EDINBURG — The Edinburg Vela SaberCats are one win away from completing their fourth perfect regular season in five years under head coach John Campbell.

A 10-0 record is the standard at Edinburg Vela, and postseason victories — yes, plural — are what the SaberCats are chasing.

“(Going) 10-0 is good, that’s what we’re supposed to do. But we’re looking further than that,” junior safety Justin Navarro said. “Round 3, Round 4 — that’s our goal.”

While Edinburg Vela’s season-long goal is putting together a lengthy playoff run, the SaberCats’ defense has been meeting weekly goals each time they take the field.

The SaberCats own the top-ranked defensive unit among Rio Valley high school football teams entering their final game of the season. Edinburg Vela is holding opponents to 133.9 yards per game while allowing less than seven points per game.

“I think we’ve been able to get some speed on the field, and really each level (of the defense) has performed quite well this year and are feeding off one another,” Campbell said. “It’s a very complete, comprehensive group of kids. Weekly accountability with game planning and preparation is there, in addition to the natural ability they’re bringing to the field Thursday and Friday nights.”

It starts up front for the SaberCats’ defensive line. At first glance, opponents assume they have a size and strength advantage. What they don’t account for is being beaten to the punch play after play by an undersized, yet fast and furious defensive front that pressures quarterbacks from start to finish.

“Our coaches prepare us well. They keep us ready and mentally prepared,” Edinburg Vela junior defensive end Jake Dufner said. “We attack spacing, not the man. We don’t want to attack the man because they’re bigger than us, so we attack the spacing and use our speed to get around.”

Edinburg Vela’s Jake Dufner partially blocks a punt by PSJA North’s Christian Ramirez (4) during the first half of a football game at PSJA Stadium on Friday, Sept.10,2021 in Pharr. (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor | [email protected])

Playing from sideline to sideline at the second level of the Vela defense is an in-your-face linebacker core led by senior Ryan Rodriguez. He credits the stingy SaberCats’ defense, which has given up 629 rushing yards in eight games, to coaching, depth and speed.

“We try to set the tone from the first play of defense and dominate across the field. The players that we have, able to substitute in-and-out and make plays, it’s incredible,” he said.

The last line of defense, the SaberCats’ secondary, is a no-fly zone that has limited opposing quarterbacks to just 429 passing yards this season.

Junior safety Justin Navarro has emerged as a ballhawk and stand out punt returner. He’s run back two punts for touchdowns, picked off four passes and returned a fumbled two-point conversion attempt for a pair of SaberCats points.

“Whenever I get the ball in my hands, I have to do something with it, provide for my team and make some plays out there,” he said.

Edinburg Vela’s Justin Navarro (7) runs back an interception for a touchdown against Edinburg North during the first half of a District 31-6A game at Richard R. Flores Stadium on Friday,Sept.24,2021 in Edinburg. (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor | [email protected])

The only thing standing in the way of another Edinburg Vela undefeated district title run are the Mission High Eagles, who still have district championship hopes of their own.

The Eagles sit at 6-2 overall and tied for second in 31-6A with PSJA North at 5-1 in district.

If Mission High manages to takedown the SaberCats, it would create a three-way tie for first-place heading into the final week of the regular season.

Edinburg Vela will face the top dual-threat quarterback in District 31-6A in Mission High senior Kevin Guerra. He’s thrown for 1,366 yards and 18 touchdowns, while adding 554 rushing yards and 10 more scores on the ground.

For the SaberCats, it’s the last challenge left before shifting their focus to that playoff run.

“(Going) 10-0, that’s the plan, and the district title, we’re coming for it,” Navarro said.

Kickoff between the SaberCats and Eagles is set for 7 tonight at Richard R. Flores Stadium in Edinburg.

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