“After the kind of embarrassment we had last week, it was time to get back on track,” Hanna coach Mark Guess said. “We were down 20 to nothing, but these guys got no quit in them. In the end, we decided we wanted to play and we wanted to win a football game.”
The Rattlers came out swinging during the first quarter. On their first possession, senior quarterback Orly Lopez found junior Alan Gonzalez wide open in the middle of the field for a 33-yard touchdown pass.
Sharyland High junior Alek Gonzalez intercepted a pass and ran it back for a long defensive score on the next possession. Four plays later, Alan Gonzalez forced a fumble and Alek Gonzalez recovered to give the Rattlers the ball and all the momentum. Junior fullback Alan Guerrero quickly turned the second turnover into a 44-yard touchdown run, putting the Rattlers up 20-0 with 45 seconds left in the frame.
After the interception, Hanna senior Marco Mancha took over at quarterback for junior Josh Vela. Mancha completed passes to senior receiver Ethan Pena and junior tight end Gilbert Morales to move the Eagles near the red zone, but they turned it over on downs.
“We’re trying to find a quarterback that wants to lead this team. Both of them make their mistakes, and at this point we should have our starter,” Guess said. “Right now, we’ve got a quarterback battle going on. We’re going to find something that’s going to light a fire under their butts.”
Hanna’s Anthony Ambriz, Manrique Cantu and Isaiah Garcia slowed the Rattlers during the second quarter, giving the Eagles a scoring opportunity before halftime.
Vela returned at quarterback and connected with Ethan Pena and senior receiver Alejandro Arellano to direct a 73-yard scoring drive. With less than 20 seconds on the clock, Vela was hurried by Sharyland High senior defensive end Hektor Vargas, who knocked the ball loose. Vela recovered it on a bounce and delivered a strike to Ethan Pena, who showed great awareness to tap his feet inbounds for a 6-yard touchdown reception, making it 20-7 at halftime.
“I knew if we kept it a one- or two-score game that we were going to be fine,” Guess said. “I knew we’d be OK in the second half because our conditioning would take over.”
Hanna maintained that momentum and rode it to a blowout second half, outscoring the Rattlers 30-6. The Eagles kept Sharyland High out of the end zone, but the strong leg on junior kicker Kali Nguma added to the Rattlers’ score. Nguma nailed 36- and 42-yard field goals on consecutive drives. He pinned Hanna deep several times with solid punting and was 2-for-2 on PATs.
Kriz Pena’s vision and patience were on full display during the second half. He capped a scoring drive that he carried with an 8-yard touchdown run to make it a one-possession game midway through the third. On the following drive, Vela connected with junior receiver Joshua Villafranca twice to help set up a 23-yard touchdown run by Pena.
After a sack by Cantu, the swarming Hanna defense pinned the Rattlers on their own 4-yard-line on fourth down. The punter stepped out of the back of the end zone, resulting in a safety and two points for Hanna. The Eagles got the ball, and Pena promptly gave them their first lead of the contest, busting through tackles for an 83-yard touchdown run. He ran for 353 total yards.
“I was insanely tired, but (that run) felt good,” Pena said. “We knew we had what it takes. We started off slow … then we came out and did our job. It was the conditioning. It’s a hard day (of practice) every day, we condition, and our whole team felt 100 percent coming into the second half.”
Said Guess: “That’s one of the best high school football runs I’ve seen. I’m so proud of that kid. Littlest guy we’ve got suited up, but he’s got the biggest heart and he’s the biggest competitor we have.”
Sharyland High junior Cole Gerlach replaced Lopez at quarterback after a hit during the second half. With less than one minute to play and the Rattlers trailing 30-26, Gerlach and Co. turned to the pass. Ambriz intercepted a fourth-down heave and returned it approximately 75 yards for a touchdown, sealing the Hanna victory.
“It was awesome. It was like déjà vu from two years ago when I did the same thing against them. It felt great to hammer the nail for us. All the weight was lifted off our shoulders,” Ambriz said. “We’re not a team to give up. We have the confidence, we have the conditioning, and we came out and did our job.”
Senior linebacker Tennessee Cano had an impressive game to lead Sharyland High’s defensive effort. The Rattlers begin District 16-5A Division II play against Edcouch-Elsa on Friday, and Hanna will face Corpus Christi Miller in non-district action.
“They took the momentum, and we never got it back. They did a great job stopping us when they needed to,” Rattlers coach Craig Krell said. “We had a couple guys go down with some heat exhaustion, but that’s on us coaches for not having them in shape. We got to learn to finish. Until we do, we ain’t going to be a great team.”