McALLEN — When the McAllen Rowe Warriors stepped onto the practice field to prepare for their area round playoff matchup, there was a new kind of excitement and buzz in the air.
The energy was palpable and permeated throughout the Warriors’ entire practice because for the first time in a long time, the team was finally healthy again and the program had punched its ticket to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.
Rowe scored a huge come-from-behind bi-district victory over Laredo Alexander in hostile territory thanks in large part to its uber talented and deep backfield, which bullied the Bulldogs and reminded everyone just how explosive of an offense it can be.
“All of our running backs worked together to get a good push,” Rowe junior running back Nick Meehan said. “Our main plan was to have a good ground game and go back to the three-headed monster.”
The team’s three-headed monster in the backfield has been a big reason for the Warriors’ success this season. Now that Meehan and fellow junior running backs Lorenzo Lopez and Joey Partida are all back in the fold, Rowe’s trio of backs has reasserted itself as one of the most unstoppable position units throughout the Valley.
The team’s bi-district victory over Alexander marked the first time since the beginning of the year that Lopez, Meehan and Partida were all playing at 100% after the injury bug bit Rowe’s roster hard.
“We have a lot of talent back there; we’ve got a lot of depth in other words. If one guy goes down, another guy is already ready to step up and they already have the experience to step up and succeed on the field,” Partida said. “That’s why they call our running backs the three-headed monster. We’re good at what we do and we have a lot of depth, too.”
All three suffered setbacks throughout the season that either limited or knocked them out of game action temporarily. Lopez only recently rejoined the group at full strength after suffering a leg injury in September.
“Everyday was a recovery day,” Lopez said. “I would do little workouts and stuff and my family was always there for me, by my side every step of the way coming back. I had a lot of support behind me.”
Lopez jumped back into the fray in November and in the three games since his return, he’s tallied three of his four best rushing performances on the season and scored six of his nine touchdowns on the ground this year.
He’s continued to ramp up his level of play since his return too, running for a career-high 154 yards and three scores against Alexander on a season-high 29 carries.
“Honestly, it was just mentally about recovery and after I played my first game against La Joya, I really kind of just felt the rhythm and felt comfortable,” Lopez said. “My team was very welcoming and they all really liked me being back. I felt really happy to be back and that really encouraged me to do my best.”
Meehan and Partida did an excellent job of picking up the slack during his departure, however, just like many of their teammates at other positions who had to do the same. That next-man-up mentality has helped the Warriors continue to win and stay in close ballgames.
“That’s huge. That lets us continue forward as a team because let’s say we only had one guy at the position, we’d be stuck,” Partida said. “That would really put a lot of negativity on the team, which kills the team from the inside out. Just having a lot of depth and a lot of people who are willing to step up and play their hardest is really good for this team. It’s another factor in our success at Nikki Rowe.”
“I think that them buying into playing different positions and learning helped us. Like Joey Partida, we’ve been able to utilize him out of the backfield and as a slot receiver,” head coach Bobby Flores said. “We did get Lorenzo back, but we have Nick Meehan also to soften up the load. Just being able to put them in different spots and also them understanding their role has helped us tremendously.”
But Lopez’s return has also set up Meehan and Partida to have breakout games since his return, as the two exploited space in the Bulldogs’ defense to combine for 111 total yards and two touchdowns.
“I would see that they were really spaced out as a defense, so it was a bit easier to spot out the holes especially on what I like to run, going to the outside and inside,” Partida said. “I would easily be able to see those holes because their defense moved in a certain way where I was able to notice, ‘It’s going to be here,’ right before the play.”
A big reason for all that extra space to operate has been Rowe’s ability to balance the run and the pass while maintaining its explosive big-play potential. Many have forgotten about the Warriors’ quick strike ability on the ground and through the air because it’s been so long since players like Lopez and receiver David Savage have been fully healthy.
“I think it’s a big reason, because Lorenzo got injured during the first two games of the season, and we just stepped up and kept going. Now that he’s back, he’s tearing it up,” Meehan said. “We lost a lot of people during the beginning of the season and we kept going. We went 6-0 in the beginning and that’s when we lost everyone.”
The Warriors’ backfield is so particularly dangerous when fully healthy because of their complementary styles of play. Lopez, Meehan and Partida all bring something different to the table, which makes them collectively so difficult to contain.
“I think honestly we all have different strengths and each of those strengths adds up to a whole,” Meehan said. “It’s a three-headed monster, but it’s still one monster. I think it all just makes it complete.”
Lopez’s ability to bounce to the outside, Meehan’s power running between the tackles and Partida’s capability to catch passes out of the backfield and turn upfield helps each take some pressure off one another and allows them to focus on what they each do best.
“It takes off a lot pressure actually. During practice we really motivate each other,” Lopez said. “I know a lot of teams don’t really connect as a family, but we really push each other to be better and I feel like with that we do well in games. We really support one another and want each other to do well.”
“It does take off pressure, but then it makes you want to push yourself more,” Meehan said. “If he’s doing something really good, then you want to be at his level. It’s three running backs, so it’s really competitive and I think that’s really cool.”
That friendly competition and ability to play interchangeably with one another has helped all three put up monster numbers on the season.
Lopez, Meehan and Partida each have at least 50 carries and five rushing touchdowns apiece on the year. The trio has combined 1,392 yards on the ground, 439 yards through the air and 25 total touchdowns.
When dual-threat senior quarterback Jonas Ortiz is taken into consideration too, the Warriors represent the only team in 30-6A to have four rushers with more than 350 yards each on the season.
“Here and there we’ll throw a little comment at each other like, ‘Oh I have more yards,’ or something like that,” Partida said. “It’s a friendly competition and we like to mess with each other about it. If anything, it also pushes us to be better and when push comes to shove at the games, we’re all happy for each other. We all pat each other on the back.”
Now, after a brutal stretch to end the regular season, Rowe’s three-headed monster has pushed the team into uncharted waters and will be looking to power the squad even deeper into the playoffs.
“There’s this quote, ‘A minor setback for a major comeback.’ I feel like we relate to that a lot,” Lopez said. “We didn’t want to lose anymore, so we just really came together, the team talked about things we needed to fix and we worked on it. I feel like that’s why we came out with a big win.”
Using both their doubters and the high levels of energy around them, Lopez, Meehan, Partida and the Warriors hope to use that as fuel to become the first Rowe team to ever advance to the third round of the playoffs.
“We’ve been looked down on and we’ve been told we can’t do things. Week 1 we came out with 110% against Weslaco and everyone healthy and we proved ourselves to everyone that y’all are wrong,” Partida said. “We have the potential to be a deep playoff team and be successful, so I would say that we’re underrated big time. We want to keep people telling us that so we can have that fuel to keep pushing us harder.”
“With this team, we can accomplish anything. Ever since last year we’ve been working hard and we know we’re capable of doing what other teams can’t,” Ortiz said. “We’ve been saying all year that we want to be the best team this school has ever had and we’re looking for that.”