HARLINGEN — Forty-eight minutes of regulation wasn’t enough to decide the District 32-6A battle between the Los Fresnos Falcons and the No. 4 Harlingen High Cardinals on Friday at Boggus Stadium.
Neither was one round of overtime.
With the game tied at 21 during the first overtime session, Harlingen High scored first on a 7-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Joe Lopez to receiver Aiden Sandoval. Los Fresnos answered with a first-play, 25-yard rushing touchdown from senior quarterback Matthew Padilla. A clutch penalty-stretched PAT from Jose Contreras made it 28-28.
During the second overtime, the Falcons got the ball first. Padilla hit senior receiver Edsson Picazo for a 24-yard score, and then he found senior receiver Cody Taylor for the two-point conversion, making it 36-28.
With the game on the line, the Los Fresnos defense came up big, as it did all game. Junior linebacker RJ Limon and senior defensive lineman Omar Mendiola recorded back-to-back sacks. After an 18-yard pass from Lopez to Ian Solis, senior defensive back Luis Lucio broke up a fourth-down heave to the end zone, sealing the thrilling double-overtime victory for the Falcons (5-2, 4-1).
“I don’t have words. I’m really excited,” Limon said. “I knew we could come out here and beat them on their homecoming, and that’s what we did. Offense started going at the end, and defense just came through. I practice with these guys every day. Those are the people I love. We just have to keep going from here.”
The Cardinals (5-3, 3-2) jumped on top first thanks to an interception from Albert Vasquez. On their first play after the turnover, Lopez found Solis for a 23-yard touchdown during the final minute of the opening quarter.
The Falcons had issues getting the offense firing on all cylinders for much of the first half. But defense and special teams carried the weight, making play after play to spark the offense and earn a 14-7 lead at halftime.
Following a fumble recovery by Limon — who also blocked a Cardinals field goal attempt during the first quarter— Padilla and Picazo connected on a 34-yard touchdown. Not long after, the Falcons cashed in another turnover after senior Hector Muniz reeled in an interception. Junior running back Jonus Gonzalez scored on a 1-yard carry.
“We had so much adversity early on. It looked like we weren’t going to get a first down the whole game,” Falcons coach David Cantu said. “(Our defense) kept giving us chance after chance, and so many times we weren’t able to capitalize. But they stuck with us, and they were giving us motivation. Our defensive captain, Greg Jones, in the locker room, did nothing but pump up the offense and give us the confidence and belief that we could get it done.”
Harlingen High was without top running back Izaiah Bell during the first half. The junior was used for a few series in the second half and ran well to help the Cardinals regain the lead. Lopez and Solis connected for a 66-yard touchdown late in the third. The pair hooked up for several key gains throughout the contest.
After an interception by Ray Castillo and two big receptions for Solis, who dragged defenders for yards after catches, Bell scored on a 1-yard rush. He did not return for health reasons, according to Gomez.
Los Fresnos tied things again one minute later on a perfectly executed quarterback sneak by Padilla from 10 yards out.
Limon, senior linebacker Greg Jones, junior D-lineman Vicente Rocio and senior linebacker Jayden Moreno were among the Falcons’ defensive standouts that kept Harlingen High off the board during the final seven minutes to force overtime. The Cardinals missed two field goals during the fourth quarter.
“I’m extremely proud of the way our kids competed and fought. We fought back and gave ourselves a chance, but eventually they made more plays than we did,” Cardinals coach Manny Gomez said. “They made some spectacular plays in overtime. My hat’s off to Coach Cantu. He’s a dude that I got nothing but love and respect for, and he’s doing great things at Los Fresnos.”
The win is a signature moment in Cantu’s first year leading his alma mater and puts the Falcons solely in second place in the district standings.
“I’m speechless. I’m so proud of our guys,” Cantu said. “Those are the Harlingen Cardinals. We have the utmost respect for them. They’re one of the elite programs in the state of Texas. I’m just so proud of the whole coaching staff and our seniors. Nothing but heart. Boys in Los Fresnos have nothing but heart. I love it.”