By ARMANDO GARZA
Special to the PRESS
It may have felt like another night at the office for the Port Isabel Tarpons, but this one had so much more meaning.
The Tarpons got big plays offensively, played hard-hitting defense and were simply too much for a gritty Rio Hondo team as Big Blue cruised to a 45-14 win over the Bobcats at Tarpon Stadium on Friday night.
The win sewed up its first perfect season since 1994 and also clinched an outright 32-3A district championship for Port Isabel (10-0 overall, 4-0 district), which will enjoy its open date next week before beginning what’s expected to be a lengthy playoff run.
“Their first goal was to be 10-0 and district champs,” Port Isabel coach Monty Stumbaugh, who notched his 100th career win, said of his Tarpons. “Our kids have been really, really focused. When you believe, good things will happen. Now we’ve gotta up our game. We’ll rejuvenate a bit and get ready for the playoffs.”
Senior quarterback Isaiah Martinez, who’s been one of the pillars of this latest edition of Tarpon magic, said the 10-0 season is just a small step toward the team’s ultimate goal.
“It means a lot to us (to be part of an undefeated PI team). We’ve practiced hard since Day One. We’ve just worked so hard to get this perfect season,” said Martinez, who had 111 rushing yards. “But we’ve got a lot of goals left to accomplish. The main one is to be playing in December. That’s the main goal for all of us.”
Jacob Losoya (12 carries, 88 yards, 3 TDs) got things started with a seven-yard touchdown to cap a workmanlike 52-yard opening drive featuring all running plays as the Tarpons led 7-0 with 7:05 to go in the opening stanza.
Then it was J.J. “The Rocket” Gonzalez’s turn. The junior speedster took off for a 48-yard score on his first carry of the game and later got his second TD, scoring a 22-yarder on a 4th and 2. At that point, Port Isabel led 21-0 with 2:08 left before halftime.
All night long, Rio Hondo (3-6, 1-2) and its defense was hitting hard and making the Tarpons earn their yards. Tristian Escamilla made his presence felt by stuffing Losoya at the 1 on a 4th and goal, ending a second-quarter scoring threat. That effort and passion is what Bobcats coach Rocky James said will serve his squad well next week at Progreso and hopefully in the playoffs.
“The kids played hard all four quarters and I was very proud of how our kids attacked and hit. We played football tonight,” James said. “We control our own destiny. We beat Progreso and we’re in (the playoffs). But they (Tarpons) are better this year than last year, at all positions. I think they’re gonna go a long way.”
In the third quarter, indeed it was more PI as Losoya scored on a 27-yarder to push the Tarpon lead to 28-0 before the Bobcats scratched one across.
Eli Pitones scored on a one-yard plunge to cap a 16-play, 80-yard drive which was aided by free first downs on PI penalties. The third quarter was slowly played as officials called numerous penalties.
But Gonzalez shot out again for another 48-yarder to answer, making it 35-7. For the night, Gonzalez wrapped up his statline with 140 yards and three touchdowns on just seven carries.
However, Rio Hondo’s Pitones kept chugging as he galloped 56 yards to paydirt, leaving the score 35-14 Tarpons with 2:27 left in the third. Marco Garate was a bright spot for the Cats, rushing for a team-high 122 yards.
In the fourth quarter, Luis Cacho drilled a 40-yard field goal and Losoya got the hat trick with a nine-yard scoring run with 2:49 left.
Now, a week off to recuperate and get ready for the playoffs, and a foe from District 31-3A. Martinez said there are many qualities that make this Tarpon team special, but it’s their cohesiveness which stands out.
“We all just bond with each other. We’re all a big family and there are no individuals on this team. We back each other up,” Martinez said.
His coach agreed.
“They’re a team. They believe in each other, give you everything they’ve got and they’re a fun group to be around,” Stumbaugh said. “I’m just happy to be a part of it.”