MISSION — The strength of the high-flying Mission High Eagles under head coach Koy Detmer has always been their ability to present multiple fronts, plans of attack and styles of play on both sides of the ball.
No two players on the Eagles’ roster — or District 30-6A, for that matter — are better examples of that strategic philosophy than senior Horacio “Tito” Moronta and junior Andrew Maldonado.
The duo has teamed up to form one of the most fearsome and effective backfield tandems in the Valley in recent years, but their versatility as impact playmakers allows Mission to do so much more offensively with the two of them in the fold.
“I feel like both of us do pretty good things in the backfield or outside in the slot or wherever we are on the field,” Moronta said. “I feel like we can both make big plays.”
Moronta has been a key cog in the Eagles’ backfield for the past three seasons, but emerged as a junior during the 2018 campaign.
During that season, Moronta ranked fourth in the district in total rushing yards while notching seven 100-yard games. He tallied a 1,000-yard season in his first full season as a featured back, scampering for 1,135 yards on the ground and nine scores on 179 carries.
But what’s really impressive about Moronta’s output last year was his ability to split the workload with Maldonado while both stacked up big numbers. Maldonado as a sophomore carried the ball 91 times for Mission, racking up 332 yards and seven touchdowns.
No two returning teammates combined for as many rushing touchdowns as Moronta and Maldonado.
“It’s real great to have a lot of playmakers. It helps the whole team,” Maldonado said. “Just in case they start keying on one guy, we have someone else we can go to and do our thing.”
But what makes the duo truly unique and allows the Eagles’ offense to tick is their ability to do everything else: running, catching, blocking and even playing a little defense from time to time at linebacker.
“They’re very versatile backs; they’re all-around backs,” Detmer said. “They block and they catch the ball out of the backfield. We can split them out as wideouts. They run routes and they’re very good ball carriers. They’re really truly complete backs, both of them.”
When one back totes the rock, the other can be seen plowing ahead, laying lead blocks for his teammate. The duo also offers a big boost in the team’s pass protection, something that’s allowed sophomore quarterback Jeremy Duran and Mission’s aerial attack to flourish since he was thrown into the fire as a first-time starter last season and ever since.
“It’s good; I feel protected all the time. If we’ve got to go to an empty set or we have to go to two backs, they’ve got me under pressure,” Duran said. “If they see a blitz, they’ll pick it up. I’ve got faith in my guys to block it.”
Moronta credits his team’s offensive line play for he and Maldonado’s ability to break big plays out of the backfield and believes the two have inherited their work ethic as runners and blockers from their offensive front.
“I feel like our team chemistry has helped a lot and so has our work ethic. Everyone has a great work ethic, especially our O-line,” he said. “They’re always doing good. Coach Mason, our O-line coach, has been doing a real good job with them and they’ve been a huge part of our offense.”
Maldonado and Moronta have already combined for 448 yards on the ground through their first three games of the season, averaging 6.5 yards per carry between them. The duo has also collectively scored 10 rushing touchdowns on the year already, with each back finding the end zone at least once on the ground per game.
They’re on pace to shatter their big statistics from a season ago, but where Moronta and Maldonado have really shined in the early going is in the passing game.
They’ve proven to be dangerous receiving targets both out of the backfield and lined up in the slot or outside. The two have already tallied 203 receiving yards a pair of scores through the air, and have proven to be deep threats too by averaging 16.9 yards per catch.
That extreme versatility has enabled Mission High’s offense to incorporate different players on different parts of the field when needed, changing its appearance like a chameleon from week to week based on what’s in front of them.
“We have a nice balance of run and pass. We can open it up any time and we can just keep it running any time we want,” Duran said. “If a defense wants to guard just one guy, we can just open it for totally different guys they don’t even know about. Our offense is very explosive, so if they try to game plan for one guy then we’ll try to attack them different ways and hopefully it works.”
Moronta and Maldonado are the secret pieces of the Eagles’ offense that allows it to be so effective in every phase of the game. It’s not only an impressive athletic feat, but also immensely difficult mentally to master.
“The thing I feel we’ve been able to get accomplished in some way is having that balance that we look for with our system. Being able to run the ball, being able to throw the ball and being able to pick and choose how we want to attack a defense,” Detmer said. “The kids have done a good job of handling that in the system because it’s not that easy to be able to do that.
“We’re fortunate to have that and we work things around them. … We try to work things around the different parts and try to see what we can take advantage of however the defense is playing us.”
In a district with so many talented running backs, Moronta said he’s always intent on matching or surpassing his counterparts’ production, especially with the leading rusher in 30-6A coming into Mission this weekend.
“It’s pushed me a lot,” he said. “I think about it quite a bit and I just use that to motivate me.”
The Eagles take on the McAllen Memorial Mustangs, the No. 1-ranked team in the latest RGVSports.com top 10 poll, in The Monitor’s Game of the Week at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Tom Landry Stadium.