MERCEDES — Friday night’s meeting between Sharyland Pioneer and Mercedes featured the top two offensive units in District 16-5A DII, but the Diamondbacks showed they’re much more than a high-powered offense.
Pioneer received crucial plays from its defense and special teams to pull ahead of Mercedes as the Diamondbacks prevailed 51-25 at Tiger Stadium. Pioneer is now 4-1 on the year, 1-0 in district play, and has scored at least 50 points in four consecutive games.
It started with a strip sack by Pioneer defensive end Matthew Solis and a scoop and score by defensive back Ethan Lee in the first quarter. Then in the second, kick returner Evan Maldonado handled a deep kickoff after a Mercedes touchdown and ran it back to the house for a special teams touchdown for the Diamondbacks.
“We talk about ‘you have to win in all three phases of the game,’ and tonight it was all three phases,” Sharyland Pioneer head coach Tom Lee said. “Offense did what they had to do, but defense really stepped up. Then that kickoff by Evan Maldonado was huge coming off of their touchdown and put that swing back for us.”
With big contributions from the defense and special teams, Pioneer’s offense did what it normally does and put up points with five touchdowns. But for a team that prefers to air the ball out, the Mercedes defense decided to rush three and drop eight into coverage to stop the Diamondbacks’ aerial assault.
The Pioneer backfield of quarterback Eddie Lee Marburger and running backs Tristan Castillo and Taylor Esparza saw that and took advantage as the Diamondbacks ran for 243 rushing yards as a team led by Castillo’s 143 and two touchdowns.
“I felt disrespected and my guys on the O-line helped me out and we had a good game,” Castillo said. “We have some great athletes and you have to look for both when playing us.”
Marburger finished the game with 80 ground yards and one rushing touchdown and 205 passing yards and two touchdown throws to Allen Davila and Gavin De La Garza.
“It was just another weapon to add to our offense,” he said of Pioneer’s rushing attack. “Our O-line is really underrated and these guys work hard every day. They make everything happen for us and today they were opening holes left and right.”
After a game with multiple pass breakups and the big touchdown off a fumble recovery for the Diamondbacks, Ethan Lee said he didn’t think Pioneer’s defense received much recognition. The Diamondbacks, he said, were determined to change that perception in their district opener.
“People don’t really know how complete Pioneer could be on all three cylinders, so I just thought we really clicked, so everyone should really know now,” he said.
Each time Mercedes inched closer on the scoreboard, Pioneer came through with a big play to steal any momentum gained right back.
Quarterback Horacio Pequeño finished with 187 yards through the air and two touchdown passes, one which went to Alex Rincon for a 69-yard touchdown.
Mercedes head coach Roger Adame said his team gave him everything they had, but they never overcame self-inflicted setbacks.
“That’s a really good team, hats off to Pioneer,” Adame said. “I thought we had some opportunities there that we didn’t capitalize on. With a good team like Pioneer, you can’t make those mistakes and you have to be able to finish drives and get off the field on third down.”
The Tigers enter their bye week now at 3-3 overall and 1-1 in district play.
Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks will play host to Valley View at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 11.
“We needed to be 1-0. You can’t start district 0-1, and we’ll be excited about next week,” coach Lee said.