The fact that the 2019 Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks football team is having a magical season cannot be denied. Their 28-21 win over Pflugerville Weiss last Friday night in Corpus Christi was their eleventh straight, earning them a trip to the Alamodome in San Antonio for a UIL 5A Div. II Region IV semi-final game against Boerne Champion tomorrow at 4 pm.
The team has put on an almost weekly display of offensive explosiveness that has made it easy to overlook the big picture. This is a good football team made up of numerous units that collectively are having a great season and more importantly playing well when it counts the most.
I confess that it is easy to get caught up in the numbers being put up by quarterback Eddie Lee Marburger and receivers Lavar Lindo, Luke Padilla, Allen Davila and Evan Maldonado. The others who are helping make it possible need their props too.
Marburger has humbly complimented all of those around him all season. He knows that much of what the Diamondbacks have done this year would not be possible without a good offensive line in front of him. Having a dual threat weapon like Tristan Castillo in the backfield with him is probably helping too.
It starts with the line. Pioneer utilizes a group of six individuals to fill the five spots charged with getting Marburger the time to throw or to make a hole for either he or Castillo to run through.
Those six are seniors Sandalio Garcia, Ethan Garza and Brandon Rojas along with juniors Vance Roberts, Lauro Roman and Mason Villegas.
“We pride ourselves on trying to move the ball, to try and open up the pass game,” said Rojas.” We try to get Eddie time back there to throw the ball and get it to these guys that are really skilled and talented. Getting him that time has been a big part of our success.”
Opposing defenses have to be wary of Castillo too. The junior is the team’s second leading rusher (behind Marburger) with 689 yards and eight touchdowns. One of those scores was a 78 yarder in the opening round playoff game against San Antonio Southside. He also ranks second in two receiving categories with 46 receptions on the year for 635 yards. Castillo has five touchdowns receiving including a 24 yarder against Weiss in the third quarter that put the Diamondbacks up 20-14.
“My role is just like anybody else’s,” says Castillo. “Everyone just goes out there and competes.”
Castillo did admit he likes getting the ball and that his versatility can put opposing defenses in a bit of a predicament by giving the Diamondbacks an opportunity to create mismatches.
There are eleven other guys that are playing a role in the winning streak too. Or should I say eleven brothers.
“We’ve taken on the mantra of “Eleven brothers defense”, said Marcelino De La Fuente Jr. , the Diamondbacks defensive coordinator. “It was a little thing my Dad came in with, “Eleven brothers are hard to beat.” I think it’s a quote from Tom Landry.”
“As the weeks have gone on the kids have really taken to the idea of playing for each other. We’ve accepted the role that we have a very potent offense and everyone talks about the offense so we play with a little chip on their shoulder that we have a defense that’s pretty good too here. The kids want to make sure that when people talk about Pioneer football they also talk about the defense. “
That defense has produced two solid games in a row, shutting our San Antonio Southside in the first half in route to a 59-14 bi-district victory and holding Weiss to just one second half score in last week’s win. For the season they have recorded 23 takeaways.
Seniors Erik Torres and Mario Guerra are part of the defensive front for the Diamondbacks along with junior Matthew Solis. On the season the three have combined for 12.5 sacks and caused four fumbles. Torres and Guerra both have two fumble recoveries.
Guerra talked about the role of the defense and their part in last week’s win. “Our coaches have said that there would be a game where the defense would have to step up and this game we did. We came together and just flew to the ball, eleven brothers, and we stopped them.”
The linebackers are led by senior Fernando Salcedo, the team’s leading tackler on the year with 185.
“We get great competition from our offense when we are practicing and their giving us a great look so when we face those playoffs teams it just makes us a little bit better than they are.” said Salcedo.
Other Diamondbacks linebackers who see significant playing time are seniors Ethan Lee and Kyle Sullivan along with junior Jay Palacios and sophomore Caleb Fuentes. Lee has recorded four takeaways on the season, Palacios has three and Fuentes has two.
The secondary unit for the Diamondbacks consists of seniors Chismere Mallard and juniors Ryan Bulthuis, Marco Oviedo and Alejandro Vasquez. Oviedo has two interceptions on the year and Mallard has one. Bulthuis has a fumble recovery.
The kicking duties for Pioneer usually go to senior Oliver Olivares.
Tomorrow’s game pits the Diamondbacks against another eleven win team in Boerne Champion, the runner up from District 14-5A Div. II who are on a eight game winning streak of their own. The Chargers have scored 30 or more points in 11 of their 12 games this season, including a 70 point outburst against Leander Glenn in a bi-district win two weeks ago and 42 in their area round victory over Port Lavaca Calhoun last week. The Chargers surrendered only seven points in their last four regular season games but have given up 66 in their two playoff wins. (Stats according to Max Preps.com)
This article originally appeared in the Friday Nov. 29, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.