McALLEN — Two years ago, McAllen Rowe narrowly missed out on achieving their goal of reaching the postseason after starting the 2018 season on a five-game winning streak and ending on a five-game skid to finish 5-5.
Last year, the Warriors were able to burst through, not only securing a postseason berth but also going on the road to knock off Laredo Alexander for a bi-district playoff win in a 7-5 campaign in 2019.
Now, Rowe will be looking to keep it rolling while bringing back one of the deepest offenses in the Rio Grande Valley led by the team’s three-headed monster in the backfield that will give opponents nightmares and fuel the Warriors’ postseason dreams.
“That experience is going to factor in a lot, especially with all the guys we have coming back on offense,” Warriors’ senior tight end Gustavo Cruz said.
“We know what to expect. We know what to work on and we know what we need to do to move forward,” said senior running back Lorenzo Lopez, who led Rowe with 684 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground last season.
Rowe returns its three-headed monster in a trio of senior backs that includes Lopez, Nick Meehan and Joey Partida, all of whom saw significant playing time as featured backs and slot receivers in 2019.
The trio combined for 1,436 yards on the ground last year, 26 total touchdowns and averaged 5.9 yards per carry and complemented each other’s styles well while the Warriors relied on a next-man-up mentality in the face of several injuries last season.
“Everyone’s ready and we always have to be ready. It’s the next-man-up mentality. Everyone knows what they need to do, even the backups,” Meehan said. “Everybody wants to play and the competition here is great so that just keeps us pushing to be the best team in the Valley.”
“We have a lot of returners and a lot of seniors who really connect well. We’re going to put up points together this year,” Lopez said. “We’re excited and we want to win. We love being out here practicing every day. It’s given us something to look forward to.”
Rowe’s reloaded offense will also be bolstered by strong offensive line depth and a pair of elite pass-catching options in senior wideout David Savage and Cruz at tight end.
“We’re expecting them to lead our team and making sure that we’re continuing to execute in practice,” McAllen Rowe head football coach Bobby Flores said. “We’re trying to stay as balanced as we can.”
Savage missed several games last season due to injuries but led the Warriors in receiving yards in each game he played in from beginning to end. He’ll be looking to build off a strong junior campaign that featured four touchdowns, 32 receptions and a team-high 558 receiving yards.
Cruz, meanwhile, presents tremendous upside and problems for opposing defenses with his versatility as a receiver and run blocker after tallying five touchdowns and 306 receiving yards last year. His rare combination of size, speed and athleticism will make him a mismatch for linebackers and defensive backs alike.
“The thing I feel like I do best is route running,” Cruz said. “My route running is crisp and what separates me the most, but run blocking is also very important for our team both in setting up the run and setting up the pass later.”
Leading the Warriors’ deep offense will be senior quarterback James Gamez, who has exemplified the team’s next-man-up, always-ready approach when called upon as the squad’s backup signal caller in the past two seasons.
In five career games at quarterback for Rowe during the past two seasons, Gamez completed 36 of 63 total passes for 492 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Flores feels confident about Gamez’s capabilities and leadership but added that junior quarterback Mateo Llanes should also see playing time for the Warriors.
“Gamez is a leader on the field, especially in practice, and he’s a student of the game. He’s always ready to go,” Meehan said. “Before this season, he almost beat (McAllen) Memorial in a game two years ago when (former Rowe quarterback) Jonas (Ortiz) got hurt and he did really well. I think this year he’s going to bring a new dimension to the offense.”
“He did a lot of things for us (last year). He got after it on the offensive side and he played defense,” Flores said of Gamez. “That helps us with him learning different positions and him now knowing that as a quarterback. … We’re hoping that transitions over to quarterback.”
Defensively, the Warriors will rely on a deep group of physical defensive backs, some of whom may end up seeing playing time at linebacker too.
Adam Alvarado, Jason Neal and Mark Villarreal lead a group of hard-hitting safeties and ball-hawking defensive backs that should be a strength for the Rowe defense, as the team looks for young playmakers to step up in the front seven.
“Guys around here practice with their heads held high ready to play and ball out,” Lopez said. “It doesn’t matter what (division) it is. Football is football and at the end of the day, someone has to lose. We don’t plan on losing.”