When I set this trip up, people told me that to get a complete picture of the Texas high school football scene, I needed to make a trip to the Rio Grande Valley and see a game. Football is football and for the players and coaches, the atmosphere is similar wherever it’s played. There are differences in speed and physicality, some programs are better coached and make fewer mistakes, but whether in Harlingen, Dallas or Reno, Nevada, teenage boys approach the game the same way. What makes Texas HS football unique is the support it has and its importance to the community. While many Texas towns are passionate about their teams, passion in the Valley is a different thing entirely. Pride is a word often heard around football programs, but it’s hard to define exactly what it means. In Harlingen, this pride while hard to put a finger on is very real. The best way I can describe it is that this game really MATTERED to the 10,000 in the stands as much as it did to the kids on the field.
Early on it looked as though the many who predicted Harlingen’s downfall might be right. Harlingen South came into the game with a lot of intensity, taking a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. After a 70 yard run by sophomore running back Jaedon Taylor on the first play of the second quarter, the Hawks lead 16-7. A field goal late the second quarter gave the Cards a 17-16 lead at the half.
After playing very well before halftime, the Hawks seemed to lose steam in the second half. The Cardinal defense took control after the break. The Harlingen front dominated the Hawks, never again allowing Taylor to get going and pressuring the Hawk QB. On offense, Brandon Garza threw for two touchdowns on screen passes to receiver Mark Rosales and running back Deon Conde scored on a 56 yard run. South scored late to make the final score 38-23.
I want to thank Coach Gomez, his players and coaches for letting me hang out with them this week. I set out on this journey in August to highlight programs that successfully teach football and in the process teach character that will serve these kids in all aspects of their lives. The Harlingen Cardinals are another good example of a program that does just that.