Posted Date: 10/19/2023
When Alexander quarterback Javi Jimenez shook off a defender in the pocket with 3:37 left to go in the second quarter with the Bulldogs trailing 12-7 to the LBJ Wolves on Friday night, several things were quickly evident.
First, Jimenez is as dangerous outside of the pocket as he is inside of it. Second, run-pass-option plays (RPOs) are so incredibly hard to stop. And third, Alexander discovered something it would exploit throughout the rest of the team’s 47-27 win over the Wolves at the Bill Johnson Student Activity Center.
But even with all of those discoveries that happened on that one play, something that had been on the cusp for the Bulldogs throughout the year was no longer on the brink of being grasped.
Alexander grabbed ahold of it, and we’ll see if the team ever looks back.
When Jimenez broke outside the pocket on that particular play, an LBJ corner took one wrong step. It appears he inched ever so slightly toward Jimenez in the backfield. That one inch though gave Alexander wide receiver Jose “Pepe” Vazquez all the room he would need.
“If you get open,” junior wide receiver Ivan Pina said, “(Javi’s) going to find you.”
Barely a second after Jimenez shook off the defender in the backfield and Vazquez saw his daylight, the senior quarterback let go a pass to his left over the top of the defender and landed it softly in Vazquez’s arms 36 yards down the field leading to a 38-yard touchdown and the Bulldogs’ first lead of the game at 13-12.
The touchdown was the first of 27 unanswered points the Bulldogs scored between the end of the first quarter and less than three minutes into the second half.
It was also the start of Alexander getting both of its star receivers over the top of the defense. Make no mistake either: the Bulldogs have two stars in Vazquez and Pina who combined to score four touchdowns on the night and have now tallied a combined 14 on the season through seven games.
However, coming into this matchup with LBJ, the pair had yet to get going at the same time this year. Both have excelled, they just hadn't synched up their success yet.
In Alexander’s win over San Antonio Holmes, Pina had seven catches for 157 yards and three touchdowns. Vazquez had neither a touchdown, nor even a catch. In the team’s loss to San Antonio Harlan, both players scored touchdowns, but Pina’s 10 catches for 130 yards dwarfed Vazquez’s four for 16. In a win over San Marcos it was Vazquez who had the big game with seven catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns, while Pina was kept off the scoresheet. Against Pioneer it was again Vazquez who had 12 catches for 202 yards and three touchdowns, while Pina tallied nothing.
So the team was simply waiting for the two to be together and healthy and in a game not played in a cold rain like the win over Eagle Pass on Oct. 6.
Friday night was that moment, and it was an evening showing the two could do it at the same time while both players were on the field and another wasn’t injured.
Pina has had success since he was a freshman for the Bulldogs hauling in 16 catches for 246 yards over six games in his first year with the team. He got even better as a sophomore scoring his first touchdowns as he had 35 catches for 491 yards and five scores. This year he has accelerated his progress even further as he went into Friday’s game with 20 catches for 308 yards and four scores.
But what has been possibly the most impressive part of Pina’s success is that it has come along with the progress of Vazquez who has very much come into his own this year. Coming into Friday’s game he had 24 catches for 329 yards and six scores. That’s one year after he had a respectable, if modest, line of 15 catches for 151 yards and no touchdowns as a junior.
Together, while the pair hasn’t quite reached the heights of Daniel Ramos and Xavier Skaggs in terms of receptions and yards, with 14 combined touchdowns through seven games, Pina and Vazquez aren’t far off from that pairing’s 21 combined receiving touchdowns in 2011.
One receiver is great for a team to have. Two makes it much more difficult to load the defense to one side and limit a team’s explosiveness. The pair knows how much each one’s success helps the other.
“It makes it a whole lot easier,” Pina said. “When people worry about me on one side, (Javi’s) going to hit him. When they’re worried about him, they’re going to hit me.
“We’ve got options, and we feel pretty confident on that.”
Friday’s game is the perfect example of what Pina is talking about. Alexander’s first touchdown of the game came on a pass from Jimenez to Pina in which the ball was thrown behind the junior in the end zone, but he made a spectacular adjustment to haul it in just above the turf for a score.
The second came on the RPO to Vazquez over the top.
So who do you cover at that point? Is it Vazquez? It could have been. But to start the second half Jimenez found Pina on a 34-yard touchdown on a 4th and 16 where the junior broke away from his defender when the senior quarterback broke free of the pocket on a scramble drill.
OK then, does the defense now focus on Pina who has scored two touchdowns? There simply isn’t a good answer. Because just seconds after Pina’s second touchdown, Jimenez found Vazquez for his second score of the day on the end of a 27-0 run in which all four touchdowns came on passes to the two wide receivers.
Covering Vazquez or Pina truly is “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” and Alexander head coach Edwin Garcia knows he has a good situation with his offense which is now 2-0 in district play.
“We’ve always said we’re going to run first, and if they give us the opportunity to pass we’re going to take it,” he said. “The opportunities arose in this game and we took them.”