What’s meant to be will always find a way and finally after years apart, the La Joya Coyotes and Sharyland Rattlers, two of the Valley’s most storied programs, are set to clash on the football field for the first time in over 10 years.
“We’re talking about the original school (La Joya), just like we’re the original here,” said Sharyland High Head Coach Ron Adame. “In the past when we were both one schools, we had some close, tough ball games. Those kids at La Joya High, if they’re like our kids, their fathers and mothers graduated from La Joya just like our parents. We’re expecting a good classic shootout with two storied programs that have a lot of pride.”
For La Joya High Head Coach Reuben Farias, the matchup takes him back to the days of the 70s when his father and former Coyote head coach Ruben Eluterio Farias was leading La Joya into games against Sharyland.
“It’s a rivalry that goes back to the early 70s when Sharyland and La Joya were 3A when my dad was a coach,” Farias said. “It’s a physical game. I know they’re great offensively, defensively they’re pretty physical, they’re pretty quick and well-coached. We just have to play Coyote football; we got to be physical from the beginning.”
Entering Week 3 of the football season, the Coyotes and Rattlers have had different experiences in their two non-district games thus far.
La Joya has been rolling to start the season as they sit at 2-0 and are outscoring opponents 88-19 in two games.
After beating up on their rival Palmview 39-19 to open 2018, the Coyotes put together a dominant performance last week in a 49-0 shutout of Roma at home.
As for the Rattlers, they’ve been battle-tested early on. In their first two games, Sharyland squared off against playoff teams from a year ago, and twice, overtime was needed to determine a winner. In Week 1, Sharyland hosted Brownsville Pace and walked away with a 20-17 overtime win with the deciding points coming off an Oscar Valdez field goal. In Week 2, the Rattlers went down to the wire against McAllen Memorial before ultimately falling 27-21 in one overtime.
Now, the two teams with high expectations in 2018 are ready for battle Friday night at Richard Thompson Stadium in what is shaping up to be one of this year’s top non-district matchups.
The Coyotes ground game has been in a groove as last year’s District 30-6A Co-Offensive Player of the Year Eddie Villarreal picked right up where he left off. The junior running back has run for 235 yards and six touchdowns in two games, while first year starting quarterback J.R. Rodriguez has rushed for 137 yards of his own with three total touchdowns.
In his first year as the team’s starting quarterback, Rodriguez has found comfort under center for the Coyotes thanks to the big men opening holes up front and the relentless running style of Villarreal.
“We’ve been working hard as a unit,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been working together, accomplishing different goals that we set and moving as a team. I feel comfortable knowing the offensive line has my back, and Eddie’s got me in the backfield, and with our different slot guys. It’s good knowing when they key on Eddie, we have different options to attack them with.”
The challenge of stopping a powerful ground game is nothing new to the the Sharyland defense, as they’re fresh off facing Memorial’s Campbell Speights for 48-minutes plus overtime. Senior linebacker Javo Lopez, the Rattlers’ leader in tackles with 25, said winning at the line of scrimmage is key to containing the Coyotes’ rushing attack.
“La Joya, they’re going to pound the ball, so we have to stuff them at the line of scrimmage and make them lose yards,” Lopez said. “If they gain three or four yards per play, it’s first down again and again, and we can’t allow that. We have to do our job at the line of scrimmage and be physical.”
On the other side of the ball, fans are in for a treat as Sharyland’s high-powered offense, led by dual-threat senior quarterback Edgar Longoria, takes on one of the Valley’s best defenses in the Coyotes.
“It’s going to be a fast-paced game with a lot of hard-hitting on both sides,” Longoria said. “Their defense is really fast. It’s going to be a physical game and whoever wins their head-to-head battles is going to come out victorious.”
Longoria, one of Sharyland’s eight returning starters on offense, has totaled 348 yards in two games to go with four total touchdowns. Combined with the support at the skill positions and a veteran offensive line, the Rattlers roll out an attack capable of scoring from anywhere on the field.
Defensively, La Joya trots out a swarming unit that has shut down its first two opponents of the season. After pitching a shutout against Roma, the Coyotes are ready to lineup against one of the Valley’s top offenses and show people they shouldn’t be sleeping on La Joya in 2018.
The Coyote defense brings back six starters from last year’s group, and senior strong safety Xavier Ramirez knows this matchup will come down to who wants it more.
“They have a lot of returners, but just like they have returners on offense, we have returners on defense,” Ramirez said. “It’s just going to come down to who wants it more. We’re expecting to set the tone entering district and to make people realize that we’re just as hungry and as good as other teams they put up there.”
While weather could affect the matchup, as of now, kickoff between the Rattlers (1-1) and Coyotes (2-0) is currently scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Richard Thompson Stadium.