Two teams that have spent the last few years on opposite sides of the success scale meet tonight at Tom Landry Hall of Fame Stadium in Mission when Mission Veterans (2-1, 2-0) hosts Rio Grande City (3-0, 2-0). At stake is a spot at the top of the District 16-5A Div. I standings.
Mission Veterans is used to such places. The Patriots have won two straight district titles and entered 2019 having qualified for the post season in seven straight years. Coach David Gilpin’s squads have enjoyed success there too, advancing past the first round the last five seasons.
It has been some time since Rio Grande City has been in this position. The Rattlers last qualified for the post season in 2013. However, three games into the 2019 season finds Rio undefeated and in a four way tie for first in the district standings with Mission Veterans, Brownsville Pace and PSJA Southwest. Two head-to-head match ups this weekend will break up the log jam.
First year head coach Leonel Mireles’ squad is the highest scoring team in the district, utilizing a trio of seniors on offense that has put 157 points on the board in the first three games of the season. The Rattlers have scored over 40 points in each of those games and are coming off a 69 point outburst against Brownsville Lopez last week.
The offense, led by quarterback Mario Garza has produced 21 touchdowns so far this season. Garza has passed for over 200 yards in each game and threw six touchdowns passes in the 69-19 victory over Lopez.
Aaron Martinez and Angel Galvan make up a big part of the rest of the Rattlers attack. Martinez has scored seven touchdowns on 22 receptions through three games while Galvan is averaging just under 100 yards per game combined rushing and receiving. In a big 43-34 win over La Joya Palmview in Week 2, Galvan rushed for 131 yards on only 13 carries and scored three touchdowns.
While Rio has been rolling there were some who had doubts about a Mission Veterans team that entered 2019 looking to replace a good part of their 2018 squad. Those doubters looked correct when the Patriots fell 37-0 to Mission in the season opener.
The Patriots have since appeared to right the ship, opening district play with big wins against PSJA Memorial (48 -14) and Brownsville Veterans (42-21).
“We started a young football team (against Mission),” said Gilpin. “But we recover very quickly around here. (After the Mission game) it’s been a step back up to the plate, get back on the horse and say ‘We’re a really good football team with the potential to be great’ and that’s what we’ve done.”
A big reason for the turnaround has been the play of sophomore quarterback Ricky Reyna. After only completing six passes in the loss to Mission, Reyna passed for three touchdowns against PSJA Memorial on 12 completions and is coming off a 317 yard, four touchdown game on 25 completions against Brownsville Veterans last week.
“We didn’t execute the way we wanted to (against Mission),” said Reyna, “but we’ve come to work every day after that, listened to our coaches and been able to execute the way we want to.”
Junior wide out AJ Gonzaque has been the main beneficiary of Reyna’s improvement. After only one catch against Mission, Gonzaque caught 7 passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns against PSJA Memorial and caught seven more for 152 yards and three touchdowns against Brownsville Veterans.
Gonzaque commented on how Reyna has developed. “His week two and week three performances have been great. He’s putting the ball where it needs to be.”
Gonzaque added that the attitude of the team is making progress too. “We’re starting to believe that we’re a great team,” he said. “We’re not worrying about next week or (getting to) the fourth round. We’re worrying about the game we have to play this Friday.”
The other phases of the game are also starting to click for the Patriots. The defensive unit has five takeaways to go along with 13 quarterback sacks. They’ve also scored three touchdowns. Michael De Anda ran back two interceptions for scores against PSJA Memorial and Mike Rodriguez recovered a fumble for a score against Brownsville Veterans. .
On special teams, Mike Gonzalez’s 80 yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Brownsville Veterans tied the game at 14 apiece, sparking a run that saw the Patriots take a 35-14 halftime lead.
They will need all three phases to be in sync tonight against a good Rio team.
“They’ve (Rio Grande) got some really, really good athletes out there,” said Gilpin. “They are good, they are explosive.”
Gilpin went on to say that he expects the Rattlers to show up ready to give everything they have against his squad. The Patriots past success has gotten them used to the fact that other teams will do just that but Gilpin feels his own team will be ready too.
“We feel pretty good about where we’re at and where we match up,” he said. “We’re going to come out and keep our swagger, keep that chip on our shoulder and do what we do”.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm at Tom Landry Hall of Fame Stadium in Mission.
PSJA Southwest and Brownsville Pace, the other two District 16-5A Div. I leaders, meet tomorrow night in Brownsville.
This article originally appeared in the Friday Sept. 20, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.