MISSION — Over the years, Mission Veterans has built a reputation of lighting up scoreboards offensively with its high-powered spread attack.

In 2019, the Patriots (6-1, 6-0) continue putting up points at a rapid pace, but it’s the group on the other side of the ball that’s been getting the job done, as well.

Through eight weeks, Mission Veterans’ “Blue Dawgs Defense” ranks No. 1 in District 16-5A DI with 217.6 yards allowed per game and are a plus-13 in turnovers, a recipe for winning

But they’re rarely the biggest, not the strongest, yet when they take the field, the Patriots play with a ferocity unmatched.

“Our kids are not very big,” Mission Veterans head coach David Gilpin said. “We have a couple of good athletes and some good football players, but by and large, we’re just a group of high school students from the Rio Grande Valley that go out and compete like crazy, junkyard dogs on Friday night.”

How did Gilpin grow the fearless mindset within his program?

“This started back in 2014 when we went to Odessa Permian. We knew the chances of us winning up there were probably less than 1%,” Gilpin said. “It’s OK, we’ll take the loss. But the mentality that it allows us to come to our players with is, ‘We ain’t scared of nobody.’ It doesn’t matter who’s lining up against you. While they beat us, our kids certainly were not scared of them. That mentality is what our defense is built around.”

And his defense buys-in year after year because they see the results from years before.

“We’ve been the smallest defense for years, but we just go out there and play football the way it’s supposed to be played — fast and physical — and it shows,” Patriots senior linebacker and leading tackler Arath Ibañez said.

Over their last three games, Mission Veterans has shut out victories over Brownsville Porter (49-0) and Donna High (21-0) before finally surrendering one score to PSJA Southwest in the final minute of a 48-7 blowout win in Week 8.

The Patriots have recorded 29 sacks, forced 15 fumbles, recovered 13 of them, and picked off opposing quarterbacks on six different occasions. Mission Veterans has also turned four of those turnovers into points with four defensive touchdowns.

Senior defensive back Andrew Alvarez, who has 34 tackles, two fumble recoveries and one kickoff return for a touchdown, said the Patriots are focused on hitting anything with the ball and getting it back in the hands of the Mission Veterans offense.

“It’s huge just to help give the offense some of their mojo back and to get them back on that field,” Alvarez said.

The pieces that compose the Patriots defense are interchangeable and versatile. On the defensive line, senior Johnny Treviño (29 tackles, three sacks, one fumble recovery) plays both outside and inside. While undersized for the position, he said the coaches ask their players to make up for it with heart and effort.

“Our D-line has really improved, we’re just trying to keep everything in the box,” Treviño said. “The lower rushing yards we allow, the more likely we are to win the game. We just control the box and allow our linebackers to run free.”

Gilpin said when it comes time for kickoff, the “Blue Dawgs Defense” flies to the ball and wins the hitting battle.

“We’re a physical bunch and our kids don’t get enough credit for the physicality they bring,” Gilpin said. “Our kids are tough. It’s because we’re a spread offense and wide-open, we don’t stick our hands in the dirt or look to pound the ball right at you. People think of us as a finesse team. They’re sadly mistaken and they find it out when we get onto the field. We’re going to be in your face for four quarters, and one of the things we talk about is we ain’t scared to taste our own blood.”

The Patriots, winners of six straight games, have two of their tougher tests in 16-5A DI coming up tonight with Brownsville Pace, and in Week 10 against La Joya Palmview, two teams right on Mission Veterans’ tail in the race for a district title.

Pace’s Jose Banda, a dual-threat quarterback, is one of the best in the district, while Palmview running back Carlos Peña currently leads Class 5A DI in rushing with 1,453 yards on the ground.

But the Patriots are also in pursuit of their second-straight unbeaten season in district play and the program’s third-consecutive gold ball.

“It’s going to be tough. Both those teams have one loss, both those teams have their eyes on a district championship, as do we,” Gilpin said. “For them to win the district championship, both of them have to come get us. We’re going to get their best shot, we’re going to get everything they have.”

Kickoff between Mission Veterans and Brownsville Pace (5-2, 5-1) is set for 7 tonight at Tom Landry Stadium.

bramos@themonitor.com