McALLEN — After forcing a quick three-and-out on the opening possession of the game, the McAllen Memorial Mustangs’ offense trotted out onto the field to take over for their first drive of the night.
Senior quarterback Joseph Lara took the snap under center and it handed it off to running back Campbell Speights.
Speights took the ball, ran through a hole between his center and guard and stutter stepped through the defensive line. With several defenders enclosing on him, the senior back zig-zagged his way around them before cutting hard to the right.
He found some daylight and took off down the sideline for a 54-yard touchdown run on Memorial’s first play from scrimmage. When the Mustangs got the ball back, Speights took off again and galloped 55 yards into the end zone en route to a career day on the ground that helped Memorial’s dispatch of the McAllen Rowe Warriors 56-27 for a share of the District 30-6A title Friday night at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“Honestly, I just saw a hole,” Speights said. “Our linemen, fullback and quarterback did a great job of blocking. My part is easy when they do their job the way they do it.”
Memorial secured its first district championship since 2017, finishing in a three-way tie atop the district with Mission High and PSJA High.
“We’re happy that we got a share of the title. It would’ve been nice to win it outright, but we didn’t get that done,” Mustangs’ head coach Bill Littleton said. “But we’ll take part of it, we’ll be proud of it and go forward with our best foot forward next week and see what happens.”
It capped off what has been a wildly successful and, at times, tumultuous 2019 campaign for Memorial, which climbed to the No. 1 ranking in the RGVSports.com Top 10 poll after handing Edinburg Vela its first loss to a Valley team in nearly three years.
After that victory, the Mustangs suffered a gut-wrenching defeat at the hands of the Mission High Eagles, who toppled them on a last-second touchdown pass to take over first place in 30-6A. But Memorial battled back to win its final six district contests to climb back into the championship conversation.
“This is something we’ve worked so long for. We go in every day to practice focused and grind,” Speights said. “We do everything the coaches tell us to do and we try to perfect it the best we can and show it on Friday, like we did today.”
Speights was the featured ball carrier of the game on a night where a plethora of Mustangs and Warriors alike scrambled or took carries out of the backfield. All told, 15 different players on both sidelines tallied at least one carry on the evening and combined to run for a surreal 752 yards.
But Speights went on a tear Friday, even by his own standards, rushing for a career-high 428 yards, scoring five rushing touchdowns — from 3, 23, 54, 55 and 68 yards out — and averaging an astonishing 15.9 yards per carry.
“I didn’t think I had 400, but I’ll take it,” Speights said. “It was a good game and Rowe played well. They had us going into halftime. We regrouped and remembered what was at stake and came out here and balled.”
His two early scores and big play ability gave the Mustangs an early 21-0 advantage. Rowe tried defending him by pushing him toward the sideline on outside runs, but it did little to slow him down once he found space.
“We let a couple of big plays go down the stretch that hurt us, but Campbell Speights is a great player,” Rowe head coach Bobby Flores said. “He’s a super player and we’ve just got to give him his props. He didn’t give up either and he ran hard.”
The Warriors’ offense, though, started to find its footing in the second quarter and embarked a wild comeback run.
Senior quarterback Jonas Ortiz fired a 13-yard touchdown pass to Derek Luna to put Rowe on the scoreboard before turning to the team’s stout defense and ground-and-pound rushing attack.
“I was real proud of our defense to clamp down. We let two big plays go early, but we didn’t let it slip away. We fought back, got some turnovers and our offense drove the ball.”
Running backs Joey Partida and Lorenzo Lopez ran the ball down the Mustangs’ throats for a decent stretch of the ballgame, combining for three touchdown runs in the second and third to trim Memorial’s lead to as little as eight. Along with Nick Meehan, the Warriors’ three primary backs rushed for a collective 198 yards.
“I saw that we played high-caliber football for quite a bit of time,” Flores said. “Lorenzo came up huge and he was able to run in there. He was about 80 or 70% the last couple of games, but he’s getting there which has been a huge help for us. And Jonas is Jonas. He did some great things. He’s just got to continue to get better because now it’s do or die.”
Rowe’s inability to hold onto the football, though, is what ultimately prevented the team from ever taking a lead. The Warriors lost a key fumble around midfield that Speights converted into a touchdown on the next snap.
Defensive back Diego Villarreal also tormented the Warriors’ passing game all night, snagging three interceptions on his own to set his offense up in scoring position time and time again.
“They’re beginning to gel together and they’re playing well,” Littleton said of his defense. “I thought we played really well in the second half.”
With La Joya High losing to Mission High in its season finale, Rowe locks up the fourth and final playoff spot in 30-6A. Meanwhile, Memorial clinches a share of the district title with Mission and PSJA High after its victory.
Both teams will learn their first-round playoff matchups, as well as times, dates and locations of their games, this weekend.