MISSION — There was no shortage of excitement for Thursday’s non-district matchup between Edinburg Vela and Mission Veterans — two of the Rio Grande Valley’s top winning programs.
The pair of RGV powerhouses have combined to win 63 games over the Past three years, but on Thursday night, it was all Edinburg Vela as the SaberCats stormed past Mission Veterans for a 49-13 win at Tom Landry Stadium.
“I know it’s on Thursday night, but there’s a part of us that’s a little bit normal again when we can come out here and play football,” Edinburg Vela head coach John Campbell said of his team’s season opener. “As a coach, you have a sick tendency of remembering all the bad things you did. We made a lot of mistakes, but we’re never going to argue with a win, particularly over a quality program like Mission Veterans.”
“Edinburg Vela is a good ball club and we knew that and I’m appreciative of them playing us. That’s what we needed, to get on the field with a team like Edinburg Vela,” Mission Veterans head coach David Gilpin said. “I told our team we’re fixing to find out what we’re all about, and I’m happy with some of the things I saw.”
The opening 19 minutes lived up to the hype as the SaberCats and Patriots took turns making plays.
Vela running back PJ Rivera scored two first-quarter touchdowns to put his team up early, and quarterback AJ Sotelo connected with Justin Vega on a 50-yard touchdown throw, which gave the SaberCats a 21-7 advantage.
Mission Veterans responded with a heavy dose of all-state receiver AJ Gonzaque who consistently made contested catches and required multiple defenders to bring him down. A 5-yard touchdown pass to Gonzaque from Mission Veterans quarterback Ricky Reyna closed the gap to 21-13 and brought fire to the Patriots sideline. But on the extra point attempt, the kick was blocked and the SaberCats returned it for two points. On the ensuing kickoff, Vela returned it all the way to the 10-yard line. And on the first offensive play of the drive, Sotelo hit Austin Carrillo for another SaberCats score and a 32-13 lead at the half.
That surge from the SaberCats, paired with a second half shutout from the Vela defense, proved to be too much for Mission Veterans to handle.
The SaberCats ‘D’ were lights out as the unit forced four interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown by Josh Garcia to open the second half. Campbell said he was proud of the way his defense played against a high-powered offense like Mission Veterans.
“I thought they had a good week of work, and anytime you can get one to two turnovers, let alone four of them, you’re giving your offense extra opportunities so I was proud of how we performed in that respect,” he said.
Edinburg Vela now has a week in between its district opener against Edinburg North, slated for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff next Friday at Richard R. Flores Stadium in Edinburg.
“It’s not going to be about weekly improvement, but day-to-day improvement. We’re in a condensed amount of time, we don’t have the normal season, so this was our preseason,” Campbell said. “You have to get better on a day-to-day basis if you’re going to do this the right way.”
Meanwhile, Mission Veterans will look to bounce back next week when they go on the road to face Sharyland High at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Richard Thompson Stadium in Mission.
“Edinburg Vela handed us our hat. You give them all the respect and admiration for what they’ve done as a program over the years, and for what they did tonight,” Gilpin said. “But there’s a lot of things we’re going to take out of here that are going to be positive. I’m probably as upbeat as I’ve ever been after a loss of this type.”