What started as a group of kids playing football blossomed into a family, and now they can call themselves state champions.
The 2018 Junior Mission Mustangs won the Texas Youth Football & Cheer Association (TYFA) Division I State Championship in December in dominating fashion, beating the Austin Steelers 53-6 at McLane Stadium in Waco, the home of the Baylor University Bears.
Some may see the Mustangs’ 13-0 record and how they outscored opponents 488-12 on the season, but what they may not know is the work this team, made up of Valley kids ranging from Harlingen to La Joya, put in behind the scenes for years.
Juniors Head Coach Mark Rendon has spent the last eight years working with this group, a team that features his son Markus and wife Erika as the Team Mom, and what the other parents and coaches call his 30 or so adopted children.
Coach Mark, as his players call him, and the Mustangs tasted defeat just one year ago, falling short in triple overtime to the top seeded North Texas Panthers in the semifinals. The Mustangs advanced deep into the playoffs almost every season before but couldn’t reach the elusive state championship game. That was until this year.
The Mission Mustangs put on a clinic all season long as they dominated Valley opponents, not surrendering a single point to local competition. With the regular season wrapped up, the Mustangs were awarded the no. 4 seed and a first round bye in the TYFA Division I Playoff Bracket.
Despite their seeding and successful regular season, the Mustangs had plenty of doubters. Opposing coaches in the RGV thought the Mustangs would stumble in the playoffs because they were “Valley weak”, a term used to describe how football teams in the Valley are “too slow and too small” to compete with teams from up north.
The Mustangs heard it all, but none of it mattered. What mattered was what the coaches and players believed, and they believed in not only themselves, but in each other.
The Mustangs opened up playoff action in a big way by rolling over their first two opponents, beating the Wilco Tigers, 50-0, and the Harker Heights Jr. Knights 48-6.
In the semifinals, the same place the Mustangs fell short one year ago, Mission faced their toughest test of the season – a matchup with the no. 1 seed San Antonio Predators.
The Predators weren’t like past San Antonio teams. This year, three powerhouse teams from the San Antonio area merged to create one superteam, one many didn’t think could be beaten.
That was until they met the Mission Mustangs.
Coach Mark and his group played their tails off in a defensive slugfest against the Predators. Defensive coordinator Coach Jamaine “Coco” Blalock, or Coach Coco as the players call him, was able to roll out a scheme that shut down a high-scoring, fast-paced San Antonio Predator offense, holding them scoreless for the first time this season.
On the other side of the ball, Coach Mark, who was now able to focus solely on the offense with Coach Coco running the defense, drew up a smash mouth game plan of running it right down the opposing defense’s throat, and they were successful.
Running back Jason Montez was the team’s workhorse as he popped off 5-6 yards per carry to keep the Mustang offense on the field, while keeping the Predators high-scoring attack on the sideline. Once the San Antonio defense began to play closer to the line and load the box to stop the run, that’s when Coach Mark saw his chance.
Near the goal line, the Mustangs ran a slant that caught the defense off guard as receiver Ryen Abrego hauled in a touchdown pass from quarterback Sergio Aparicio for a 7-0 lead in the third quarter. That ended up being the game’s only points scored as the Mustangs finally punched their ticket to the state championship game.
With Baylor University’s McLane Stadium as the backdrop for the state title, the Mustangs were determined to jump on the Austin Steelers early, and they did just that.
“I gave them a challenge to win the game for us in the first three minutes,” said Coach Mark. “I told them if you can win this one in the first three minutes of the game, the championship is ours, and that’s exactly what happened. They met the challenge of winning the game in the first three minutes and after that they never looked back.”
The Mustangs jumped out to a 20-0 lead before the Steelers, an organization that has eight state championships to their name, even knew what hit them.
Three touchdown runs by Montez and two recovered onside kicks in the first three minutes by the Mustangs squashed any hopes the Steelers had.
Montez and Aparicio were named the Al Hollins Players of the Game for their outstanding performances in the state championship, each player received a championship ring, and the Mission Mustangs were finally able to hoist the state championship trophy.
“It was a surreal moment; what you’ve been working on for a couple weeks or even a year is one thing, but we’ve been working 7-8 years,” said assistant coach Jim Brewster. “It was gratifying to see Coach Mark and our team mom, Erika, who is his wife, and their son Markus celebrating. Immediately after the game, the boys were praying at midfield, which put things into perspective for us.”
For Coach Mark and his son, this is the first Mission Mustang in the organization’s history to go all eight years in the program, the ride and the support will be what they remember.
“It’s been a great ride and great journey,” said Coach Mark. “This couldn’t have done without the commitment of the parents, the coaches, the players and their relatives. Our team always travels in large numbers, whether it was families or friends, all that fan base in the stands, I think that’s what made them play harder.”
Coach Mark knows the 2018 Mission Mustangs Division I Junior State Championship will be something these kids will never forget.
“I was part of the journey when the Mustangs won three years ago, and I still hear those boys talking about it. It’s something they’re going to remember the rest of their lives,” he said.
The 2018 TYFA Division I Junior Champion Mission Mustangs (in alphabetical order): Abram Garcia, AJ Garcia, AJ Renteria, Andre Matamoros, Calvin Harris, Christopher Avila, Christian Gonzalez, Darren Guerra, Derek Vecchio, Deshawn Evans, Demetrio Sanchez, Devin Navarro, Diego Rivas, Jamal Polley, Jason Montez, Jeremiah Lopez, Jesse Montez, Jordan Brewster, JR. Sanchez, Lincoln Rios, Malik Robledo, Markus Rendon, Mathew Ramirez, Mauricio Salinas, Max Alvarez, Michael Alvarez, Michael Gonzales, Nathan Lozano, Ryen Abrego, Sebastian Balderas, Sebastian Villarreal, Sergio Aparicio, Vladimir Trevino and Zander Sotelo.