Two of the best epic movies in the past 15 years that depicted historical battles are Mel Gibson’s The Patriot and Russell Crowe’s Gladiator. An equally epic battle is expected to unfold at the Gladiator Arena when the Mission Veterans Memorial Patriots visit the Roma Gladiators at 7:30 p.m. on Friday in a District 31-5A matchup.
For the past two years, the Patriots and Gladiators have engaged in on-field battles that were decided by one point each game. In both instances, Mission Veterans came out the victor with a 21-20 win last season and a 28-27 triumph in 2012.
“The last two or three meetings have been decided in the fourth quarter,” Roma head coach Max Habecker said. “They’ve beat us the last two by one point each time. We just play great games against each other and coach Gilpin does a great job of preparing his kids to be ready for us and I don’t expect anything different this week. It’s going to be a good, physical game.”
Both teams come into Friday’s game after suffering wide-margin losses last week. Mission Veterans (3-2 overall, 0-1 district) fell to Sharyland 37-20 in their district opener and despite boasting one of the top defenses in the Rio Grande Valley, Roma (3-2-1, 1-1) was defeated by Edinburg Vela 49-10.
“They’ve been very successful this year,” Mission Veterans head coach David Gilpin said. “Obviously, they’ve been playing real good defense and they’re running the same offense for the last couple of years and they’ve been real successful with that. So we’ve got a tough ballgame ahead of us.”
The Patriots were dominated by Sharyland in the first half of their Oct. 3 district home opener at Tom Landry Stadium, but found their composure during halftime and came out in the third quarter looking to take care of business. Although the Rattlers waivered in the second half, Mission Veterans couldn’t break the cross-town visitors and eventually lost. But not after making a game of it.
“I wasn’t real happy with our kids in the first half. I didn’t see the fight and the effort that I wanted to see in the first half, but in the second half I did,” Gilpin said. “We came out (in the second half), got it in there, punched it in right away and got back in the football game. It was a different energy level for our kids. We thought we would come out of the gates a little stronger, but at least we were able to get that turned around at halftime. It’s a tough loss.”
“We want to play for championships here and losing this one, part of the district championship is gone,” he added. “Now we got to get into the playoffs and fight for the bi-district championship. We want to put gold balls in the trophy case.”
To defeat Roma and extend their winning streak over the Gladiators, the Patriots will have to put more points on the board than they did against Sharyland and contain a pair of Roma’s running threats in senior tailback Peter Rodríguez and sophomore tailback Ramón Espinoza. Combined the Gladiator tandem have rushed for over 1,100 yards in six games.
Against Edinburg Vela, the Gladiators were left in shock and sought to correct the mistakes they made against the Sabercats this week during practice.
“The kids came back fresh on Monday and we addressed the mistakes we made,” Habecker said. “It was important because the kids were not negative. They wanted to know what they did wrong, and that’s a huge step. They weren’t pointing fingers. They wanted to know what they did wrong so they can fix it and move forward.”
Roma’s keys to victory will require them to control the game on offense, avoid turnovers and work on their third down defense.
Friday’s game at Gladiator Arena will be Roma ISD’s first Pink Football Game to promote breast cancer screening and treatment awareness. Players will wear pink tape and use pink towels, and band members will wear pink gloves.