SAN BENITO — For the third straight year, the Harlingen High Cardinals earned bragging rights in the Battle of the Arroyo.
The No. 3 Cardinals (5-2, 3-1 in District 32-6A) picked up a 17-0 victory over the No. 4 San Benito Greyhounds (5-2, 2-2) on Friday at Bobby Morrow Stadium. Harlingen High’s defense used a superb performance to unravel the Greyhounds’ offense, recording its first shutout in the storied rivalry since 2013.
“Since I was a kid, all I ever wanted to see was the Cardinals soar. Tonight they soared, and I’m so proud of them,” Harlingen High coach Manny Gomez said. “A lot of people have been counting out the Cardinals, but you know what? It’s all good. Thank God he gave us the glory today.”
The first half was a stalemate as both defenses did well to contain their opponent’s top running back, Fabian Garcia for San Benito and Izaiah Bell for Harlingen High. The intimidating defensive fronts kept quarterbacks off rhythm.
San Benito linebacker Mariano Garcia notched an interception on Harlingen High’s first drive deep in Cardinals territory. During the second quarter, a shanked punt by the Cardinals gave the Greyhounds prime starting field position again. San Benito was inside the 30-yard line four times in the first half, and each time it fell short of the end zone following one missed field goal and a turnover-on-downs in three consecutive possessions.
“They’ve got a good defense, and we needed to capitalize and make some plays. But our kids played hard,” Greyhounds coach Dan Gomez said.
Harlingen High scored the first points with 54 seconds remaining in the first half. The Cardinals traveled 77 yards down the field on two huge passing plays from quarterback Joe Lopez. The senior signal caller found Aiden Sandoval for a 31-yard gain after Sandoval slipped his defender to haul in the reception. Then, Lopez hit Isaiah Perales for a 45-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead at halftime.
The Cardinals played more efficiently during the second half, leaning heavily on Bell and fellow running back Kian Torres to steadily pick up yards. They started the third quarter with an eight-minute scoring drive that ended with a 29-yard field goal from kicker Joseph Garza.
Albert Vasquez stopped San Benito’s ensuing drive with an interception that ricocheted off a receiver’s hands. Bell busted up through the defensive line for a 16-yard gain on third down, then opened the fourth quarter by following offensive lineman Roy Reyna into the end zone on a 1-yard carry, making it 17-0.
San Benito went up-tempo on the following drive. Junior quarterback Andres Villagran, who shared a few series with starting quarterback junior Rodney Rodriguez early in the season, was handed the reins during the first quarter. Villagran hit Rodriguez, Jermaine Corbin and Atticus Deleon, and mixed in some decent runs to get the ’Hounds to the 3.
“(We played Villagran) to see what we could muster up,” Dan Gomez said. “Just got to execute better. I’ve got to do a better job of preparing the team myself. … We got the playoff atmosphere, and that’s exactly what we wanted. That way if things work out at the end, we’ll have some experience.”
On first-and-goal, Rodriguez went under center and heaved a pass to the end zone. Harlingen High defensive back Ray Castillo jumped the route and made a diving interception, sending the visiting sideline and crowd into a frenzy.
“I told my team I was going to get the pick, but it’s not just me. It’s my whole team, the D-line, the linebackers, they got to the quarterback, which let me get that pick,” Castillo said. “The coaches put a great game plan together, we executed and came out with the dub. All the hard work that we put in, man, I’m just happy. It was an exciting moment.”
JC Moradel, Julio Sanchez, Christian Luna and Castillo were among the defensive standouts who helped the Cardinals shut down San Benito’s offense. The Greyhounds had little success rushing, and after halftime Harlingen High limited the passing game to five completions.
After a slow first half, Bell accumulated nearly 100 yards on more than one dozen carries during the second half. He was recognized as the most valuable player by the Great American Rivalry Series.
“I was kind of down on myself because they were stopping me in the run game, but then I went into halftime and I regrouped. I had to show who I am, and I made it happen,” Bell said. “It means the most. We really work hard for this. My team gave everything they had. We’re going to continue to work. We ain’t stopping here.”