MISSION — The Sharyland Pioneer offense has accumulated nearly 6,000 yards of total offense in 12 games during the 2019 season, ranking No. 1 in the Rio Grande Valley. It’s the main reason the Diamondbacks have advanced to the third round of the playoffs for the first time in program history.
Pioneer quarterback Eddie Lee Marburger (3,909 passing yards) threw his way into the RGV record books earlier this month by throwing 56 touchdown passes in a single-season and has earned statewide recognition for his play leading the 11-1 D-Backs.
But the unsung heroes paving the way for Pioneer’s high-powered attack are the big dogs on the offensive line, a group Marburger credits with keeping him upright and the offense rolling on all cylinders.
“With our two or three play drives, you see the explosive plays, and sometimes we don’t get the credit, but that’s not what we’re here for,” senior center Brandon Rojas said. “We’re here to just do our job, and it’s just fun being able to block for these guys and see them go out there and work their magic.”
And without the O-line, there would be no magic happening at Sharyland Pioneer. They rarely surrender sacks and bottle up pressure, allowing Marburger to find one of the many offensive weapons the Diamondbacks have at the skill positions.
“As an offensive lineman, it’s fun to see when the receivers and the running backs are out there making big plays,” Rojas continued.
Rojas spearheads the offensive line with juniors Lauro Roman at right guard and Mason Villegas at right tackle, while seniors Ethan Garza and Sandalio Garcia hold things down at left guard and left tackle, respectively.
“It’s a brotherhood,” Garcia said about this year’s group. “Yeah, we’ve had bigger and stronger O-line, but I feel like there’s never been a group more connected than us. I feel like we have each other’s backs no matter what, through all the ups and downs.”
Their work up front was on full display in the area round of the playoffs last week against Pflugerville Weiss, a defense Pioneer head coach Tom Lee described as the toughest the Diamondbacks have faced all year. The Diamondbacks converted multiple third downs on the ground with Marburger (978 rushing yards) and running back Tristan Castillo (689 rushing yards) on the way to a 28-21 victory.
“They’re one of the toughest D-lines that we’ve ever faced. They played a hell of a game and so did we, it was a really good test to see who we are in the playoffs and how we can become better,” Garcia said. “Credit to those guys, they got us better. Iron sharpens iron.”
Pioneer offensive line coach Richard Eckley expects perfection out of his players because that’s what’s required in the Diamondbacks’ up-tempo offense.
“We pride ourselves on being able to protect our quarterback and be able to block for our running back, so we just want to do whatever we can to help the team,” Rojas said.
Helping the team doesn’t just happen on the field either. Senior offensive lineman Danny Villalobos keeps things loose with his sense of humor.
“I do it because I like these guys,” Villalobos said. “These guys are actually like brothers, we’re always together on and off the field. I just like to be happy, but when it’s time for business, it’s time for business.”
That time arrives at 4 p.m. Saturday as the Diamondbacks have a Class 5A Division II regional semifinal matchup against Boerne-Champion (11-1) in San Antonio’s Alamodome.
“I feel like it’s a great honor (to play at the Alamodome) because all the hard work we put in offseason, summer conditioning, two-a-days, all this time that we practice hard, push hard,” Roman said. “It just feels great to be playing in a well-known stadium in the third round of the playoffs.”
Before Pioneer departs for San Antonio on Saturday morning, they’ll meet at school where there will be pancakes and sausage for breakfast waiting.
Hours later, the Diamondbacks’ O-line hopes to make some more pancakes on the Alamodome field.
“We do this visualization thing with our coach before the game where we all get together and we just visualize making that game-winning play, making a big block for the team,” Rojas said. “He always preaches to just chill out before the game a little bit, and then once you get on the field, just let all that energy come out and go whoop someone’s butt.”
The winner will advance to face the winner of Calallen and Brenham in the Class 5A Division II Region IV final next week.