McALLEN — When the McAllen Rowe Warriors (6-3, 3-3) take the field against the McAllen Memorial Mustangs (8-1, 5-1), they’ll be looking to accomplish something that no Rowe team has in years.
“This game right here means a lot to us, but we’re taking it as any other week,” Rowe senior quarterback Jonas Ortiz said. “It’s not even just about the playoffs, it’s for all of our past and everything we’ve worked for. We tried to circle this one our calendars since last year. It’s a big one.”
It’s been nearly a decade since anyone other than the Mustangs have been crowned the city champions, and it’s a streak that the Warriors have been hoping to end since the offseason.
But when Memorial and Rowe meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium, both teams will be playing in their biggest games of the season to date with a lot on the line for everyone.
“Energy is high there’s no doubt about it,” Rowe head coach Bobby Flores said. “They’ve owned the city championship. For our kids to be in this type of game, I think it’s exciting for them and something that they’ll never forget. I’m hoping that drives them to come out and play hard because that’s what it’s going to take.”
The Mustangs are more honed in on capturing a district crown than a city champs one at this stage in the season. They enter Week 11 locked in a three-way tie for first with Mission High and PSJA High and hope to win and get some help to lock up the district title and the No. 1 playoff seed out of 30-6A
“We’re excited and we’re also kind of mad at the same time” Memorial senior running back Campbell Speights said. “With the work we put in all offseason and what are goals were from the beginning of the season, we wanted to be outright district champs. Of course you can be happy about sharing, but I’m not that type of person. I mean it’s cool that we’ll get a gold ball, but that’s just not what I like.”
For the Warriors, it’s even more black and white than that: Win and they’re in after capturing the final playoff spot, or lose and cross their fingers hoping that La Joya doesn’t wrest that final postseason slot away.
Clinching a playoff spot is a goal that has been at the forefront of the team’s push since the preseason. For third-year varsity starter and senior quarterback Jonas Ortiz, it would be a fitting conclusion to a long high school career.
“It’s definitely a great feeling. Everyone here has worked hard for that,” Ortiz said. “We all know that we deserve it, so we’re going to work hard in practice. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and try to win this game to try to clinch a playoff (spot).”
Rowe could still get into the playoffs with a loss if the cards fell just right elsewhere, but a win over their cross-town rivals would bring a brutal stretch to a close for the Warriors.
The final five weeks of the season for Rowe were a literal murderer’s row of opponents lined up back-to-back. During that stretch, the Warriors have had to play PSJA North, PSJA High, Mission, La Joya and now Memorial — the other top five teams in 30-6A — during the season’s final month.
Rowe topped PSJA North to get some positive momentum rolling at the start, but have dropped three straight since. But despite being mired in a losing skid, the Warriors losses all came by a possession or less late in the game, which has them believing tough games against quality opposition have prepared them for this junction in the season.
“It’s been a tough stretch and we’ve played some very very tough teams and we’ve been a possession or two away from winning those games,” Flores said. “It’s tough as a coach to go through that, but we persevere and tell our kids, ‘That’s part of life.’ The kids have played tough teams and we’re hoping that can get us ready and that it brings out their best.”
Memorial, meanwhile, has won its last five ballgames after falling to Mission by a score as time expired in its district opener.
The offense has been gelling and becoming more multi-dimensional during that stretch too. Senior back Campbell Speights has run for 100 yards or more in every game dating back to September 2018 while the team has gotten key contributions from Fernie Briones and Michael Lewis out of the backfield.
But what’s made the Mustangs tick offensively has been the continued development of quarterback Jospeh Lara and the emergence of Zyan Gregory, Nick Nelson and Diego Villarreal as game-breaking, big-play threats on the perimeter and over the top of defenses.
“It’s good to see that. We work hard on it every day,” Memorial head coach Bill Littleron said. “t’s been paying some dividends for us. We feel like Joseph is a really good quarterback who throws the ball really well and can find his open receivers really well.”
This matchup will pit two teams against one another with a lot on the line for each and a bevy of offensive playmakers on both sides. The Mustangs and Warriors are two teams that rarely make big mistakes, which means the winner of this showdown will be whoever is able to best tune out the distractions and execute come Friday night.