Rio Hondo hangs on to beat St. Joseph

BROWNSVILLE — For a third straight year, Rio Hondo defeated non-conference rival Brownsville St. Joseph.

This time around, the Bobcats used a 6-yard go-ahead touchdown from Joey Ortega and a late stop on defense to seal a 35-28 win Friday night at Canales Field.

“Getting these guys three times in a row now, we have our work cut out for us,” Rio Hondo coach Rocky James said. “We came out in the first half and they hit us in the mouth, and we didn’t know what to do. We gave up two quick scores but then settled down defensively.”

St. Joseph trailed 28-12 at halftime but stormed back in the second half, taking advantage of Rio Hondo turnovers. The Bloodhounds leaned on Melik Kauachi, who ripped off a 39-yard run that cut the lead to one score and ran for a 19-yard score that helped tie the game at 28 midway through the third quarter.

“In the second half, we turned the ball over a few times and that gave them momentum, and momentum is tough,” James said. “We were finally able to get a stop, and we came up with a stop that gave the offense a shot late. I knew our defense was going to clamp down there at the end.”

The St. Joseph rally was cut short on a fourth-and-8 play. Sophomore QB Luigi Cristiano ran the ball and fell 1 yard shy of the first down. On the same play, the Bloodhounds were called for holding.

Despite the loss, St. Joseph coach Tino Villarreal saw his young squad grow up and put together a strong comeback.

“We never doubted the effort of our team, and that has kept us in games,” Villarreal said. “I was proud of the effort, and I thought we grew up a lot in the second half. We could have easily called it a day against a good team. We stuck in there, and I’m proud of how our boys played.”

The young Bobcats took another step Friday night, especially on offense and on the game-winning drive. Like Villarreal, James felt his team has grown up during the past two weeks with an overtime win at Zapata and Friday night’s road win.

“I’m hoping this win will help them grow up a little bit,” James said. “I have some young guys at some key positions, and I think they grew up tonight. I (thought) these last few games would help us grow, and I knew (Villarreal) would come up with a great game plan like he always does. He did a great job, and tonight could have gone either way.”

Zachariah Rios directed the offense on the opening drive and hit Smiley Rodriguez on a slant route to keep the drive alive on fourth down. Later in the drive, Ethan Jeradiah scored the first touchdown of the night, giving the Bobcats an early 7-0 lead.

The Bloodhounds’ offense took a little while to get going in the first half and took advantage of a pair of interceptions from John Martinez. Josh Martinez put the Bloodhounds on the board, and Sebastian Cuellar later gave St. Joseph a 12-7 lead.

Despite trailing, Rio Hondo’s offense reeled off 21 unanswered points. The Bobcats’ defense made a few stops on fourth down and also received some help from the special teams unit, which blocked two punts.

After a defensive stop, Ortega scored to give Rio Hondo a 14-12 lead. On the next drive, Rios hit a wide-open Jonah Ortega for a 33-yard score.

The offense wasn’t done there. After a blocked punt that set up Rio Hondo at the St. Joseph 10-yard line, Rios scored a touchdown on the next play, giving Rio Hondo a comfortable 28-12 lead at halftime.

The Bobcats take on Hidalgo next week, and the Bloodhounds shift their focus to Raymondville.