If you have tickets for tonight’s Battle of Conway football game between the Mission Eagles and the Veterans Memorial Patriots, DO NOT go to Tom Landry Stadium. If you do all you’ll find is a dark, empty stadium with security fences around it and all kinds of heavy construction equipment in the parking lot. That’s because the $8 million renovation of Tom Landry Hall of Fame Stadium, which was scheduled to be completed last week, is still under construction.
As a result, tonight’s annual rivalry game between the two Mission teams is being played at Bennie LaPrade Stadium in Donna; a fact that both teams are downplaying.
Veterans Memorial quarterback Landry Gilpin avoids being sacked in the end zone by scrambling for positive yards during the first quarter of the Patriots 31-26 victory over the Harlingen Cardinals Friday evening. Progress Times photo by Luciano Guerra
“We’ll play anybody, anywhere, anytime,” stated Patriots’ head coach David Gilpin. “This is a huge game for our community and both of our schools so we’re going to be ready to play regardless of where it’s played.”
That is a sentiment shared by many of the players as well. Players like Eagles’ quarterback Damian Gomez who despite just being a sophomore, is in his second year as the Mission signal caller.
When asked if he is disappointed by the fact that this year’s edition of the annual cross-town rivalry game won’t be played in Mission, Gomez said, “Not really. We’re just happy we have this game against them. It’s a rivalry game and that’s what we’re looking forward to. The fact that we’ve lost to the Patriots three years in a row brings more fire to the flame.”
Historically, the Eagles hold a seven wins to six advantage over the Patriots since the series’ inception but the Patriots have won the last three by scores of 14-7, 23-2 and 42-35. That is a trend that Mission senior strong safety Shaun De La Garza, who has played in the last two Battles of Conway, is ready to bring to an end.
“I’ve been waiting for this game,” De La Garza said. “Every time it ends, I’m ready for the next one.”
This will be Patriots’ senior wide receiver and middle linebacker Buda Gonzalez’s third Battle of Conway. When asked if the team prepares any differently for this game than they do for any other game, Gonzalez said, “Not really. It’s a more intense week for us and we try to do everything perfectly, but it’s the same game plan. We go out there and try to win just like we always do.”
With this being a non-district game, some might wonder how badly each team wants to win. Gonzalez has no doubts how much both teams will be out to win.
“There are bragging rights at stake, so they’re going to be ready,” added Gonzalez. “They’re coming off a big win, so just like we’re going to be ready, they’re going to be ready too. It’s going to be a dog fight.”
Unlike last year, when both teams suffered week one losses, the Eagles and the Patriots are both coming off week one wins; Mission over PSJA North (24-14) and Veterans Memorial over the defending 32-6A district champions Harlingen Cardinals (31-26).
VMHS senior defensive back Aaron Fernandez, who will be playing in his second Battle of Conway game tonight, believes that the Patriots’ win over the Cardinals will help his team tonight.
“Beating Harlingen is definitely a confidence booster for this team,” Fernandez said. “But Mission is coming off a win too, so we’re both going to be ready. It’s going to come down to whoever wants it more.”
As for what he expects from the Eagles tonight, Fernandez said, “They’re going to come out swinging. They’re hungry for a win so it’s going to be a crazy game. With three wins in a row against them, we’re on top of the hill right now and we want to stay there, so it’ll be up to us to outdo them.”
This will be the third Battle of Conway game for Patriots’ senior offensive guard Nick Riley. He shared what a victory in tonight’s game would mean to him when he said, “It would mean a whole lot of something to me. I could tell my future children all about the way we beat the Eagles three times if we win tonight.”
“But it won’t be easy because I’m expecting the Eagles to play hard,” added Riley. “Both of us are going to go at it offensively and defensively so it’s going to be a good game.”
The Patriots are the home team in tonight’s game. Seating will be general admission for everybody including season ticket holders. Tickets will be on sale at the Mission ISD athletic office until 12 noon today, and then at the gate, for $7 each. For more information, call the athletic office at 956-323-5683.