McALLEN — Facing a third-and-long on his team’s side of the field early in the game, McAllen Rowe senior quarterback Jonas Ortiz lined up in the shotgun needing to make a big play.
He took the snap, dropped back and fired a bullet toward the sideline. Junior wideout James Gamez broke out of his cut and picked the ball out of the air before tip-toeing out of bounds on the right sideline for a 17-yard gain to extend the drive.
Two plays later, Ortiz dropped back to pass again and waited patiently to heave a deep pass to senior linebacker and receiver Derek Luna, who was streaking across the field and caught the pass for a 43-yard pick up to set Rowe up with a first-and-goal opportunity.
Junior running back Joey Partida punched it into the end zone soon afterward and the Warriors never looked back, racing to a 24-19 victory over the PSJA North Raiders behind the play of Ortiz to stay unbeaten on the season Friday night at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“Jonas is an awesome football player,” PSJA North head coach Marcus Kaufmann said. “He made some plays where everything looked gone, he starts dancing around, running around and all of the sudden somebody breaks free while he’s going. Other than those big plays by Jonas — actually it was pretty much Jonas in a one-man show; he did a great job — defensively it was just trying to tackle him.”
It was the first in a series of drive-extending, game-changing big plays from Ortiz both through the air and on the ground that made the difference for the Warriors in the early going.
Rowe took over at its own 30-yard line after the Raiders failed to convert on a fourth down opportunity. Ortiz jump started the Warriors’ second drive with a 29-yard scramble as he weaved his way through the PSJA North defense.
He later converted the 70-yard drive into points on an easy 4-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Gustavo Cruz to make it a two-possession game.
Rowe ran into injury problems that caused its offense to temporarily stall following the departure of running back Lorenzo Lopez. But Ortiz helped keep the offense afloat and scored again before the half on a chip shot field goal for a 17-0 lead.
“Our offense has worked really hard and our coaches have done a good job of getting them ready. Obviously our injuries have hurt us. Lorenzo (Lopez) went down and our other running back also got banged up today,” McAllen Rowe head coach Bobby Flores said. “That slowed us down and early on it was all running. We had our three backs running and Alex Anzaldua, our sweeper, so Jonas was able to control the offense and we were able to get some scores. When those guys got hurt, it got a little tougher for us.”
Ortiz delivered one more time for the Warriors’ offense, racing untouched into the end zone from 42 yards out on a read option run that gave his team a decisive 24-0 edge.
He finished the night with 118 yards on 6-of-12 passing, 88 rushing yards on 12 carries and a pair of touchdowns — one passing and one rushing.
“He made some huge runs there that extended our drives, particularly the one where he extended the play and we came back and ran a little quarterback keep and he took it about 40 or 50 yards,” Flores said. “He controlled the offense and we even put him out there on defense at the very end because he’s an athlete and a leader. We’re happy that he performed well tonight.”
But the PSJA North defense buckled down after that, notching a few sacks, forcing a rare Ortiz interception and pitching a shutout the rest of the way. The Raiders’ offense woke up in the second half as well, which kicked off a frantic comeback effort down the stretch.
Senior quarterback Iziaah Rangel broke the seal when he delivered a 32-yard bomb to receiver Rolando Coronado to give the Raiders their first touchdown.
Sophomore running back Isaac Gonzalez also chipped in with a pair of rushing scores — from 19 and 5 yards out, respectively — on his way to a big night. Gonzalez ran for a game-high 110 yards on 15 carries and tallied 17 receiving yards.
Ultimately, though, it was the play of the PSJA North defense that allowed the team to claw back to within a touchdown of the Warriors.
“They had a couple of plays that Jonas made where we weren’t expecting to have to cover for that long. He made some guys miss that normally don’t miss tackles,” Kaufmann said. “We’re a pretty good tackling ball club, but he made some guys completely grab air while he was running around. He also made some big completions to keep drives alive and then they took every one of those in and scored early. In the second half, he wasn’t able to do that. We were actually making contact with him.”
The Raiders had a chance at the end to drive the length of the field to take a late lead, but failed to pick up a first down and the Warriors held on to escape with their third consecutive district win, while PSJA North lost its second straight game by a touchdown or less.
“I think our group has stepped up and taken the challenge week to week. That’s what we keep reminding them: It’s a game of week to week,” Flores said. “We can’t think about what’s happened in the past; we’ve got to prepare and get ready for the future because everybody is getting better. We have a tough challenge all the way down the stretch. We’ve got playoff teams all the way down starting with this one tonight.”
No. 5 McAllen Rowe (6-0, 3-0) will be back in action to host PSJA High (3-2, 2-0) at 7 p.m. Thursday, while PSJA North (3-3, 1-2) will return to the gridiron to face Mission High (5-1, 3-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Pharr.