MISSION — The Mission Veterans found themselves in a position they haven’t been in too often during district play — trailing the opposing team.

But the Patriots proved why they’re the defending district champions and winners of 17 straight district ball games as they battled back to beat Brownsville Pace 20-15 on Thursday at Tom Landry Stadium. The Patriots are now 7-1 overall and 7-0 in District 16-5A DI.

“We’ve lost one district ball game in three years. We haven’t been behind very many times, but the one thing I am satisfied with is that when they scored to take the lead, we went immediately downfield,” Mission Veterans head coach David Gilpin said. “That goes back to the mindset that we talk about, ‘How do you react when you get behind?’ I give our kids and our coaching staff credit for finding a way to get that ‘W.’”

After taking a 7-0 lead into the locker room thanks to an AJ Gonzaque rushing touchdown, Brownsville Pace stole the momentum during the third quarter with a sack, resulting in a safety from the Vikings defense, and a 16-yard touchdown run by Dylan Barron to go up 8-7 on the Patriots.

Gonzaque and the Patriots offense wasted no time in answering back as the receiver turned quarterback ripped off a 57-yard run, followed by a 14-yard touchdown pass to Beto Diaz as Mission Veterans reclaimed a 14-8 lead late in the third quarter.

“I told myself I had to make a play,” Gonzaque said. “As soon as I saw a hole open, I pulled the ball and I ran and we got a good gain out of it. I was just trying to do everything I could to put my team back up and get us where we needed to be.”

Gonzaque again came up big during the fourth quarter to give his team some cushion on the scoreboard after a 30-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Vasquez, which put the Patriots up 20-8.

With time running out on Pace, the Vikings attempted to take to the air to pull off the comeback, but Mission Veterans’ “Blue Dawg Defense” came up clutch with two interceptions from defensive back Mike DeAnda, his fifth and sixth interceptions of the season.

“He didn’t see me,” DeAnda said of Pace quarterback Jose Banda. “I just went back, saw the quarterback’s eyes, and the next thing you know the ball is right there in front of my hands. I went up, and oh, my time.”

Gilpin said those plays from the 6-foot 2-inch DeAnda were crucial to keep the Vikings from scoring more points.

“The guy’s got length back there. He’s a prototypical guy, especially if the ball is floating because he’s going to go get it,” Gilpin said. “Those plays were huge for us in winning the turnover battle. Those were down there with our backs against the wall, and while the defense gave up some yards, they found a way to get off the field.”

Gonzaque, in his second start at quarterback since his eighth-grade year, finished with 226 passing yards, 151 rushing yards, and accounted for three touchdowns. Diaz brought in six catches for 62 yards and a score, Eddie Vasquez scored one touchdown on three receptions, and Jaythan Barrera, seven catches for 87 yards, became Gonzaque’s go-to-guy late during the fourth quarter when the Patriots were trying to kill clock.

The Patriots have now won 17 straight district ball games dating back to the 2017 season.

Mission Veterans will put that streak on the line again next week when as the Patriots travel to face the La Joya Palmview Lobos (5-2, 5-1) at 7:30 p.m. next Friday.

bramos@themonitor.com