MISSION — The Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks kept it close through halftime, but the McAllen Memorial Mustangs wore down the opposing defense by doing what they do best: pounding the ball on the ground. Memorial defeated Pioneer 41-24 in The Monitor’s Game of the Week on Friday night at Richard Thompson Stadium.
“We made a lot of mistakes, but we showed a lot of character,” McAllen Memorial coach Bill Littleton said. “We came back and played pretty good football in the second half. We were concerned about our conditioning, and it showed in the second quarter, but we caught our wind and came back.”
Sophomore running back Campbell Speights was stymied by the Pioneer defense during the first 24 minutes, after which Memorial’s lead was just 20-17. He turned it on late to finish with 19 carries, 133 yards and three touchdown runs.
“Pioneer’s a great team,” Speights said. “They picked up from where they were last year, and they were looking for revenge. We just happened to come out on top.”
The Mustangs came into their opener at a slight disadvantage. The disruption Hurricane Harvey caused on the Texas coast led the Mustangs to go without a preseason scrimmage.
“A win like this shows us where we’re at,” Speights said. “We didn’t know what we were going to do or how we were going to look against a different team without playing a scrimmage. Now we have the feel and showed what we can do. Hopefully, it can set the tone for the rest of the season.”
Up 27-17 late in the third quarter, Memorial senior quarterback Angel Almaguer was leading the Mustangs offense at Pioneer’s 20-yard line. Almaguer took a direct snap and ran to his left for a first down to the 8-yard line.
“I saw a crease because my guys were blocking for me,” Almaguer said. “I ran in between two guys because I felt confident. I was running the ball pretty well.”
Almaguer’s rushing attempt bumped him up to 80 rushing yards on five carries, but the play ended with him down on the field, grimacing because of a right knee injury.
Almaguer had a brace around his knee and was on crutches after the game.
“The game of football is just instincts,” Almaguer said. “Who knows? I might have taken that same route, or I could have bounced it on the outside if I did it over again. But we don’t know how that would have went.”
Almaguer’s injury status is yet to be determined.
“Angel will go in for an MRI tomorrow morning, and we’ll know more about it then,” Littleton said.
Almaguer said he believes he is able to put weight on the leg but has taken the advice of the training staff to not take any risks.
“We’re going to see what’s up with it (the knee),” Almaguer said. “God willing, it’s not as bad we think.”
Check out the postgame stats and play-by-play from the game here.
Track all of the Week 1 games on the RGVSports.com live scoreboard.
Monitor staff writer Nate Kotisso caught up with Memorial coach Bill Littleton and Pioneer coach Jason Wheeler before the game on The Monitor’s Facebook Live.
No. 4 McALLEN MEMORIAL AT No. 8 SHARYLAND PIONEER
WHERE: Richard Thompson Stadium, Mission
WHEN: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
RECORDS: McAllen Memorial (0-0); Sharyland Pioneer (0-0)
GAME NOTES: Last year, Pioneer stuck with Memorial until the Mustangs’ potent run game was too much to handle. Campbell Speights made his debut as a freshman and ran for three touchdowns. … This season, Speights won’t have his partner in crime, Emilio Mendez, who graduated after picking up 1,099 yards during his senior year. … Pioneer, which won six straight games to qualify for the playoffs last year, feels pretty good about bringing back 25 lettermen, six offensive starters and four defensive starters. … The Diamondbacks come in as a trendy pick as the Valley’s top 5A program. Their coach, Jason Wheeler, has expressed the want to build a program as prolific as the Mustangs. A signature win over RGVSports.com’s preseason No. 4 Memorial would go a long way to making that happen. The key to an upset could be at quarterback, with Pioneer’s Jacob Rosales set for a big junior season.
PREDICTION: McAllen Memorial, 35-14