San Antonio Wagner ends Mission Veterans’ historic season

Mission Veterans head coach David Gilpin hugs quarterback and his son Landry Gilpin embrace after their defeat against San Antonio Wagner in Class 5A Division I regional final at the Alamodome on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, in San Antonio. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

SAN ANTONIO — One or two pass rushers isn’t enough to derail Mission Veterans quarterback Landry Gilpin’s playmaking ability. The senior built his game on his elusiveness to extend plays or, sometimes, leave pass rushers in the dust.

The San Antonio Wagner defense provided the stiffest challenge to Gilpin and the offensive line thanks to the quartet of senior linebackers Gregory Steptoe, Maximus Arellano, Michael Turbin along with junior cornerback DeMarcus Hendricks. Steptoe, Arellano, Turbin and Hendricks entered Saturday with 46 sacks between them.

Each of those pass rushers got to Gilpin for five sacks Saturday, including Hendricks, who brought him down twice. Mission Veterans’ high-powered offense was thrown off its game and couldn’t match San Antonio Wagner’s running game score for score.

The Thunderbirds knocked off the Patriots 54-21 in the Region IV-Class 5A Division I final Saturday at The Alamodome. San Antonio Wagner will advance to the Class 5A state semifinals for the first time in school history next week at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Mission Veterans quarterback Landry Gilpin (12) fights off San Antonio Wagner linebacker Michael Turbin (33) as he carries the ball during a Class 5A Division I regional final at the Alamodome on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, in San Antonio.

“We had our issues up front with protection, but we had them corrected at halftime,” Mission Veterans coach David Gilpin said. “They (San Antonio Wagner) were sending a lot at us, man. A lot of pressure and a lot of blitzes. We said it before the game: the difference of the game will be the offensive line. If we could pick up some of their pressure and give us a little bit of time, we could win the game. But we struggled with that in the first half.”

“We played a tremendous team and they did a great job of containing what we do,” Landry Gilpin said. “A lot of it was our lack of execution on the quick passes. We couldn’t get the ball off. We take the blame for that.”

The task for the Patriots defense was to stop gifted runners like Wagner sophomore L.J. Butler, senior Karlton Black and senior quarterback Tobias Weaver as a part of a Thunderbirds’ offense that rarely turned the ball over. While Butler, Black and Weaver each scored a touchdown in the first half, Mission Veterans forced three turnovers, including Weaver’s first two interceptions of the season.

Weaver entered the regional final game with 20 passing touchdowns on the year.

“Pain is temporary. Pride is forever,” Mission Veterans senior safety Elias Delgado said. “They might be bigger and faster than us, but the heart is what matters. Coach (Gilpin) told us to not look at their size, play 100 percent every play and see what happens. People doubted us. We’re proud to be where we were at, but we fell short.”

Mission Veterans wide receiver Mikey Garcia (7) reaches for a pass during a Class 5A Division I regional final against San Antonio Wagner at the Alamodome on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, in San Antonio.

Landry Gilpin and the Mission Veterans (12-2) offense had some bright moments. Junior wideout Mikey Garcia caught two of Gilpin’s three touchdowns passes in the third quarter. Garcia finished with four receptions for 116 yards.

The Patriots were down 21-7 at halftime, but they couldn’t get any closer in the second half. The Thunderbirds responded to Garcia’s touchdowns with scoring drives of their own. San Antonio Wagner (13-1) led by 21 heading into the fourth quarter.

Mission Veterans wide receiver A.J. Gonzaque got the Patriot scoring started when he hauled in a two-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to make it 14-7 Wagner. Gonzaque, who was out his entire freshman year with a torn ACL, completed his first postseason on the playing field for Mission Veterans.

“I’m appreciative of every opportunity that I have,” Gonzaque said. “Going into next year carrying some of those leadership responsibilities, I’m letting everyone know that we’re not some second-round team or a third-round team. We know we can play in the big leagues. We’re going to go in and work on getting back to the fourth round and hopefully win and get into the fifth round.”

When the Patriots take the field again in 2019, they will be without key members from the 2018 squad, the first-ever Mission Veterans football team to break into the regional final round. The defense will miss stable pieces like Delgado and Gus Garza in the secondary as well as Joey Garcia and Jazz Vallejo at linebacker and Juan Ibarra on the defensive line.

The biggest subtraction will be quarterback Landry Gilpin, the son of coach David Gilpin, who ended his career Saturday. Landry Gilpin turned in another 300-yard passing game (312), a 50-touchdown season through the air and the distinction as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever put on a high school uniform in the Rio Grande Valley.

“It’s going to be a little different,” David Gilpin said. “That hasn’t sunk in just yet. I was talking to the kids after the game and I wanted to be brief and not try to make a whole lot of eye contact. There are several seniors in that group that are done with me. Obviously, my son’s there. I tried to avoid it, but then I turned around and he (Landry) was right there. I lost it. All I can do is love my son and love our football team. It hurts, but at the same time, I’m still proud and will look back at how memorable a year this was.”

Mission Veterans’ Joe Mendoza reacts after their defeat against San Antonio Wagner in Class 5A Division I regional final at the Alamodome on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, in San Antonio.

“It was an amazing experience,” Landry Gilpin said. “It’s unlike anything else in my life to have someone in my life that I think so highly of lead me in so many aspects of my life. We’re probably going to cry together for a while. It’s a blessing to be able to be with him as long as I have.”

Mission Veterans and Valley football fans alike filled the Patriots’ side of The Alamodome, despite a 10 a.m. Saturday kickoff.

“The Valley is a special place the way they rally around other Valley-ites,” David Gilpin said. “They adopted us for a couple weeks and we appreciated it. It’s a really neat thing to have people reach out to your football team and say, ‘Hey, we’re behind you.’ Big Blue Nation filled it up. We fed off of them all year. Sorry we couldn’t bring them a win. Sorry we couldn’t bring the Valley a win. We gave what we had today.”