Special to the PRESS
KINGSVILLE — The Port Isabel Tarpons didn’t take long to make a statement. They didn’t take long to back it up either.
Kenneth Herrera returned the game’s opening kickoff 71 yards for a touchdown and the Tarpons played their best game of the yeas as they prevailed 53-26 over the Sinton Pirates in the Class 3A Division II area round game at Javelina Stadium.
Port Isabel improves to 9-3 on the year and captured the area championship in the process. They will meet either Geronimo Navarro or Wharton in the regionals next weekend. Sinton ends the season also with a 9-3 record.
“The opening kickoff was huge and it was a great way to start the game,” Port Isabel head coach Monty Stumbaugh said. “We thought we could move the ball on them and were able to run the football. We feel fortunate to still be playing and it was just a great effort.”
Due to an approaching cold front, the game’s start was delayed nearly an hour as Javelina Stadium took a pounding from heavy rain and some lightning.
On the game’s opening kickoff, the ball bounced on the turf in line drive fashion before Herrera scooped it up and outran the Pirates for the game’s first touchdown. The point after was missed and the Tarpons led 6-0.
The PI defense got a huge stop in their own territory and later running back Juan Aguilera scored on a four-yard run to make it 12-0 Tarpons with a little more than six minutes left in the first stanza.
Sinton got on the board on a 75 yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tyler Handson to Derek Shedd. Shedd had three touchdown grabs in the contest and was a thorn in the Tarpons’ side. The PAT cut the PI lead to 12-7.
Port Isabel dug into its bag of tricks as running back Javier Vela threw a halfback pass to Andrew Holland on a 66-yard TD bomb. The Tarpons went for two but didn’t convert to leave it 18-7 with 4:30 remaining in the second quarter.
Though the Tarpon defense played a great game and got tons of pressure on Handson, the Pirates had an answer when Handson connected with Shedd for a 36-yard TD to make it 18-13.
However, the Tarpons went back ahead two touchdowns as Isaiah Martinez passed to a streaking Michael Curry for a 43-yard connection. That made the score 26-13 Port Isabel at the time and it remained that way at halftime.
Sinton received the second half kick and moved down the field with ease. It scored when Handson scored on a two-yard running play. However once again the Tarpons had an answer when Aguilera scored from three yards out to make it 33-20 Tarpons and send the good crowd that made the trip from home into a frenzy.
Shortly thereafter, sophomore running back J.J. Gonzalez tallied a nine-yard TD run pushing the lead late in the third quarter. Later after a steady dose of Vela, who had over 100 yards rushing, he was rewarded with a two-yard score to make it 46-20. The Pirates got Shedd’s third touchdown before Gonzalez put the dagger through the heart as he ran a 40-yard touchdown to put the game out of reach.
Port Isabel had a total of 483 total yards, 374 of those rushing and held the game’s momentum for most of the night. The Tarpons now will attempt to continue their playoff journey as they reached the third round for the first time since losing to Hallettsville in 2004.