MISSION — With seconds winding down in crunch time, sophomore quarterback Jeremy Duran and the Mission High offense stepped to the line of scrimmage desperately needed a conversion and a score.
On fourth down and 11, Duran faked a handoff and rolled out to his right where he fired a pass to receiver Jose Cortez, who raced down the sideline toward the pylon for a 21-yard touchdown with 9 seconds remaining to tie the game and send Mission and Laredo United to overtime.
The Eagles took the lead on the first possession of overtime with a 24-yard field goal. But when the Longhorns took possession, senior quarterback Wayo Huerta fired a laser pass to wideout Ricky Chapa at the goal line to lift Laredo United over Mission 38-35 in an instant classic Saturday afternoon at Tom Landry Stadium.
“It was a hard-fought game on both sides. Obviously, when you come out on the losing end, you feel like there are a lot of things in the game that could have worked out a little differently,” Mission High head coach Koy Detmer said. “I have a lot of respect for those guys and unfortunately we just didn’t quite make enough plays down the stretch and at the same time we had some mistakes.”
“That was a great football game,” Laredo United head coach David Sanchez said. “It’s unfortunate that someone has to lose, but I’m just glad it wasn’t us.”
The game was a back-and-forth affair that featured a lights-out defensive effort from the Eagles and timely play from the quarterbacks on each sideline.
The Longhorns took an early lead after Hector Benavidez rumbled into the end zone on a 33-yard scoop-and-score defensive touchdown after a fumble on a completed pass by the Eagles.
But defensively, the Eagles didn’t allow their opponents to get anything started in the early going. The defense continually brought pressure and played tight man-on-man coverage, which gave United’s passing game fits.
“Offensively I thought we missed some chances early and we didn’t get them out of their blitz,” Sanchez said. “We had to make them pay early and we either overthrew or dropped it, so we left some points out on the field in the first half.”
Huerta was constantly being harassed by Eagles defenders, who held him in check for most of the first half with the exception of two long touchdown passes: a 64-yard bomb to Luz Leal and an 80-yard strike to Chapa.
But the Mission offense and defense were able to respond in a big way before heading into halftime. Duran connected with his favorite target, senior receiver Stevie Villarreal, for a pair of touchdown passes before the break from 44 and 21 yards out.
Following the second score, the Eagles’ defense capitalized on advantageous field position and sacked Huerta in his own end zone for a safety with just seconds remaining in the second quarter. The team scored nine points in the last minute of play to trim Laredo United’s lead down to 24-16 at the half.
“It was big to get a little momentum at least heading into halftime and it hadn’t been our best half from an offensive standpoint,” Detmer said. “It was good to take in some momentum into halftime and try to get some things going out of the half.”
Mission’s defense continued its superb defensive effort in the third and fourth quarters. The Eagles brought a blitz on nearly every snap and made Huerta pay for every drop back he took.
Dante Lopez, Abuid Garza and Fabian Ahumada all tallied sacks and forced a plethora of incompletions with their hurries and big hits. Those stops gave Duran and Villarreal another chance to connect for a third touchdown from 26 yards out and allowed Rene Rodriguez to add another field goal which gave the team their first lead.
“The defensive effort (was great), to continue to give us opportunities with the ball and the way they played holding that team down for a long time,” Detmer said. “That’s a great football team and they score a lot of points with a good offense, so that was outstanding by our defense and it kept giving us opportunities.”
The Mission defense ultimately cracked late in the fourth, as Huerta scrambled in for a go-ahead touchdown with 2:21 to play. That gave Duran and the cardiac Eagles a chance to tie it up before the clock ran out.
Duran led the Eagles’ offense on a masterful drive that spanned 13 plays and 86 yards before his touchdown pass to Cortez on fourth and long.
“He’s been outstanding every time now for a couple of years in those type of situations and up-tempo offense,” Detmer said of Duran. “In clutch situations, when you have to have it, he’s been outstanding, and he was again today. He gave us a chance down the stretch to possibly win a game and unfortunately it just didn’t happen.”
Duran and Villarreal finished with two of their finest performances to date. Duran threw for 372 yards and four touchdowns on 30-of-48 passing, besting his previous career-best against Laredo United in last year’s bi-district playoff matchup.
Villarreal tallied a game-high 132 receiving yards and three score on six receptions.
Huerta, meanwhile, struggled significantly more than his Mission counterpart. He threw for 246 yards on 12-of-40 passing with two interceptions, but also the game-sealing touchdown pass.
“He made some plays throwing and he made some plays with his legs. I’m just really proud of what he’s done this year and what this team has been able to accomplish,” Sanchez said. “We were elated to come out with a win after such a battle.”
With the win, the Laredo United Longhorns advance to the area round, where they will face the San Benito Greyhounds.