The 2019 Texas high school football regular season reached the halfway point last week and while most districts are still just getting their league games started; others, like UIL District 16-5A Div. 1, are well into it.
That doesn’t mean the battle for the district championship is very clear though. After five weeks of district play four teams have four league wins. Mission Veterans, the defending district champs, are currently undefeated with a 4-0 district record (4-1 overall). The other four win teams are La Joya Palmview, Brownsville Pace and Rio Grande City, each with 4-1 district records.
The Patriots remain the team to beat in the district and have shown no signs of being willing to let anyone else knock them off. Mission Veterans hasn’t lost a district game since November of 2017.
The 2019 team has so far rolled through their first four district opponents, outscoring them 177-56. Two of those wins came at the expense of two of the leagues tougher teams, Brownsville Veterans (42-21) and Rio Grande City (38-21). The Patriots defeated PSJA Memorial 48-14 to open district play. Their latest win came September 27 over Brownsville Porter 49-0.
Tonight’s game against Donna could present its share of challenges for the Patriots though.
First off is the fact that despite their 1-3 mark in the district (2-3 overall); the Redskins are coming off their first district win of the season. Donna defeated Brownsville Lopez two weeks ago 35-28 to keep their hopes of earning a post season berth alive.
Secondly is the fact that the Redskins three district losses in 2019 have been tight affairs against solid opponents. After opening district with a 28-14 loss to PSJA Southwest, Donna hung tough in losses to two of the previously mentioned four win teams. They lost to Brownsville Pace 22-14 and then La Joya Palmview 19-16 before the win over Lopez.
Donna relies heavily on running the football. Quarterback Avery Bowen has recorded three 100 yard rushing games so far this season. Adan Reyes has two games over 100 yards plus another two with 99 yards each. Against Lopez, Bowen ran for 139 yards, Reyes had 132 and Marcus Ysaguirre netted 122.
Gilpin said one key to tonight’s game is knowing where Bowen is at all times.
Both teams enter tonight coming off a bye week. That too, could be a tricky affair. The week off can provide time to heal the inevitable bumps and bruises that come with the game, but getting going again after a break in a team’s routine can also be a challenge.
The momentum of a win, as each of tonight’s teams had in their previous contests, could also be lost with the time off.
However the break’s effects unfold, Gilpin liked the timing of this year’s bye week.
“It (the bye) came right in the middle of the season,” he said. “It gave us the chance to get recharged for the stretch run.”
That could be a problem for any future Patriot opponents.
Veterans’ high-powered offense continues to be led by the arm and legs of sophomore quarterback Ricky Reyna. In the win over Porter, Reyna passed for 294 yards and two touchdowns while running for another score. He has over 1,400 total yards five games into his first year running the show for the Patriots. The offense currently ranks second in the district, averaging just over 400 yards per game.
Junior AJ Gonzaque remains Reyna’s favorite target. The junior has caught 27 passes for 436 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019. His eight receptions against Porter were a season high.
Senior Danny Cantu is the team’s leading rusher averaging 94 yards per game. Cantu ran for 157 yards in the game against Rio Grande City.
The Patriots defense is more than holding its own too, leading the district in yards allowed. In the win over Porter the defense opened the scoring for the Patriots on senior Arath Ibanez’s 60 yard fumble return. On the night the defensive unit recorded four takeaways in blanking the Cowboys, a fact that made coach Gilpin especially proud considering most of the units starters weren’t on the field for much of the second half.
As for how he expects the Patriots to fare tonight, Coach Gilpin noted he felt good about the way the Patriots matched up and that getting a lead would be a key. He also noticed how his team came back after the week off.
“We had a great Monday practice,” he said. “We were on point.”
That is probably not surprising considering how much the Patriots have won over the last several years. They know that every week gives another opponent the chance to knock them off. It is something few have been able to do.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm tonight at Tom Landry Stadium.
This article originally appeared in the Friday Oct. 11, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.