MISSION — After watching its offense go three-and-out on its opening possession of the second half, the Mission High defense lined up badly needing a stop to maintain its slim edge over the visiting McAllen Rowe Warriors.
Rowe senior quarterback Jonas Ortiz was slowly and methodically driving his offense downfield and pushing into Mission territory. He snapped the ball near midfield before handing it off to his back who burst through a seam between the tackles.
He disappeared into a cloud of maroon and white jerseys and Eagles defensive back Luis Briseño emerged with the ball hustling in the opposite direction. Briseño picked up a loose ball and rumbled downfield for a 39-yard return.
Three plays later, Mission sophomore quarterback Jeremy Duran fired a check down pass to junior back Andrew Maldonado for a 5-yard touchdown to break the game open as the Eagles (7-1, 5-0) rode a balanced offensive attack and a strong defensive second half to top the Warriors (6-2, 3-2) at home 24-10 on Friday night at Tom Landry Stadium.
“It felt good. They’re a pretty tough team and they were in second place in our district, I think,” Duran said. “We knew that we would have a chance coming in, but we just took care of business, played our game and came out on top.”
It was one of two second-half fumbles caused by the Mission defense and the first of two recoveries made by Briseño, who took over after the halftime intermission. The Eagles forced another fumble when the Warriors drove into their red zone at the beginning of the fourth quarter and nearly drove the length of the field before settling for a 37-yard field goal.
The pair of takeaways led to the only 10 points of the second half for either side. It marked the Eagles third consecutive second half shutout and helped them gain some badly needed separation in what was to that point a back-and-forth contest.
“That helped a lot. We were winning and they had on fumble, we scored. Another fumble, a long drive and we score,” Duran said. “Those turnovers are key. If there were no turnovers, it would have been a lot closer game.”
Duran was superb through the air on the evening, connecting with three different receivers on three touchdown passes. He put the Eagles on the board early during the first quarter with a 36-yard cross-field pass to wideout Jose Cortez to give them their first lead of the night and opened that lead further when he rifled a screen pass to senior receiver Stevie Villarreal, who turned up field and ran it for a 35-yard scoring snag.
Duran finished the night throwing for 187 yards on 15-of-21 passing, but his gaudy numbers were thanks in large part to the balance of the Mission offense throughout the game. Maldonado and fellow backfield mates Damian Cortez and Rene Anzaldua combined for 148 rushing yards on 30 carries that helped keep the Warriors’ defense off balance and their offense off the field.
“Our balance is key. They load the box and we expanded our offense. Then when they tried to rush three and drop eight, we were going to run,” Duran said. “Our balance is good. It keeps defenses off guard and helps us excel.
“We work on clock management. We’re real smart with it. Ball security is key and as long as we keep that clock rolling and we keep scoring, we’ll be all right.”
Rowe, however, virtually matched or surpassed Mission’s prolific offense in terms of yardage. Ortiz threw for a game-high 202 yards on 15-of-27 passing and added a rushing score on a quarterback keeper, the Warriors’ only touchdown of the game.
Ortiz, Partida and running back Nick Meehan ran the ball successfully for 133 yards on 27 attempts, but their inability to find the end zone was exacerbated by the offense’s turnovers.
“The takeaways were the main thing. We fumbled the ball a couple of times, two crucial times actually, when we had big drives against a good team like Mission that’s sound and well-coached,” Rowe head coach Bobby Flores said. “You have to take care of the football and we didn’t do that tonight. I thought our defense came out and played hard and our offense looked good in spurts. We distributed the ball well and Savage played well. We just had a couple of turnovers that hurt us.”
The Warriors were also hurt badly by costly penalties which stalled drives for them offensively and prolonged drives for Mission that ultimately turned into points. Rowe was tagged for 122 penalty yards on eight flags.
“We’ve got to go back and just do what we do,” Flores said. “We’ve got to continue to move the ball, except hold on to it, execute, score and play good defense.”
The Eagles will return to the field to face the PSJA High Bears (5-3, 4-1) in a pivotal distract matchup at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Mission, while the Warriors will play next against the La Joya High Coyotes (3-5, 1-4) at the same time in McAllen.