DENNIS SILVA II | STAFF WRITER
ELSA — As impressive as Edcouch-Elsa was offensively Friday night, it was far superior defensively.
Missing two starting defensive linemen and a starting linebacker, Edcouch-Elsa still kept an explosive McAllen Rowe team in check most of the night, earning a 21-14 win at Benny Layton Sr. Memorial Stadium.
The Yellowjackets (1-0) held the Warriors (0-1) to only 4.7 yards per play. On a night when Edcouch-Elsa unveiled its new pass-happy offense to the tune of 352 yards, and a bizarre 316 passing yards for a program that has traditionally been ground-and-pound, it was the defense that starred. A clutch pass break-up in the end zone by safety Adrian Rodriguez ended Rowe’s last hope at a win as time expired.
“We had a lot of backups going in, and we wouldn’t put them out there if we didn’t believe in them,” Edcouch-Elsa coach Joe Marichalar said. “We feel confident they could make plays, and they came out and made plays.”
After forcing a punt to open the game, the Yellowjackets struck first on Rigo Ayala’s 3-yard touchdown run. Rowe, which was without three defensive starters and one offensive starter, punted on its next possession and then threw an interception on its third (to cornerback Noe Rodriguez deep in E-E’s red zone) before the Yellowjackets struck again.
Junior quarterback Marco Aguinaga found J.J. Flores on a beautiful 81-yard catch-and-run with 2:18 left before halftime.
“We have mistakes we can fix, but we started well,” said Aguinaga, who threw for 305 yards and two touchdowns against Rowe’s Cover 2 defense. “Our (offensive) line was in tip-top shape, and that’s a credit to my center Elijah (Sanchez). He adjusted to the defense and he led the way.”
On its next-to-last possession before halftime, Rowe turned the ball over on downs deep in E-E’s red zone. In all, the Warriors had five shots in the red zone, and come up empty on three of them.
“It didn’t come down to just one play,” Rowe coach Paul Reyes said. “We’re in the red zone three times and don’t execute. A bad read here, not being tough enough there, and just coming up short. They’re just mistakes we have to grow from.”
Without stalwarts Julio Contreras and Elias Munoz on the defensive line, as well as hard-hitting outside linebacker Joel Cardoza, the Yellowjackets still found ways to stymie the Warriors.
Eddie Gomez, Norby Fuentes and Jayson Munoz held down the defensive front, while Seth Garcia and Miguel Morones, among others, filled in and made plays when they had to.
“Hard work pays off, and all these guys put in the time,” Fuentes said. “(Rowe) did a lot of zone blocks and we caught up real quick with that.
“Everyone that was in there stepped up, and we may have some young guys but they’re full of energy.”
After Moses Gomez’s 10-yard TD reception with 10:15 left pulled E-E ahead 21-6, Rowe closed within a score on Gus Salazar’s 2-yard run and ensuing 2-point conversion with 2:20 remaining.
E-E punted on its next time up, but the Warriors tightened when they got close to scoring one last time with seconds winding down.
Backup quarterback Jesus Sanchez, in because of cramping suffered by starter John Perez, admirably led the Warriors down the field, but his last attempt to the end zone was almost intercepted by the 6-foot-4 Rodriguez before being batted to the ground.
“We talk about having heart and character and we showed that today,” Marichalar said. “But it’s not perfect, so we have a lot of work to do.”
Perez completed 18 of 26 passes for 154 yards and ran for 91 yards, but struggled early before emerging late. Sanchez completed 5 of 9 passes for 59 yards, all in crunch time of the fourth quarter.
“John’s had the experience and he did a good job before he started cramping,” Reyes said. “But he can’t take any days off because Jesus is right on his tail. Jesus stayed focused and when John cramped, Jesus gave us a spark and we stayed with him. Those guys are competing, but they’re team players and we’re comfortable with either.”
Junior wide receiver AJ Rodriguez missed both of E-E’s scrimmages because of disciplinary reasons, but he showed what he is capable of against Rowe.
Rodriguez caught five passes for 63 yards and proved to be another fast, elusive weapon in the Yellowjackets’ arsenal.
“He’s that type of scat-back receiver,” Marichalar said. “He can cut on a dime and he had some plays where he made defenders look silly.”
Edcouch-Elsa travels to the lower Valley to face off Friday against Los Fresnos, which opened with a 34-14 win at Edinburg North on Thursday.
McAllen Rowe hosts Mercedes at 7 p.m. Thursday in McAllen. The Tigers fell 35-6 at Calallen on Friday.