By RAUL GARCIA
WESLACO — Weslaco East defensive back Jon Animas backpeddled from 25 yards out along the sideline in Wildcats territory, the clock winding down with less than 20 seconds remaining and the District 31-6A title on the line.
He was defending Edinburg Vela SaberCats’ top receiver, Kevin Rojas, and on the previous play he blew right by him for the first down.
The Wildcats had their backs against the wall as the SaberCats pushed toward the end zone on their last drive.
“We were going back-to-back,” Animas said about the possession. “Something had to happen and deep down I couldn’t let the SaberCats take the lead.”
What Animas did next is what Weslaco East head coach Mike Burget calls the team’s biggest play of the year.
“It was a good play,” Burget said.
While the football sailed through the air, Animas made his move near the 1-yard line while running in full stride with a leaning leap into the air in front of his opponent. His arms stretched high into the target of the pass.
Animas and Rojas each had their hands on the ball, but Animas came down with it for an interception and touchback.
It was the deciding play of the game that forced overtime.
The Wildcats went on to defeat the SaberCats 35-28 after scoring on their first drive in three plays and hold the SaberCats’ pass attack once more.
Animas had calculated his game ending interception like the mathematical algorithmic equation he’s used to figuring out in his pre-calculus class each morning after practice.
Animas and teammates Adrian Juarez and Josh Gonzalez are students in the school’s dual-credit pre-calculus course.
The class is offered through South Texas College and taught by the school’s lead math instructor, Homer Colunga, who graduated with a Master’s degree from Harvard University Extension School through the Texas Graduate Center, a component of the Texas Valley Communities Foundation, a nonprofit based in Mercedes.
“There is no doubt that Jon gives his all in the classroom, and he carries the same work ethic onto the football field,” Colunga said. “He pushes himself to his limits in all that he does, and always finds a way to persevere no matter what obstacles he faces.”
Using his classroom training, Animas easily compared his interception to an algebra equation, beginning with the number of steps he back peddled, factoring in the speed of his opponent, the velocity and trajectory of the football pass, the unknown variable of the ball being thrown to his side and reaching the target in order to make the play.
“I love numbers, and I am confident with math,” Animas said. “If I know the equation I plug in the numbers and the formula, and I know what to do.”
Animas’ clutch interception help the Wildcats complete their season undefeated in district and secure the district championship outright.
Had the SaberCats defeated the Wildcats, it would have forced a three-way tie in district and a share of the title with Edinburg Vela and Weslaco High.
“I had to make sure my timing matched the speed of the ball while staying with my guy, and I planned it perfectly,” Animas said about his interception. “Every team wishes they could have that moment of wining the district title, and it feels really good.”