More than bragging rights are at stake when the Sharyland Rattlers host the Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks tonight at Richard Thompson Stadium in the sixth edition of the Snakeskin Classic.
Some sports rivalries have implications beyond the right to say your team won and, in some cases, the right to keep saying it for a year until the two meet again.
Then there are the ones like tonight’s game. A once a year, late season district match-up between sister schools that besides the aforementioned bragging rights could have district championship implications, playoff qualifying implications and seeding implications for the postseason all rolled into one.
Throw in a little past history of a similar game from say, last year, and you have the makings for a Friday night of football that should not disappoint.
Last year’s game was indeed a classic. Both teams came into it undefeated in district play, giving the winner an inside track at the district title and that coveted #1 playoff seeding. What unfolded was a back and forth affair, one of those where it seemed like whomever had the ball last would win.
That turned out to be the Rattlers, who kicked a field goal on the game’s last play to secure the 38-37 win.
Sharyland went on to win all of their remaining district games and claim the UIL District 16-5A Div. II title.
The setting for tonight’s game isn’t much different from 2018.
Pioneer currently sits on top of the district standings with a 2-0 record after wins over Mercedes (51-25) and Valley View (35-8). Overall the Diamondbacks have won five straight to stand 5-1 on the season. The only blemish on that record has been a one point loss against Harlingen to open the season.
The Rattlers too, started district play with two straight victories, defeating Laredo Cigarroa (42-17) and Roma (43-3). Last week, however, they found themselves on the opposite side of a late game winning field goal when Edcouch-Elsa kicked one to secure a 36-34 win. Overall, Sharyland is 4-3 on the year.
That game put the district standings into a bit of a log jam going into this week’s games. While Pioneer is the only team undefeated in the league, three others (Sharyland, Edcouch-Elsa, and Roma) are right behind them with 2-1 marks.
Both coaches know the importance of a win tonight and what will be needed to get it.
“This could be the best team we’ve faced all year and it’s probably the best team Pioneer has ever fielded,” said Sharyland coach Ron Adame.
Adame went on to mention the importance of winning the battles within the game like turnovers and third downs, and being able to play with emotion while controlling it at the same time.
Adame summed up what was needed pretty simply. “It will take our best effort.”
Pioneer coach Tom Lee stressed the importance of excelling in all three phases of the game.
“We have to match their intensity but (at the same time) not make it any bigger than it has to be,” said Lee.
“It’s an opportunity to get to 3-0 and to keep progressing.”
If you are at tonight’s game; pay attention. Both the Rattlers and Diamondbacks can light up a scoreboard. If you miss a play you might miss a score.
The Diamondbacks currently lead the district in total offense, averaging close to 500 yards and a mind boggling 48 points per game. The Rattlers average 28 points per game but have increased that to just under 40 points a game in their three district contests.
Pioneer prefers passing the ball, while the Rattlers have demonstrated a more balanced attack.
Both teams rely on the play of their junior quarterbacks.
Eddie Lee Marburger leads Pioneer in both passing and rushing as does Benji Valdivia for the Rattlers.
Besides the two signal callers, both teams utilize a number of different players to keep defenses on their toes. For the Diamondbacks, Tristan Castillo has over 500 total yards from scrimmage as both a runner and receiver.
Gavin De La Garza has almost 600 yards receiving on the season, while Luke Padilla, Allen Davila and Lavar Lindo are all over 300 yards.
The Rattlers spread the ball around too, mainly via the run. Besides the threat brought on by Valdivia, there are four others with a significant number of carries so far in 2019. Kevin Chavez, Robert Mancha, Andres Bonilla and Damian Pruneda are all averaging over 4 yards per carry.
Daniel Pena is the team’s leading receiver with 23 catches and over 400 yards receiving. Chavez’s 14 catches have netted close to 300 yards.
The Rattlers have the higher ranked defensive unit of the two, currently second in the district in yardage given up. The Rattlers have surrendered 142 points on the season while Pioneer has given up 158. Both units are good at taking the ball away from their opponents.
Sharyland has recorded a total of 17 takeaways while Pioneer has 15 on the season.
And if it comes down to a field goal again, both teams have kickers capable of answering the call. Pioneer has been using Oliver Olivares and the Rattlers have called on Kali Nguma for their conversions.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm at Richard Thompson Stadium. The Rattlers are the home team.
This article originally appeared in the Friday Oct. 18, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.