McALLEN — For the third time in five weeks, The Monitor’s Game of the Week will unfold at Tom Landry Stadium when Mission High (2-1) squares off against McAllen Memorial (3-0) on Friday night in Mission.
The matchup features two of the best squads throughout the Valley — the Eagles are ranked No. 10 and the unbeaten Mustangs are the consensus No. 1 team in the RGVSports.com Top 10 Poll — as well as many of the most impactful, game-changing athletes in the area.
With both teams coming off bye weeks and meeting one another in their first district games, the expectation should be a high-quality performance from two well-rested units. As if either side needed more motivation than starting 1-0 in District 30-6A, the result of Friday’s battle on the gridiron should have far reaching implications with regards to playoff implications and a district championship come November.
Mission High will enter the contest looking to rebound from a tough first loss of the season to Sharyland Pioneer in Week 3. The team lost to the Diamondbacks 56-28 on the road, raising questions about the consistency of one of 30-6A’s stingiest defenses.
The Eagles hadn’t allowed any team they had faced previously tally double-digit point totals or even multiple scoring drives. They manhandle cross-town rival Mission Veterans 37-0 in the season opener and clobbered Donna North 55-8 on the road in Week 2.
But Mission was unable to slow down or stop Sharyland Pioneer’s explosive offense, particularly through the air.
Diamondbacks junior quarterback Eddie Lee Marburger exposed its secondary by throwing it all over the yard to the tune of 404 yards and six touchdowns on 30-of-42 passing. Marburger also added a rushing touchdown and 84 yards on the ground on 12 carries.
The Eagles couldn’t keep the Pioneer offense off the field and found themselves trailing 35-14 at the half in that one, which could spell trouble ahead for them if they were to fall in a similar, early hole against Memorial.
The last time the Mustangs took the field, they did exactly that to knock off then top-ranked Edinburg Vela 33-22 on the road. They scored on the opening play of the contest, as defensive back Diego Villarreal ran back the opening kick for a touchdown, and never looked back.
Memorial led the SaberCats from wire-to-wire and handed them their first loss to a Valley team since a bi-district playoff loss to Weslaco East in November 2016. It also marked the first time any RGV school had beaten Vela by more than a possession since 2013, cementing the performance as the best by an opponent against the SaberCats in recent memory.
Running back Campbell Speights had a mammoth performance on the ground in that one, running for 236 yards and two scores on 22 touches. The senior has enjoyed a breakout start to the season, which has seen him rush for 200 yards or more in each of his first three games and amass 724 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.
But the matchup to watch when these two teams meet will be between McAllen Memorial’s defensive backs and Mission’s receiving corps.
Junior Omar Salazar and senior Michael Pequeno were excellent in pass coverage against the SaberCats. They helped hold quarterback AJ Sotelo to a 47.6 completion percentage rate, the lowest of his high school career as a starter.
Salazar nabbed an interception early in that game while Pequeno swatted away a few passes. The Mustangs defense has now forced 10 turnovers on the season and three in its last showing.
For the Eagles, wide receiver Stevie Villarreal and tight end Rey Garcia will have to play big games and overcome a smothering Memorial secondary. Mission’s offense is at its best when quarterback Jeremy Duran can connect with his two talented pass catchers deep downfield.
That wasn’t the case in Week 3, as the duo combined for only one reception of more than 10 yards. Villarreal and Garcia were still effective with nine receptions and 64 yards between them, but they’ll need to stretch the field more to put up the big numbers fans are accustomed to seeing week in and week out.
Villarreal had 187 receiving yards in his first two games, and both he and Garcia found the end zone three times collectively in those performances. They’ll need to duplicate that this week, especially if they find themselves needing a score late trailing a Memorial team that likes to kill clock when it can.
Each side has risen to the occasion and won big when featured in The Monitor’s Game of the Week previously, which should foreshadow a fantastic game in the Eagles’ and Mustangs’ district opener.