PHARR — After losing starting quarterback Ricky Reyna for the season due to a leg injury last week, the question heading into Mission Veterans’ Week 8 matchup against PSJA Southwest was who would the Patriots turn to.

AJ Gonzaque turned out to be the answer.

The all-state receiver from a season ago took over at quarterback and led the Patriots to a 48-7 win over PSJA Southwest on Thursday night at PSJA Stadium in Pharr. The Patriots are now 6-1 on the year and 6-0 in District 16-5A DI play.

“I told our guys we will continue to have our swagger, we will continue to do what we do,” Mission Vets head coach David Gilpin. “I told AJ, I told everybody I can’t wait to get on the field tonight. Everybody was saying, ‘What is Veterans going to do? They lost their trigger man.’ We’re dominating right now in two phases, so even with Ricky out, I knew we could plug AJ in there and continue to do what we’re doing offensively and you saw that tonight.”

Gonzaque, who hadn’t played quarterback since eighth grade, completed his first pass attempt of the game for a 48-yard touchdown to receiver Justin Rodriguez to give Mission Veterans a 7-0 lead just 54 seconds into the game.

“I was just kind of getting the rust off,” Gonzaque said. “That first touchdown pass to Justin, he was one of my receivers when I was an eighth grader, so getting that touchdown felt good and brought back memories from my eighth-grade year.”

Gonzaque went on to finish with four touchdown passes, one touchdown run and 292 total yards. Gilpin said that first throw for a score was no surprise.

“First thing I told him when he came to the sideline was, ‘Told you, told you.’ I probably told him, ‘Told you,’ 50 times tonight. I told him, I told the team he was going to do that,” Gilpin said.

Receiver Mikey Garcia hauled in a 15-yard touchdown on a crossing pattern from Gonzaque during the third quarter. He said any time a player like AJ can have the ball in his hands, good things are going to happen.

“I knew once they called his name, I had no worries. I knew AJ was going to do his thing back there,” Garcia said. “You’re having a guy like AJ get the ball 60 plays a game now, and it’s a good thing.”

Garcia, Rodriguez, Eddie Vasquez, Jaythan Barrera and Xavier Moore each caught touchdown passes, while running back Danny Cantu ran for another score on the ground.

Gilpin, Gonzaque and the Patriots are now three games away from winning a third straight district championship.

“I’m real excited about our bunch right now. You know me, I love a challenge, and it’s been a challenge since day one,” Gilpin said. “Since the day that 2018 team turned in their equipment, it became a challenge, and it became one that we’ve attacked head on, and we’re going to continue to do so. We’re three games from a gold ball right now, somebody’s gotta take it. The district championship runs through us until somebody takes it from us, and they’re going to have to take it because we’re not giving it to nobody.”

Next up for the Patriots is a crucial 16-5A DI matchup with Brownsville Pace (4-2, 4-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Tom Landry Stadium.

Meanwhile, the Javelinas (3-4, 2-4) will travel to take on Brownsville Veterans in Week 9.

bramos@themonitor.com