MISSION — Mission High sophomore quarterback Jeremy Duran stepped behind center with 9 seconds to play at the opponent’s 12-yard line. His team trailed by four with no timeouts needing to find a way into the end zone to preserve a victory.
Duran dropped back to pass and bobbed around the pocket looking for an open receiver while trying to avoid an enclosing pass rush. He was hit on either side by a pair of McAllen Memorial defenders who began to wrap him up in the backfield.
Duran fought to stay upright and heaved a high pass toward the back of the end zone. Mission senior tight end Rey Garcia, blanketed by two smaller defensive backs, eyed the ball down and leaped up to prevent an interception.
Garcia out-jumped the encircling defenders to pull down the game-winning touchdown reception with 3 seconds left, the crowd at Tom Landry Stadium rose to its feet and erupted in excitement, as the Eagles used a frenetic finish to topple the Mustangs 28-25 on Friday night.
“It was a nail-bitter, but our team never gave up, so I’m pretty proud of my team. I can’t describe the happiness I feel right now,” Duran said. “We called a seam play, and they brought pressure so I kind of scrambled. Then I saw Rey and the mismatch, so I just threw it up and he made a play.”
“I saw it and was like, ‘This is my play,’” Garcia said. “Honestly, I couldn’t breathe. I landed straight on my back and I was trying to catch my breath while everyone was jumping on me. I heard the crowd roar. It looked super high and I saw it in the lights barely and I just went up and trusted what I do every day.”
A more heart-racing finish could not have been scripted, as Mission and McAllen Memorial combined for three touchdowns and three lead changes in the final 5 minutes of the contest.
The Eagles initially took back the lead with 5:05 left to play on a 5-yard slant pass from Duran to senior receiver Stevie Villarreal for a touchdown to go up 21-18.
It capped off a 96-yard drive for the Eagles set up by a botched snap fumble at the 4-yard line by Memorial. Duran showed incredible poise leading his unit down the field in crunch time and was aided greatly by Villarreal, who finished the evening with five receptions for 82 yards to go along with his touchdown snag.
The Mustangs had plowed ahead at the start of the second half thanks to their overwhelming ground-and-pound running game and the strong play of senior quarterback Joseph Lara.
Senior running back Campbell Speights led the charge for Memorial on the ground throughout the night, as usual. He ran for 229 yards on 21 carries, his fourth consecutive game with at least 200 yards on the ground.
The Mustangs got the ball back with time to respond, but quickly found themselves in dire straights. Lara and his offense faced a fourth down and long on their own side of the field with a little more than 3 minutes on the clock.
Lara faked a handoff to Speights, rolled out and hit senior tight end Nick Nelson on the left sideline. Nelson shook off several would-be tacklers and rumbled down the sideline for a 41 yard pick up and the desperately needed first down.
On the very next snap, Speights took a handoff and bounced to the outside to waltz into the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown run, his third of the game.
Mission head coach Koy Detmer had the foresight to see Memorial’s comeback coming before it happened and talked strategy with his quarterback on the sideline.
“After we scored the one to go ahead before they scored again, I went over to Jeremy and was like, ‘Hey, great drive but you know we’re going to have to go again,” Detmer said. “‘Be ready because we’re going to have to go no-huddle.’ We were already in that mindset as an offense.”
After a good return by Villarreal on the ensuing kickoff, Duran and the Eagles took over for their final drive at their own 30-yard line.
Mission quickly burned its final timeout and from that point on was forced to look for passes along the sideline and duck out of bounds to prolong the game.
Duran marched his offense down the field, consistently converting on must-have third- and fourth-down conversion attempts.
“We made plays at the right times,” Detmer said. “You don’t always do that. That takes guts to keep doing that and these guys got it done. That’s not easy to do. On those last two drives, there were several of those third and fourth downs that were converted that were big time.”
Duran completed 6-of-12 passes on the final drive, capping it off with the go-ahead 12-yard jump ball pass to Garcia as the clock ticked toward zero. He wasn’t as accurate as possible, but he avoided making critical mistakes, managed the clock and found open receivers when he absolutely had to.
“He’s got great leadership qualities; he’s got great composure,” Detmer said of his quarterback. “All of those guys had a mistake somewhere in there — a turnover, a dropped ball, whatever it was — he and all those guys down the stretch they didn’t hang their heads and made plays to give us a chance to win the game. That was awesome to see that.”
Duran ended the contest throwing for a season-high 271 yards on 18-of-38 passing with three passing touchdowns, two first-half interceptions and a rushing score. Garcia finished with three catches for 42 yards, with most of his offensive contribution coming in the waning moments of the game.
What made the Eagles’ comeback win even more impressive was the fact that running backs Tito Moronta and Andrew Maldonado both went down multiple times in the third quarter with injuries and Moronta did not return, which had a profound effect on Mission’s play-calling options down the stretch.
Lara played admirably for Memorial, getting it done through the air and on the ground. He passed for 104 yards while completing 8-of-11 throws and ran for another 104 on 12 attempts. The senior signal caller unfortunately also fumbled away two botched snaps.
“We showed a lot of heart playing in the second half like we did,” Memorial head coach Bill Littleton said. “(Lara) had a good ball game. We just need to look at the film and see why he was having those fumbled snaps.”
McAllen Memorial (3-1, 0-1) will return to action when it hosts La Joya High (2-2, 0-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday, while Mission (3-1, 1-0) will travel to face McAllen High (2-2, 0-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday.