McALLEN — When the McAllen Rowe Warriors collide with the Mission High Eagles in The Monitor’s Game of the Week on Friday at Tom Landry Stadium, two of the Valley’s most well-rounded teams will be pitted against one another.
Both squads have thrived through the first two months of the season thanks to a pair of seasoned starting quarterbacks who can spread the ball around, opportunistic defenses and a wide array of weapons that give each a versatile offensive attack.
But more than all of that, the Eagles and Warriors represent a pair of teams that have both had some of their top-tier players suffer significant injuries. Both Mission and Rowe, however, have been able to adjust on the fly.
For the Eagles, bad news came in the midst of their 28-25 upset win over The Monitor’s No. 1-ranked team, McAllen Memorial, when senior running back Tito Moronta suffered an ankle injury that has ruled him out from playing again this season.
It was a big blow for Mission, which had offensive strength in its two-headed monster in the backfield of Moronta and junior Andrew Maldonado.
“There was a little bit of a transition there, probably a little more than we realized in that first week without him against McHi,” Mission head coach Koy Detmer said. “But we’ve found a rhythm and the other kids who have come in and played have played really well. We’re really excited about that.”
Maldonado has elevated his play ever since and stepped into a leading role in the offense, providing his team with an unmatched level of versatility. He found the end zone twice in a Week 8 win over PSJA North and pioneered a dominant day on the ground for the Eagles.
“Our O-line has been doing a great job and so have our receivers on perimeter blocking,” Maldonado said. “We’re just one big team just trying to get into the end zone and put up points.”
He’s received ample help from fellow backs Rene Anzaldua and Damian Cortez, who have become key contributors and helped Mission find its offensive groove again. The trio combined for 134 total yards and three scores against the Raiders.
“Both of them are real solid, consistent players and they’re both the type of guys that we like to have as running backs because they can run the ball, block and they’re good out of the backfield,” Detmer said. “They’re a little bit different style than each other.”
“We all know Rene is the fast one,” Maldonado said. “But we don’t really compare because we know that each and every one of us can do it in that spot. We all block for each other, we all run for each other and we know to follow each other’s blocks; it’s just been some real team bonding in the backfield.”
On the other side, Rowe has been bitten particularly hard by the injury bug on offense losing leading wide receiver David Savage as well as running backs Lorenzo Lopez and Nick Meehan for stretches of the season.
It’s changed how the Warriors have operated with the football at varying stages throughout the year, but the impact of newcomers asked to fill in and their collective versatility have kept the offensive unit humming.
“Going in, you’re kind of not sure who you’re going to see,” Detmer said. “They’ve all played well and been effective, so at that point you’re kind of going in just trying to prepare for a scheme. I think they do a good job over there with their program and system of what they do and their kids perform well in it.”
The key to all that offensive momentum has been junior running back Joey Partida.
Partida has made big plays all over the field in a variety of different roles and positions. He anchored a strong special teams performance in a Week 1 road win over Weslaco High, played lockdown defense at defensive back throughout the middle of the year and has been a big influence in the Warriors’ running and passing attacks.
“We have been able to do some good things on the ground with our running backs. Of course here as of late, we’ve had some injuries that have hurt us a little bit,” Rowe head coach Bobby Flores said. “But week to week, we’ve had Partida step in there, Meehan and of course Lorenzo is out right now, but those two backs have done a good job.”
More recently though, Partida has emerged as Rowe’s most dominant force carrying the ball out of the backfield and providing a spark to its offense whenever it has been needed most.
In their narrow defeat to PSJA High last week, the junior back posted a season-high 178 rushing yards and two touchdowns while averaging 11.1 yards per carry. It’s the first time he’s ever posted a 100-yard performance.
“I’ve seen that he’s here, he’s a student of the game and he works extremely hard,” Flores said of Partida. “All of those things come into play and obviously with time as he’s had to take on more carries, he’s been able to see what blocking schemes we’re using so he can find holes depending on what defense we’re up against.”
Maldonado and Partida’s play in this pivotal district matchup should prove to be the biggest X-factor, as both Mission and Rowe appear to be evenly matched across the board.
With two teams that rarely make miscues or shoot themselves in the foot, Detmer and Flores will likely have to rely on their two hottest backs to prevent the opponent from capitalizing on a mistake that could change the outcome of the game.
“I think the key is going to be making sure we play smart football and that we take care of the football,” Flores said. “The team that makes the least amount of mistakes — I’m speaking of penalties and not hurting your chances and obviously holding onto the football.”