MISSION — Mission High quarterback Jeremy Duran has never been one to shy away from a big stage, so it was hardly a surprise when the Eagles’ junior signal-caller stole the show during his team’s first game back under the bright lights of Friday night.
At the start of the second quarter with his squad driving, Duran took a shotgun snap and faked a handoff to senior running back Andrew Maldonado, who cut right toward the middle of the field, while Duran rolled out left toward the home sideline.
He stared down junior running back Damian Cortez, who was waiting in the flats for a screen, before turning his attention upfield and slinging a moonshot pass over the top of the defense into the outstretched arms of receiver Gilberto Bernal.
The 31-yard bomb to Bernal less than a minute into the second quarter was Duran’s third touchdown throw of the opening half and the Eagles’ fourth score in four tries to start the game, as Mission High manhandled the visiting Edinburg High Bobcats and rolled to a dominant 51-7 victory in both team’s District 31-6A and season openers Friday night at Tom Landry Hall of Fame Stadium.
“We came out really ready to play. We had some simple kind of routine little errors where I wish we had been sharper, but it’s the first game and I know the guys were amped up,” Mission High head coach Koy Detmer said. “The good thing was that we got out there, came ready to play and got after it. We made a lot of big plays and we had a lot of big runs after the catch and extra yards in the run game.
“It’s something to build on in our first week, that’s for sure.”
It was an emotional return to the gridiron for the Eagles on a night when Class 5A and 6A teams across the Rio Grande Valley were making their long-awaited season debuts after numerous scheduling delays due in large part to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the Valley’s public health situation.
But Friday’s home game carried with it more significance than that for a Mission High team that experienced a more turbulent offseason than any other high school football team in the RGV.
The Mission community was sent reeling over the summer when Eagles’ senior linebacker Ram Garcia received a Leukemia diagnosis and started chemotherapy treatments immediately. His Mission High coaches and teammates, as well as student-athletes and coaches from Mission Veterans, hosted a “Brave for the Shave” event to show solidarity with Garcia, who watched the Eagles’ dominant win via a live stream from a hospital in San Antonio where he’s currently receiving treatment.
Garcia was recognized and honored for his bravery and perseverance during a halftime ceremony Friday night in Mission.
The Eagles were dealt two more enormous emotional blows in the lead up to preseason practices and workouts resuming.
Coach Omar Trujillo — the coach of the peewee Mission Mustangs youth football team that rose to fame on ‘Friday Night Tykes,’ a front-line hospital worker in Mission and Duran’s father — unexpectedly passed away due to COVID-19 complications in August.
Two weeks later, the Mission High community lost legendary former head football coach Sonny Detmer, who helped the lead the Eagles to the 1991 state playoff semifinals with his son, current Mission head coach Koy Detmer, starting at quarterback.
Friday was the Eagles’ first chance to reunite as a football family in a competitive atmosphere, and they took full advantage of the opportunity.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Detmer said of the Eagles’ return to competitive football. “That’s something we talked about late in the week building up to the game and before the game. It’s been a long time and it feels good. We don’t know what will happen after this, but we do have this one. You never know, the next one may not happen, so don’t let this one get away.”
Duran marched Mission downfield to strike first on a one-yard touchdown dive by Maldonado, who added his second rushing score of the game on a 17-yard touchdown scamper right before halftime. Maldonado’s first score was set up by a 40-yard pass on the first offensive play of the game for Mission High.
The Eagles flexed one of the RGV’s most dominant defenses in the early going, as defensive tackle Dante Lopez and linebacker Hugo Valle Del Luna did their best to shut down the Edinburg High offense. Eduardo Garcia and Justin Duran both scooped up fumble recoveries too, the latter of which led to an Eagles’ touchdown.
Mission prevented the Bobcats from picking up a first down through the first quarter of play and limited them to just 3 net yards of total offense after their four opening drives.
“Defensively, we see those guys in practice every day and they’re fast and tough. We have nine guys returning from last year who really prepare our offensive front, which is great, but it was good to see them come out, really fly around and get after those guys early in the game,” Detmer said. “They did a good job of working through the pandemic part of things. Even though we had to shut down, guys came back in really great condition and ready to go. We talked a lot about that with our virtual stuff starting all the way back in March. … It was great to see everyone flying around like that on a first night for us.”
Duran and the offense made sure to make the most of those scoring opportunities and short fields the team’s defense left them to work with.
The Eagles third-year starting quarterback fired his first and second touchdown passes on the night in the first quarter, starting with a 29-yard shovel pass to Cortez who took it to the house to go up 14-0 with 7:32 to go in the quarter.
Duran then followed that up with a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jose Ortiz, who juked his way into the end zone to put Mission High on top 21-0, and added his fourth passing score of the night on a 75-yard pass and catch to Cortez down the sideline, which put the Eagles in the driver’s seat up 44-0.
“He was really good. He was sharp,” Detmer said of Duran’s play. “I thought he played really well. I thought his eyes were moving good and he played really sharp. Our receivers did a lot of good things and also made some plays. Damian Cortez made a lot of things happen after he made the first tackler miss a lot of times. That was really good to see and of course, Andrew (Maldonado) is Andrew. He’s a tough fullback and he did all the things well: blocking, running and catching.”
Duran was pulled at the start of the fourth quarter, when younger brother Justin Duran stepped in and uncorked a 31-yard touchdown pass, Mission’s fifth of the game, to give the team its final score.
Edinburg High senior running back Shandon Woodard and senior quarterback Rolando Abrego had some success on the ground but struggled to string together enough positive plays to consistently stay on the field.
Bobcats senior defensive end Emmanuel Duron shined defensively tallying the team’s only two sacks of the night while also scooping up and forcing a fumble. Edinburg High senior defensive back Andre Vargas also nabbed an interception to halt an Eagles’ drive late in the third quarter.
Mission High (1-0, 1-0) will be back in action to face PSJA High (0-1, 0-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday at PSJA Stadium in Pharr, while Edinburg High (0-1, 0-1) will play its next game against Edinburg Economedes (0-1, 0-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Richard R. Flores Stadium in Edinburg.