On a Mission

Eagles open season; district at home tonight 

 The Mission Eagles football team hosts Edinburg High tonight at Tom Landry Stadium in a game that represents not only the first game of the 2020 season for both teams but the District 31-6A opener as well. 

The University Interscholastic league (UIL) moved the Eagles to District 31 as part of their biennial realignment this past February in what was to be a nine team district. In previous years a team in this type of district would typically open their season with two non-district games before starting district play. The series of changes, delays and opt-outs that have occurred over the past few months have changed all that for the Eagles as well as for most other schools. New changes to the District 31-6A schedule were just completed this past Tuesday. 

Mission junior receiver Tajh Jones tries to make a fingertip catch as Eagles’ head football coach Koy Detmer
looks on during a recent practice at Tom Landry Stadium. Progress Times photo by Luciano Guerra.

The changes made to that schedule, combined with a number of other factors makes tonight’s game a big one for several reasons. 

First, of course, is the fact that this is the first game of the season. No team wants to start any season with a loss and tonight will be no exception. 

You can double down on the first point when your opener is a district game, a rare occurrence most years. District games are the only ones that count toward post season qualification; something every team hopes to achieve every year.

Now add in the fact that this year’s district slate of games for the Eagles and the other members of District 31-6A has been reduced to six; leaving little margin for error as the year progresses. Starting such a small number of games with a loss, while not insurmountable, may add to the pressure faced going into future games. 

Both Edinburg High and Mission High are associated with winning football as well. The Eagles come in to 2020 having qualified for the postseason the last two years while the Bobcats fell one win short after qualifying for the playoffs the previous three seasons. The two schools also have a history of head to head games that in my years of following Valley football have almost always had high stakes riding on the outcome. The two last met in 2015 when the Eagles won 49-6.

Mission High alum and now head coach Koy Detmer did his part as a player, helping the Eagles to wins in 1990 and 1991, but has yet to face the Bobcats as a coach. 

Looking beyond tonight’s game, a luxury afforded to sportswriters, adds another reason both teams want to come out victorious tonight. The Eagles will travel to PSJA High next Thursday in a match-up of two teams who were part of a three way tie for first in District 30-6A last year and the Eagles only district loss in 2019.  The Bobcats follow up tonight’s game with a three game stretch against their fellow ECISD schools. A momentum boost from a victory tonight could be vital for next week and beyond.  

Tonight’s match-up also features two teams with a significant number of returning players from 2019.  In light of the reduced preparation time all football teams in the area have had to contend with this year, having back experienced players is bound to help. Both the Eagles and Bobcats can check that box. 

Most of those returning for the Eagles are on the defensive side of the ball. Nine starters are back, five who were recognized with All-district awards for their play last year. Linebacker Luis Balderas (junior) was the District 30-6A Defensive Newcomer of the Year and three others were named to the First Team. They were safety Ivan Chavez (senior), lineman Dante Lopez (senior) and corner Julio Reyes (senior). In addition, linebacker Justin Soto (senior) was named to the Second Team.

On offense, quarterback Jeremy Duran (junior) and running back Andrew Maldonado (senior) are two of four starters back. Each earned All-District Second Team honors in 2019.

“I feel we have a good nucleus of guys returning,” said Detmer, “which is good.”

The Bobcats bring back good numbers as well.  Like the Eagles they return their quarterback (Rolando Abrego, junior) and a running back (Shandon Woodward, senior) on offense along with four other starters. Woodward was named to the 31-6A All-District Second Team in 2019.  Six starters are also expected back on defense, including two linemen recognized for their play last season.  Emmanuel Duron was the 2019 District 31-6A Co-defensive Player of the Year and Juan Garza shared District Defensive Newcomer of the Year honors. Both are seniors. 

“They’re (Edinburg) going to be a tough opponent,” said Detmer. “We’re going to have to get out there and be sharp.”

Both teams got the chance to scrimmage against an opponent last week, meaning both have had a week to adjust to any issues that may have arisen from them. Detmer said he was pleased with what he saw in his team’s performance last week but, also acknowledged the reduced preparation time both he and his staff have had to work with. 

“You’ve got a lot to get done in very little time,” said Detmer. “The time management thing really becomes a factor, but I think our kids have done a real good job handling the plan that we put in place for them. I think our coaches have done a great job with managing that as well.” 

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm tonight at Tom Landry Stadium. 

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