The two-time defending district champion Patriots topped the Rio Grande City Rattlers 38-21 Friday night at Tom Landry Stadium in The Monitor’s Game of the Week. It was a battle of two of the top offenses at the 5A level in the Rio Grande Valley, but the Patriots displayed why they’re still the gold standard in 16-5A DI.

“Beat us, take it from us, we’ll shake your hands and we’ll respect you. I got no problem with that. But until somebody takes us down, it’s still ours,” Mission Veterans head coach David Gilpin said after the win. “We’re chasing gold balls again this year.”

While the Patriots are chasing gold balls in 2019, the Rattlers defense was busy chasing Mission Veterans running back Danny Cantu for four quarters Friday night. The senior running back, long-snapper, backup quarterback and improved pass-blocker did it all for his team, finishing with 196 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.

“Coach Gilpin talked to me coming into this season and told me I have to take over a big role as far as leadership, and I’ve been doing all I can to make us successful and put together another playoff run,” Cantu said. “Right now, we’re feeling good, but we can’t let down because we know the district title runs through us and we have a bullseye on our backs.”

Cantu’s first score of the night came off a short pass into the flat from Patriots quarterback Ricky Reyna. Cantu side-stepped one defender, raced downfield and spun off two others before crossing the goal line. Coach Gilpin said that was just Danny Cantu being Danny Cantu.

“When you’re a three-year letterman, you’re a returning all-district kid, you’re a senior and you’ve been to the fourth-round and you’ve won gold balls in your first two years as a district champion, you expect kids to step up and be a leader on your team, and that’s what Danny was tonight,” Gilpin said.

Although the final score was a 17-point difference, it doesn’t reflect the fight Rio Grande City brought against the Patriots in a big district matchup. After Marc Perez scored the Rattlers’ first touchdown on a 6-yard run, quarterback Mario Garza connected with Artemio Alvarez for a 53-yard score to make the score 21-14 in favor of the Patriots heading into the break. And late in the fourth quarter, the Rattlers were trailing by just three, 24-21.

First-year head coach Leo Mireles said he was proud of the effort and growth he saw in his program that’s on the rise at 3-1.

“These are the tests we’ve talked about we’re going to have this season, dealing with adversity, and they did awesome,” Mireles said. “It was 24-21 for a long time, we were in it and we had our chances. Hats off to Veterans, they’ve been here before, and we’re learning how to fight in these games. I’m glad it’s happening here, so when we get to the playoffs, we’re ready for the adversity. The kids gave us everything they got and we got another chance to go fight again next week.”

But when Rio Grande City got close, Mission Veterans’ top playmakers delivered.

With a three-point lead and a 4th-and-goal situation at the two-yard line, senior receiver Mikey Garcia saw an opening and let his quarterback know. After the snap, Garcia broke into the corner of the end zone, Reyna put the ball in a spot only his receiver could grab it, and he got his feet down for six.

“I saw the corner open all day, and I just called the audible and he got it to me, and he trusted me to get it,” Garcia said in his second game back from injury.

After Garcia’s touchdown and an RGC punt, it was AJ Gonzaque’s turn. The Patriots moved into the red zone, and despite being double-teamed as he was most of the night, he went up over to Rattlers’ defenders and came down with a circus catch for his sixth touchdown of the year.

“Big time players make big time plays in big time games. Mikey Garcia comes up with a touchdown, Danny Cantu, two touchdowns, AJ Gonzaque, touchdown,” Gilpin said.

And although the Patriots spread attack worked through the air and on the ground on Friday, do not use the word finesse to describe coach Gilpin’s group.

“Don’t mistake us for a finesse team because we’re a spread offense, because that’s not who we are. We got a lot of stuff to clean up, there’s no doubt, but I’m ecstatic about the job our guys and our coaches did tonight,” he said.

The Patriots (3-1, 3-0) move onto Week 5 where they’ll travel to Brownsville to take on the Porter Cowboys (2-2, 1-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Sams Memorial Stadium.

The Rattlers (3-1, 2-1) will host Brownsville Veterans (3-1, 2-1) in Week 5 at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Joe R. Sanchez Stadium in Rio Grande City.