PHARR — With the game clock slowly ticking towards double zeros, Mission High sophomore quarterback Jeremy Duran stepped under center preparing to go for a must-have first down conversion.
The Eagles had a narrow lead and the ball just beyond the midfield stripe on the opponent’s side of the field needing to pick up a yard for the first down.
Duran took the snap, faked a handoff to the left and watched as defenders rushed toward the outside edge. He rolled out right just out of the outstretched hands of the enclosing Raiders before looking downfield toward his open target.
Duran rifled a pass to wide open senior tight end Rey Garcia streaking across the field in the flats. Garcia caught the laser pass and darted 30 yards upfield along the sideline, setting up Duran to dive into the end zone on a 1-yard quarterback sneak that helped the Eagles establish a late two-possession advantage and secure a 30-13 district victory over PSJA North on Friday at PSJA Stadium.
“It was big for our guys. We trust our players. We’ve got a really composed, sharp quarterback and he allows us to do some different things,” Mission High head coach Koy Detmer said. “We trust him; we trust all of them. It was great to see them execute in those moments, but we’ve seen it before. Our guys have been in some situations along the way and they’ve done a good job. It was good to see them execute again tonight.”
The Eagles (6-1, 4-0) jumped out to an early lead. Their defense forced a fumble on the Raiders’ first offensive play of the game, setting up a quick 45-yard touchdown drive to take a 7-0 lead about a minute into the first quarter.
Mission set itself up to score again on its second drive after a quick stop and found the end zone a second time behind the downhill running of junior back Andrew Maldonado.
It was the first of two times where the Eagles’ defense wrested away a fumble to set up the offense to go downfield and convert it into points. The unit recovered another loose ball midway through the fourth quarter that gave the offense possession around the 50-yard line, before Duran connected with Garcia to set up his short scoring run.
“Takeaways were very big for us tonight. Our defense did a great job starting us off right away on that first drive, then offense got it and was able to put it in the end zone,” Detmer said. “We’ve seen real good moments on both sides of the ball throughout the season and it was good to see them feeding off and playing off each other.”
The Raiders came storming back before halftime, however, led by a ferocious charge on the ground by sophomore back Isaac Gonzalez.
While PSJA North (3-4, 1-3) struggled to find consistency through the passing game, Gonzalez jump-started the team’s rushing attack as he scampered for a pair of second-quarter touchdowns to trim the Mission lead to one.
But when the Raiders trotted out for the game-tying extra point attempt, they were overrun by Eagles who blocked the kick and returned it the length of the field for two points. The huge special teams play effectively flipped a would-be tie into a three-point deficit for PSJA North and fundamentally affected the approach for both teams the rest of the night.
“They had just scored so there was a chance for momentum to swing and when we got the block and the two points, it kind of quieted it down,” Detmer said. “It leveled it out. I wouldn’t say it swung our way, but it prevented a big momentum (gain) for them.”
“When they got up on us, they gained some confidence. When you play with confidence it’s a lot different,” PSJA North head coach Marcus Kaufmann said. “When you get some confidence and start playing with the lead, it makes calling plays easier.”
While it may have changed their play-calling for the rest of the contest, the Raiders still had their opportunities in the second half. During the third quarter, they drove deep into Mission territory, but ultimately had their drive stalled before being able to tie the game or take their first lead.
“The turning point for me, I felt like, was when we were in the third quarter and were about to drive in to score and we went the wrong way in the backfield,” Kaufmann said. “It ended up being a minus eight or nine and it killed that drive. We had to punt to pin them, ended up with a small punt and the momentum started shifting back. If we were able to take the lead right there, I think it would have been a totally different ballgame.”
Instead of clawing back into the game, though, the PSJA North offense worked its way into a punting battle with Mission for much of the second half. Duran’s touchdown run gave the Eagles a two-possession lead, effectively taking PSJA North’s running game out of the picture down the stretch run.
The Raiders’ next drive faltered, which allowed Maldonado to score his second rushing touchdown of the night and gave Mission its fourth consecutive district win and the first by more than a single possession.
“I’m not sure if I knew what to do because I still had my headset on when we were shaking hands because all of these games have been down the stretch,” Detmer said. “In our league, every week it’s a challenge so you never feel like it’s over. They’re truly four quarter games, but it was certainly nice to have the chance to breathe at the end of the game.”
Mission returns to action against McAllen Rowe (6-1, 3-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Tom Landry Stadium in Mission, while PSJA North will look to end its losing skid when it faces La Joya High at the same time in La Joya.