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Soaring Eagles soar to 2-0 football start after dismantling Irvington

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The 2018 high school football season was still in its infant stages, but the Soaring Eagles of Union City recently faced the crossroads of the young season.
After defeating Passaic, 37-7, to start the season, the Soaring Eagles were set to face Irvington in Week 2.
It’s the same Irvington that soundly defeated Orange, 30-6, to start the season. It’s same Irvington that posted eight wins last season and made it to the semifinals of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group IV playoffs; the same Irvington that trounced Belleville by the hideously lopsided score of 84-0.
Needless to say, the Blue Knights offered a huge challenge for the Soaring Eagles. It has been reported by some recruiting tout services that the Blue Knights have as many as seven NCAA Division I players on their roster, including former Lincoln standout Jalen Scott and former Hudson Catholic lineman Savion Herring, who has already given the University of Cincinnati a verbal commitment. Herring stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 303 pounds.
“I was hip to what was going on in Irvington,” Union City head coach Wilber Valdez said. “They were on to something special there. The coaching staff there contacted us and wanted to get a competitive game. I knew we wanted to upgrade our schedule as well. I think our kids were hip to what was going on there as well. They saw all the Irvington kids getting offers, so they were excited about playing them. This is the type of game that could put us on the map. We were able to showcase our talents. It was a good experience for us.”
So the Soaring Eagles took on Irvington recently, not really knowing what to expect.
“We were very confident going in,” said senior running back/linebacker Jean Alvarez. “We were just trying to get the win.”
But the game didn’t start out in the Soaring Eagles’ favor. They trailed, 10-0, in the middle of the second quarter, facing a team that hadn’t lost at home in over two seasons.
“I wasn’t too concerned,” Valdez said. “As long as we’re winning at the end of the game, it doesn’t matter. We felt like we took their best punch and just kept going. Most teams fall behind and they press a little. Our approach never changes. We’re not going to throw the ball around simply because we’re down 10-0. We feel like we can win signature games with our run offense.”
So the Soaring Eagles turned to Alvarez to lead the way on the ground, carrying the ball 24 times for 128 yards and a touchdown.
Joel Jimenez was the reluctant hero, carrying the ball eight times for 77 yards and three touchdowns. He also had seven tackles and collected an interception on defense.
“I have to give it to Coach Valdez, because he was the one who believed in me,” Jimenez said. “He told me that I had to take football more seriously. I wasn’t focused on football in the past. I would just stay home and watch sitcoms like the Wayans Brothers and Martin on TV. But now, I watch films about football. I had to have that football focus. My teammates need me. The Wayans Brothers can wait.”
The Soaring Eagles steamrolled past Irvington, 34-10, stopping the Blue Knights’ home winning streak at 12 straight games.
“They were a team that was used to relying on the big plays and we took their big plays away from them,” Valdez said. “We knew they had a lot of talent at the skilled positions, but we were prepared. It’s exciting for the kids.”
Quarterback Alain Diaz also came up big, completing 5-of-7 passes for 88 yards and a score.
“He’s always had the ability,” Valdez said of his senior signal caller. “He’s earned my trust and makes the plays. He can throw it. He also has a good presence. I think he’s matured a lot as a person and earned the respect of his teammates.”
But the workhorse was the key. Alvarez put the game away with his running ability.
“We rode him and watched the clock run out,” Valdez said.
“We have a lot of motivation after losing [to Montclair in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group V title game in MetLife Stadium last December],” Alvarez said. “Coach [Valdez] said that he was going to push me until I couldn’t go anymore. We had to get this win.”
The Soaring Eagles owned a 2-0 record as they faced Memorial at press time.
“I’m not happy about being 2-0,” Valdez said. “We cut down on our penalties and held onto the ball. That’s what I’m happy about.”
Valdez doesn’t believe about Union City having to “get over the hump,” and win in the state finals this season.
“I never fed into the ‘hump’ thing,” Valdez said. “We get punished for being consistent. We’re always there, knocking at the door. But we always get that ‘hump’ talk. Every team sets out to win a state championship. Some are luckier than others and win. That’s never going to change. The fact is that we’re always there. I don’t see a ‘hump’ and won’t buy into it.”
But the Soaring Eagles are on their way. The win against Irvington is proof.

Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.

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