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One step closer

Pioneer secures playoff spot, looks for district title next

In a game worthy of its’ name, the 7th annual Snakeskin Classic was indeed that on Wednesday night at Richard Thompson Stadium in Mission. The high scoring affair, won by Sharyland Pioneer 54 – 41, was tied at halftime, a three point game going into the fourth and wasn’t decided until Pioneer’s Alejandro Vasquez ran back an interception for a touchdown with three seconds left in the contest.  The win clinched a playoff spot for the Diamondbacks (4 – 0; 3 – 0 in district)) and puts them into the District 16-5A Div. II title game against Mercedes next week. The loss drops Sharyland High to 2 – 1 (1 – 1 in district) on the year with two big games next week.

The two teams spent most of the night trading scores but what may have decided the game was the type of scores each team managed. The Diamondbacks scored eight touchdowns on the night; the first seven produced by their prolific offense. Pioneer quarterback Eddie Lee Marburger threw for four scores in the first half and ran for three more in the second half. The Rattlers offense scored four, moving the ball as well as Pioneer most of the night, but had to settle for field goals from Kali Nguma on four other drives.

Nguma’s second field goal of the night, a booming 46 yarder on the last play of the first half, tied the game at 27 all after the Diamondbacks led 20 – 9 at the end of the first and 27 – 17 with just over four minutes to play in the second.

Marburger directed the Diamondbacks on a 90 yard drive on the opening possession of the second half; making it 34 -27 with his 13 yard run. It was 34 – 30 after  Rattlers quarterback Benji  Valdivia connected with Robert Mancha on a 47 yard pass play that got the Rattlers in position for Nguma’s third field goal of the night.

Each team traded scores on each of their next two possessions.  Pioneer went up 41 – 30 on a Marburger run but the Rattlers cut it to 41 – 38 near the end of the third on a short run from Rolie Saenz and a two point conversion to set up a wild fourth period.

A long Pioneer drive, heavy with runs by Marburger and Tristan Castillo, pushed the lead to 48 – 38 on Marburger’s short run, his third rushing score of the half. The Rattlers answered with a long drive of their own but facing a fourth and two, elected to send out Nguma, who cut the lead to 48 – 41 with just under three minutes to play with a 33 yard kick.

After recovering the Rattlers on-side kick attempt the Diamondbacks worked the clock down but turned it over on a fumble with just under a minute left, giving the Rattlers one more chance. That chance ended with Vasquez’s 40 yard pick six return.

Despite the way it ended, Rattlers coach Ron Adame liked the effort he got from his team. “I saw some fight,” said Adame, “and that’s something that would make any coach in America proud. When their guys are willing to lay it on the line like our guys did tonight.”

Besides Nguma’s kicks and the Saenz TD, the Rattlers got rushing scores from Valdivia and Luis Gonzalez. Valdivia and Saenz also connected on a scoring pass.     In addition to his own scoring runs, Marburger’s four scoring throws went to JJ Snyman (two,) Castillo and Mike Ramos Jr.

The Rattlers have one more district zone game on Monday; hosting Mission Veterans in a game that will determine who they face later in the week in a win or go home game with an opponent from the districts East zone. A win in next week’s second game means another playoff appearance for the Rattlers. A loss in that second game will end their season.

The Diamondbacks have already qualified for the UIL post season. The match-up with Mercedes next week will determine both the District 16-5A Div. II champion as well as seeding for the playoffs.

Coach Tom Lee thinks his squad will be ready. “That’s what’s nice about playing teams like Mission Veterans (last week) and Sharyland, which are perennial playoff teams. The atmosphere the last two weeks has been a playoff game, so we have to use it for that . . . these are going to be games that are going to help us down the road.”

Both teams certainly showed tonight they will not be easy outs however long they can stay in it once those playoff games begin.

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