It was a few minutes after 9 pm this past Saturday night as I approached La Joya Palmview head coach Margarito Requenez on the field of Sams Stadium in Brownsville.
Requenez’s Lobos had just won their sixth straight game, an 89-49 thrashing of Brownsville Lopez to improve to 6-1 in District 16-5A Div. I and remain in the hunt for a district title.
“When do you start thinking about Mission Veterans,” I asked.
“As soon as possible,” came the response from the sixth year head coach.
Such is the life of a coach at probably any point during a season. Time spent enjoying a victory can be seen as time lost getting ready for the next game and that next game for Palmview is a big one.
Mission Veterans, the defending district champs, march into La Joya ISD Stadium tonight on top of the district standings with a 7-0 record and their sights set on another district title.
Besides the Patriots and Palmview, there are three other schools in the mix for the title heading into the next to last weekend of the regular season. Like the Lobos, Rio Grande City is 6-1 while Brownsville Pace and Brownsville Veterans are currently 5-2. Only four teams qualify for the playoffs.
Veterans coach David Gilpin calls the trophies awarded for winning the district title and any additional titles that follow it “Gold balls.” The Patriots won four last year. A win tonight gets them closer to their first of 2019.
Like Requenez, Gilpin’s thoughts on tonight’s game came soon after their 20-15 victory over Brownsville Pace last week. Gilpin and his staff even started before Palmview did. The Patriots victory over Pace was a Thursday game, giving them a few more days of critical preparation and rest thanks to the schedule makers of the district.
Considering the manner in which Palmview disposed of Lopez the extra days were probably welcomed.
Palmview scored early and often against Lopez. Three different players scored touchdowns on the team’s first three plays from scrimmage. The first was set up by defensive fumble recovery. Late in the second quarter an interception set up another score that enabled Palmview to take control of a back and forth game. The special teams contributed too; running back two Lopez kickoffs for long yardage, one for a touchdown.
“They are a great football team,” said Gilpin. “(They’re) good at what they do and are playing with all kinds of momentum and a great deal of confidence.”
Palmview often lines up three backs together in the backfield and dares you to stop them. Few have had success. Carlos Pena gets the bulk of the work but A.J. Chapa and Adrian Vasquez both have shown the ability to do damage when their number gets called. The Lobos currently have the district’s second ranked offense.
Requenez emphasized controlling the ball as a significant key to being successful tonight and Gilpin noted that his defense would have to be able find a way to slow the Lobos down by controlling the box and playing downhill.
The Patriots have the defense to do just that. The unit is currently ranked first in the district and has surrendered only 22 points in their last four games.
Their ability to keep opponents off the scoreboard has been critical of late. Sophomore starting quarterback Ricky Reyna went down with an injury in the first quarter against Donna three weeks ago and other key offensive players have missed playing time too, forcing the unit to make adjustments.
Gilpin credited both his players and coaches for finding a way to keep the Patriots on track, relying on each other and their team pride.
“I couldn’t be prouder. They have stepped up and bought into that “next man up” concept.”
Gilpin was especially proud of the willingness of the team’s leading receiver, AJ Gonzaque, to take Reyna’s spot.
“AJ is a great football player, athlete and competitor,” said Gilpin. “He wants to succeed in everything he does.”
The whole team was put to the test last week in the victory over Pace. The Patriots trailed 8-7 late in the third quarter before Gonzaque hit Beto Diaz for one score and Eddie Vasquez for another to once again thwart a challenge made to their quest for a third straight district title.
Requenez recognizes too, what his team is up against.
“They’re a tough team,” said Requenez. “Like coach Gilpin has said the road goes through them and hopefully we’ll be ready. If we keep playing the way we’ve been playing it should be an interesting game.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm tonight at La Joya ISD Stadium and no matter the outcome I’ll be down on the field waiting again.
This time I’ll try to give the winning coach a bit more time to enjoy the victory before asking him about getting ready for their next big game.
This article originally appeared in the Friday Nov. 1, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.