Chargers’ defense rattles Wildcats in signature district win

The Brownsville Veterans Memorial Chargers handed the Weslaco East Wildcats their first district loss since 2018 behind a stellar defensive effort Friday.

Brownsville Veterans (2-1, 2-0 District 16-5A Division I) shut down the Wildcats’ offense during the first half and forced a shift in their identity.

Weslaco East (1-1, 1-1) typically employs a run-heavy offense, but the Chargers’ defensive line stymied that plan from the jump. The Wildcats had to turn to the pass in the second half, and the Chargers turned up the pressure to secure a key 24-17 victory over the district championship favorite Wildcats.

“It feels amazing. We knew this was going to be a tough game, we saw all the predictions for Weslaco East. But we didn’t let that bother us,” Chargers senior linebacker William Wassen said. “We knew what we have as a team, and we stayed together and we worked hard every day for this game. We knew we had to bring it tonight.”

Brownsville Veterans sophomore defensive lineman Israel Yanez recovered a fumble to end Weslaco East’s first possession. Yanez and the Chargers’ standout linebacker duo of Wassen and Jorge Alvarado kept the Wildcats completely contained for the majority of the first half, forcing three consecutive punts after the turnover and a change in personnel at quarterback.

The Wildcats didn’t get an offensive rhythm going until late in the second quarter, when they started a drive on the Chargers’ 44-yard-line following a shanked punt. Backup quarterback Alex Martinez completed passes to Jesse Garcia and Jay Vasquez to get some momentum. Vasquez and Martinez picked up key yards with their legs and got Weslaco East into first-and-goal on the 3-yard-line.

With the Wildcats on the 1-yard-line, the Chargers’ defense held firm, stopping a quarterback sneak up the middle and a pitch outside to the speedy Vasquez to keep the Wildcats out of the end zone as the halftime buzzer sounded. Brownsville Veterans’ players, coaches and fans went wild after the goal-line stop.

“When we had the shutout in the first half, I was so proud of these guys. Everything we worked on was executed on the field,” Wassen said.

Brownsville Veterans held a 17-0 lead at halftime thanks to a fast start by the offense. Senior running back/defensive back Jose Moreno and junior quarterback Reece Sampayo led an efficient performance by the Chargers that resulted in three consecutive scores during the first half.

Moreno scored on a 3-yard rushing touchdown during the first quarter. On the first play of the second quarter, Sampayo found senior receiver/defensive back Zackary Dennis after he juked single coverage for a 19-yard touchdown. Senior kicker Jose Medrano nailed a 25-yard field goal midway through the second quarter to extend the lead. Medrano was 3-for-3 on PATs and punted well for the Chargers.

“We’re young, and we’ve started off well and we know we’re only going to get better,” Chargers coach Kelley Lee said. “We were very physical up front. Our D-line got off the ball, our linebackers really stopped the run. We made them one-dimensional where they had to throw in the second half … and that’s not their forte, so anytime you can get someone out of their element that’s good. We accomplished our game plan.”

Weslaco East scored on its first possession of the second half. Starting quarterback Javier Garza returned under center and capped a 72-yard scoring drive with a 1-yard rush. Brownsville Veterans answered three minutes later as Sampayo and Dennis connected again, this time for a 66-yard passing touchdown after the quarterback escaped pressure and delivered a perfectly placed strike.

Trailing by 17 with time running out, Garza and Co. tried to open up the field. Yanez and junior D-lineman Christian De La Garza recorded sacks, and Moreno broke up pass attempts to force Weslaco East punts.

The Wildcats cut into the lead in the fourth as kicker Pedro Espinoza made a 28-yard field goal, but they couldn’t complete the comeback. Wassen and the Chargers’ D-line were too much for Weslaco East to overcome.

“We shut down the run completely. They love to run, that’s all they do. We made them pass, and that’s not something they’re comfortable with,” Wassen said. “We’re going to keep on building with the support from our fans and keep on rolling.”

Diego Ortiz, Silver Rangel, Joe Lugo and Rodrigo Puentes played well to lead the Wildcats’ defense.

Brownsville Veterans junior running back Jay Valdez had another nice game contributing to the offense. The Chargers’ drives were meticulous and time-consuming, and though there were some mishaps that fortunately rolled their way, Lee is pleased with the offense’s consistent growth.

“We really grew up tonight against a quality program, great team. I’m really proud of our guys,” Lee said. “Lot of young guys playing, and they learned a lot about how to play tough district football tonight. (This win) shows us that anything is possible. It’s a tough district, but traditionally it doesn’t get any better than (Weslaco East), so if we can beat that we can play with anyone.”

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