MISSION — The two-time defending district champion Mission Veterans Patriots are no strangers to big games. Head coach David Gilpin knows every week there’s another District 16-5A DI opponent waiting for a crack at the Patriots with hopes of being the team to dethrone the champs.

In Week 4, the Patriots (2-1, 2-0) will have to hold off one of the hottest teams in the Rio Grande Valley as the Rio Grande City Rattlers (3-0, 2-0) take the field at 7:30 p.m Friday at Tom Landry Stadium in Mission.

“We have a bull’s-eye on our backs every time we step onto the field in our district. Teams are coming after us. Rio is sky high right now. They’re 3-0 and they’re excited and taking us down would be a very big thing for them,” Gilpin said. “The district championship runs through Mission Veterans. Until somebody takes it from us, they’re going to have to come through Mission Veterans to get it, and that’s our mentality.”

RATTLERS ON A ROLL

First-year head coach Leo Mireles has rejuvenated the Rio Grande City football program, but it wouldn’t be possible without his players committing to what the coaching staff is preaching.

“These guys have bought into what we were bringing over and I’m very proud of them,” Mireles said. “We started off during spring ball looking good, now we’re 3-0 and trying to give ourselves a chance for the district title.”

For a program that hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since 2013, a 3-0 start to the season is huge.

The RGC offense is averaging 52.3 points per game, spiked by its 69-19 Week 3 win over Brownsville Lopez. Quarterback Mario Garza and receivers Allan Garcia (17 catches, 279 yards, 2 TDs) and Aaron Marroquin (22 catches, 171 yards, 7 TDs) have the Rattlers’ offense rolling on all cylinders. Garza is up to 744 yards and 10 touchdown passes on 69 of 90 throwing, while running back Aaron Galvan has accounted for 299 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns.

“Mario takes what is given to him and we’ve been lucky he’s seeing the right read, and we’ve taken advantage of that,” Mireles said.

To keep up with a high-powered offense like Mission Veterans, the Rattlers’ ‘O’ will have to put up points.

“We’re excited to have this opportunity to have this chance to compete. Mission Veterans has won the last two district title and they’re trying to get that third one,” Mireles said. “Coach Gilpin does a good job over there. I can’t remember the last time they haven’t been in the playoffs, so we just want to be up there with them and teams like that. I know we’re going to play a good game, hopefully we show up and put on a good show.”

Gilpin said Rio has a good ball club that’s moving in the right direction under Mireles.

“When you come in, you’re a new coach and the kids bring results in the form of wins, things start to take off, and that’s where they’re at right now,” Gilpin said. “We’re going to be playing a very confident team, a very explosive team. There’s a lot of good things going on with that program right now.”

THE PATRIOT WAY

Gilpin wasn’t surprised people were dismissing the Patriots after their 37-0 loss to Mission High in the season opener. But in the two games since, Mission Veterans is back on track after a 48-14 win over PSJA Memorial, and a convincing 42-21 victory on the road over Brownsville Veterans, another team that was expected to push the Patriots for the district title.

“First of all, you can’t blame anybody for counting us out. You see that 37-0 score, you say, ‘Uh-oh, Mission Veterans is in trouble.’ No. 1, Mission High has a good football team, and No. 2, they outplayed us that night,” Gilpin said. “At the end of the day, that was a non-district football game, and we had to come back, readjust, and get back in the saddle and be ready to go the next week. Our kids are resilient. We took our butt whooping like a man and moved forward.”

Due to the Week 1 shutout loss to the Eagles, the Patriots offense isn’t ranked where it’s used to being. The Rattlers lead 16-5A DI with 413.6 yards of total offense per game, while the Patriots are two spots back in third with 365.6 yards per game.

Mission Veterans recently received a boost to its offense as wideout Mikey Garcia returned to the lineup after being held out with injuries during the first two weeks. His presence on the football field gives the Patriots a dangerous 1-2 attack at the receiver position as sophomore quarterback Ricky Reyna (561 yards passing, 259 rushing, 8 TDs) can go to Garcia or AJ Gonzaque, who’s now up to 279 yards and five touchdowns on 15 catches in three games.

Mission Veterans receiver Mikey Garcia weaves his way through the Sharyland defense in the second half of a play at Valley View Stadium on Friday, Nov. 03, 2017, in Hidalgo.

“When you’re looking up at somebody from an offensive standpoint, it’s a bit of an eye-opener because we’re not used to doing that. We’re used to being right in the top two or three in the Valley, year-in and year-out,” Gilpin said. “Right now, Rio is there, and Rio is coming to our house Friday night.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday with live gamecast coverage on RGVSports.com.

bramos@themonitor.com