By LARRY GAGE
Special to the PRESS
The Port Isabel High Tarpon football squad opened the 2015 season with a hard-fought 31-19 win over the Grulla Gators at home last Friday.
The Tarpons overcame a bad start offensively and two big scores by the Gators to take an 18-13 lead at the break, which they would not surrender.
Port Isabel won the toss and deferred to the second half. After forcing a Grulla punt, the Tarpons also had to punt the ball away on their first series. The Gators took advantage of a breakdown in special teams coverage with a 54-yard return for a touchdown by Miguel Flores and the visitors led 6-0 with 6:45 to go in the first quarter.
“There were two Tarpons who didn’t stay in their lanes,” Stumbaugh said. “So they bounced out wide and the contain man was nowhere to be found. Special teams are huge.”
Turnovers on P.I.’s next three possessions followed, two of them on the first play. On 3rd & 11 at the Grulla 28 the Gators intercepted a Tarpon pass.
“We turned the ball over quite a bit early,” head coach Monty Stumbaugh said Monday. “I thought the kids did a really good job of overcoming.”
That they did. Port Isabel’s “Seawall Defense” forced the Gators’ offense into punting situations on their first four possessions, and six of eight on the night, not including their two half-ending series.
Tarpon punt returner Omar Silva then ripped off a 49-yard return to put P.I. in business at the Grulla 19. Ivan Gonzalez went in from the four on a 1st & Goal and early in the second quarter the score was knotted at six. Silva also had 66 yards rushing on seven attempts.
The Tarpon ‘D’ came up big two minutes later when linebacker Trey Mock took an interception 33 yards to the end zone and Port Isabel had its first lead, 12-6.
Defensive end Raul Villarreal got a big rush on the Grulla quarterback, and forced a bad throw. “It’s all a team effort, 100 percent all the time,” Mock said after the game.
“We got a tipped pass and he (Mock) was dropping into the zone,” Coach Stumbaugh said afterwards. “He made a great play.”
Just before halftime Mock scored again on a five-yard run to put his team up 18-13. “I’ve got to trust my line,” he said. “I mean, I love my line. The line is the main thing.”
The first possession of the third quarter is the most important one of the game, according to some coaches. The Tarpons took the second-half kickoff and went 60 yards on a 14-play drive that took more than nine minutes off the clock and culminated with Alex de los Santos’ three-yard TD run. That gave the home team a 25-13 lead at the 2:57 mark of the third period.
“I followed the block,” de los Santos said Friday. “The line had to switch a little bit. I just had to follow whoever has a block for me, and I know my line will always have a good punch for me.” De los Santos finished with 60 yards gained on the ground on 12 carries.
With a little more than five minutes to play Anthony de la Garza zipped 32 yards to the left side and went in standing up for what turned out to be the clinching score. Gator quarterback Fabian Anzaldua and Leo Martinez hooked up on a 26-yard touchdown pass, their second of the night, and that was a final, 31-19.
“I had blockers out in front … the receivers were cracking,” de la Garza said after it was all over. “When they got me on the right side, I went left and did a 360 (spin), went out, and touchdown.” De la Garza led all rushers with 100 yards on 14 carries.
The “Seawall Defense” seems alive and well. Grulla rushed for a total of 31 yards on the night and had only 162 yards of total offense, 87 of which came on the two TD passes. “I think the defense played really well and I think we did a really good job tackling. We played a lot better in the secondary. Our safeties were coming up on run support a lot better.”
And on top of it all, a new Port Isabel football tradition has started. This is Coach Stumbaugh’s 15th season as the Tarpon head man. He did not win a season opener until 2013. The team has now won its last three season-opening contests.
Want the whole story? Pick up a copy of the Port Isabel-South Padre Press, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.