HARLINGEN — “Streak is over” and “This is our year” chants erupted from the Harlingen South student section, encompassing the importance of what happened Saturday at Boggus Stadium.
For the first time since 2007, the Harlingen South Hawks are kings of the city after clinching a 28-21 win over Harlingen High in the 29th annual Bird Bowl. The victory lifts the No. 5 Hawks to 5-0, 2-0 in District 32-6A, and further legitimizes their title hopes, while the Cardinals fall to 3-2, 1-1.
“It means the world to me to finally do this. Ever since middle school we’ve talked about it, winning our senior year. We were born for it,” Hawks senior running back Marcos Gonzales said. “We’re going to go take the district championship. We’re going to ride this momentum all the way to, hopefully, a state championship.”
Said Hawks coach Israel Gonzalez: “I’m not going to lie, this one’s special, first year at Harlingen South and knowing the rivalry. … We knew going into this it was going to be a battle, and we’re just blessed that we were able to prevail. Without God’s favor, we wouldn’t be here.”
Harlingen High came out on a mission to show why it has dominated the series since its inception. The defense forced the Harlingen South offense to go three-and-out on its first three possessions, and the Cardinals quickly took a 14-0 advantage during the first quarter.
Senior quarterback Joe Lopez connected with receivers Isaiah Perales, Aiden Sandoval and Zachary Sauceda to move the chains. Running back Izaiah Bell scored the first touchdown on a 3-yard carry to cap Harlingen High’s opening drive, which started on South’s 35-yard-line following a blocked punt by Cardinals linebacker JC Moradel. Then, Lopez found Sandoval for a 52-yard passing score.
The Hawks were not derailed by their slow start on offense, and they flipped the script during the second quarter.
“We knew we were going to face adversity. We knew if we stuck together, things would work in our favor, and the boys went out and did that,” Gonzalez said.
South came roaring back to tie the game at 14 at halftime, and the defense turned things up another notch to throw the Cardinals off their rhythm. Senior athlete Jeremiah Rivera was slippery on a punt return to start a Hawks drive in the red zone.
Senior quarterback Xander Casarez lobbed a pass to the deep left corner of the end zone, and senior receiver Elias Ledesma did his best Randy Moss impression for a 15-yard touchdown reception. Ledesma turned and leaped, catching the ball behind his defender’s head. He was named the game’s most valuable player by the Great American Rivalry Series.
The Hawks tied the game with less than two minutes remaining in the second quarter. After a solo sack by junior Carlos Mossboss, the Cardinals’ punt was shanked and South’s drive started on Harlingen High’s 30. Casarez hit Rivera for a 28-yard gain, and then Gonzales scored on a 2-yard carry.
“It seemed like we got complacent because we were up 14-0,” Cardinals coach Manny Gomez said. “We’re still a young team in certain positions, and we learned the hard way. We learned that if you don’t take care of your business, that’s what happens. This is not going to define who we are.”
Both defenses controlled a scoreless third quarter. Moradel and Pedro Silguero made nice plays for Harlingen High. Mossboss and senior Caleb Anaya often busted through the offensive line for sacks and tackles for loss to lead South’s defense, along with senior linebacker Levi Ince.
South took its first lead with 11:04 remaining on a 7-yard rushing touchdown by Rivera. Casarez connected with senior Ernesto Garcia, and Gonzales had a solid run to move the chains and set up the go-ahead score.
With the Hawks on the verge of snapping a 13-game losing streak to the Cardinals, their stingy and physical defense found another level. Senior Devin Montemayor notched an interception. Following a mishandled snap, junior linebacker Ethan Garza used a scoop-and-score to make it 28-14 with 3:49 to play.
Lopez returned under center after being sidelined by cramps and delivered completions to tight end Ian Solis, running back Kian Torres and Sauceda to set up a late Cardinals touchdown. Bell took a direct snap 3 yards to the end zone, making it a one-score game with less than two minutes remaining.
South sophomore Mikey Gonzalez secured the onside kick attempt. On third down, Gonzales broke away for a 24-yard run to seal the long-awaited victory for the Hawks.
“It’s over, thank God it’s over,” Gonzales said. “All the hard summers, all the long hours, it’s all worth it for this. It feels like we’re getting what we deserved. It just feels surreal.”