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On south Texas ranchland, when a longhorn and a rattlesnake cross paths it usually results in a fight to the death. At Laredo’s Student Activity Center (the SAC) Friday night, it was a fight to the gridiron death as the Laredo United Longhorns’ and the Sharyland Rattlers’ paths crossed in the first round of the Class 5-A Division 1 playoffs. The winner earning the right to move on to the next round of the state playoffs and the loser having their otherwise successful season come to a much too sudden end.
In what turned out to be an unusually cool evening in Bordertown Laredo, it didn’t take the Longhorns long to get their vaunted offense on track once they received the opening kickoff. With 3,000 yard passer Alec Salas at quarterback, they methodically drove the ball 80 yards down the field on their very first possession. Running back Derek Esparza capped off the Longhorn drive when he scored his first touchdown of the game and quickly gave the Longhorns a 7 – 0 lead.
The Rattlers responded in kind on their second possession when Estefan Castillo took the handoff from quarterback Tres Barrera and ran the ball into the endzone tying the score at 7 with less than a minute to go in the first quarter. As the opening quarter came to an end with the score still 7 – 7, who would’ve guessed that before the night would be done the Longhorns and the Rattlers would combine to score over 100 points.
The Longhorns’ Billy Williams broke the tie when he scored on a three yard run with 11:17 to go in the second quarter. Later in the same period, Derek Esparza gave the Longhorns their biggest lead of the game when he eluded the Rattlers’ defenders to score a rushing touchdown from inside the 5 yard line.
With 8 minutes to go in the second quarter and with the score still 21 – 7 Longhorns, the Rattlers took advantage of good field position on their next possession to drive the ball 58 yards down the field and score their second touchdown of the game on a 16 yard pass from quarterback Tres Barrera to Estefan Castillo. Castillo’s second touchdown of the game made the score Longhorns 21 - Rattlers 14.
Later in the second quarter, the Rattlers converted on a 4th down and 22 to set up a 6 yard touchdown run by quarterback Tres Barrera. With the score tied at 21 and with only 48 seconds to go in the first half it looked as if the Longhorns and the Rattlers would go into the intermission all knotted up. However, with a gusty wind at their backs the Longhorns scored on a 48 yard field goal as time ran out in the second quarter to make the score Longhorns 24 - Rattlers 21 at the half.
On their first possession of the second half the Rattlers took their first lead of the game when quarterback Tres Barrera and receiver Estefan Castillo connected on a 27 yard touchdown pass. This made the score Rattlers 28 - Longhorns 24.
As the second half continued, the lead changed hands five times as both teams scored touchdowns on each possession. Then with only 5:04 let in the game, and with the Longhorns leading the Rattlers by a score of 45 - 42, the Longhorns defense stiffened and forced the Rattlers into a 4th down deep in their own territory. As the Rattlers’ punting team prepared to turn the ball over on downs, a high snap from center sailed over the punter’s head and resulted in a Longhorns’ touchdown. The Longhorns went on to score one more touchdown, as time was running out in the game, and with their final points coming on a two point conversion they defeated the Rattlers by a score of 60 – 42.
In what was a much closer and hard fought game than the final score indicated, the Sharyland Rattlers went into enemy territory and gave the Laredo United Longhorns all they could handle. As Sharyland Athletic Director Richard Thompson said, “This was an awesome game with two great teams going at it”.
As the stands quickly emptied and the stadium lights were turned down, the Rattlers’ players and coaches remained on the field. As they huddled together, and some fought back the tears, they knew they had given their all. Unfortunately, on the day set aside to honor our veterans, it was the Longhorns who emerged as the victors in this fight to the gridiron death.
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.