Raiders’ defense ready to battle high-scoring Bobcats

Coming into the season, Brownsville Rivera coach Beto Leal was excited about the Raiders’ defense.

With eight starters returning from last season, he knew the unit would be experienced and competitive. Through the first two weeks of the season, Rivera’s defense has held opponents to low point totals and showed its potential. The Raiders (1-1) have a big test up next when they head to Rio Hondo for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff against the Bobcats (2-0) and their high-scoring offense.

“They’ve really lived up to (our preseason hopes). We have expectations for them, they have expectations for themselves, and they know when they mess up and when they do right,” Leal said. “(Rio Hondo is) 2-0 for a reason. Rocky James does a damn good job over there, everybody knows that. We want to beat them, and that’s what our plan is to do.

“We have to stop their running back and their quarterback, they’re both pretty good,” Leal added. “That’s our game plan right now. Our whole main focus is stopping those two guys, among others, but those two stand out.”

Rio Hondo has outscored its first two opponents 114-6. The Bobcats are led offensively by senior running back Ethan Jeradiah and senior quarterback Zechariah Rios. Jeradiah has rushed for more than 400 yards and six touchdowns this season, and Rios has added five passing touchdowns and more than 350 yards in the air. Senior receiver Tomas Arredondo is a key target in the passing game with 12 receptions for 232 yards and four scores.

The Raiders are confident they can slow the explosive offense. Junior linebacker Abel Campos said the defense is “a lot better than last year” and feels prepared for anything Rio Hondo brings to the table.

“The bond that we have together and all the grind we put in (helps us play well),” Campos said. “Our whole defense is good. Especially on that defensive line, we have a lot of speed on the outside and a lot of strength in the middle. (We expect) a lot of trick plays and different plays (we can stop) with our D-line and our linebackers.”

Fellow junior linebacker Jose Hernandez echoed Campos’ sentiments, saying the defense has “improved tremendously” since last year. Hernandez said the Raiders have a lot of talented playmakers that truly understand the defense, which makes the unit dangerous.

“I think we’re solid and we’re going to get better. We’re a very fast defense and a very aggressive defense,” Hernandez said. “We’ve worked on our corners and backs so we can focus on (Rio Hondo’s) passing. And we’ve worked on contain to stop their running back. They are 50-50, but we’re expecting more of a pass since that’s what kind of hurt us last game. … I think we’re going to win this game. We know our defense and we can call a lot of plays, so it makes me very confident and I have trust in them.”

Leal spoke highly of Rivera’s defensive line, which features seven players in Adrian Lerma, Rogelio Lopez, Damian Rubalcava, Arnold Rodarte, Erick Arevelo, JP Cuello and Hector Guerrero, who rotate throughout the game to stay fresh. He credited defensive coordinator Hugo Ramirez and D-line coach Eddie Wall Garcia for doing a good job with the group that keeps the Raiders competitive.

Leal said he’s expecting today’s contest to be more of a defensive showdown, but he knows both offenses can and will score some points. He wants the defense to start strong and stay strong, and for the team to use this final test before District 32-6A play to continue improving.

“Kids have been playing great. We’re not where we want to be, and nobody really is yet, so we just have to get better,” Leal said. “We had a very good defensive game against PSJA North, offensively we started slow. Vice versa against Edinburg (High), offense started fast and defense started slow. Once we get all three phases together, I think we’re going to be OK. It’s going to be about who comes out to play, the Raiders or the Bobcats.”

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