It’s come to be known as the Battle of Conway and it’s on tonight at Tom Landry Stadium. The 12th installment of the cross-town rivalry between the Mission Eagles and the Veterans Memorial Patriots kicks off at 7:30 tonight with 365 days’ worth of bragging rights going to the victor.
Historically, the Eagles hold a seven wins to four advantage over the Patriots since the series’ inception. And Mission head football coach Mario Pena holds a four wins to two advantage over Veterans Memorial head football coach David Gilpin. However, it’s the Patriots that have owned the bragging rights over the past 12 months after their 14-7 win over the Eagles in last year’s season opener.
At first glance tonight’s matchup may appear to be just another game on the teams’ non-district schedules, but the players, coaches and fans that will be filling Tom Landry Stadium tonight know that no matter what else happens this season, a win tonight is something that they will be able to look back at with pride.
As a three-year member of the Eagles’ varsity squad, senior middle linebacker and running back Juan Salazar has participated in this gridiron rivalry for the past two seasons. With the memory of last year’s loss still fresh in his mind Salazar is determined not to let history repeat itself.
“This game means a lot to me,” said Salazar. “I really want to win this game. I don’t want to graduate having lost to the Patriots two years in a row and we’re going to do all we can to keep that from happening.”
With it being the Patriots’ turn to be the home team tonight, the south-side stands in Tom Landry Stadium will almost certainly be filled with the Eagles’ faithful. When asked what having the fans cheering him and his teammates on will mean to him Salazar said, “Having a lot of fans there like we did last year really motivates us. Everybody yelling our names and cheering for us makes us even more determined to win for our fans. We want them to be able to go home celebrating our victory.”
As one of two quarterbacks that Mission head coach Mario Pena is planning on platooning this season, senior William Arias knows very well that anytime the Eagles and the Patriots meet on the football field it’s a battle.
“There’s something special about this game,” said Arias. “There’s a lot of pride at stake.”
As for how he and his teammates will feel about being the visiting team at Tom Landry Stadium tonight Arias added, “We play here and we practice here so we feel that this is our field and we’re going to go out and prove that it is.”
As a first year member of the Patriots’ football team, senior defensive end Colton Kaufman will be experiencing this cross-town rivalry first-hand for the first time tonight. When asked what he is looking forward to the most about this game Kaufman said, “I’m ready to hear the crowd go wild and for all the excitement that goes with this game. It’s been a big rivalry and I’ve been watching it since I was a little boy. It is the Battle of Conway so that pretty much says it all.”
Having been promoted to the Patriots’ varsity squad after the Mission game last season, senior right guard John Paul Martinez will also be experiencing this rivalry on the field for the first time. That however does not mean that he is not familiar with the history behind this 11 year rivalry.
“This game not only sets the tone for the rest of the season but I’ve been going to the games ever since I was little so I remember them well,” expressed Martinez. “With us having won this game last year I want to help turn this into a streak by making it two in a row.”
“This is a game we’ve been looking forward to since the summer,” added Martinez. “Ever since halfway through the summer we’ve been talking about the season and coach has been reminding us of August 28 as the date we go to battle. We’ll be going up against Odessa Permian next week so if we can win these two games it will give us great momentum going into the season.”