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20121019 Football Roma vs VeteransMemorial lg-35Veterans Memorial’s Alfredo Gonzalez fights to break out of a Roma defender’s grasp during the first quarter of the Patriots’ 28-27 come from behind victory against the Gladiators. Progress Times photo by Luciano GuerraIt’s been three years since the Mission Eagles and the Veterans Memorial Patriots took the football field for a district game against each other. With the 2010 UIL realignment, Mission was moved into 5A, while Veterans Memorial remained a 4A school. Going into this year, however, the Eagles were reclassified back into District 32-4A with the Patriots.

The most recent realignment seems to have benefitted Coach Mario Pena’s Mission squad in a big way. During the two years that the Eagles were a 5A team, they went 6-14 overall and 2-12 in district play. This year Mission is 7-0 overall and 4-0 in district play.

While the move to what is considered to be a less competitive district could very well be playing a part in the Eagles’ dramatic single season turn-around, Patriots’ head football coach David Gilpin sees Mission’s experience on both sides of the ball as a contributing factor to the Eagles’ success.

“Obviously going from 5A to 4A is a big change,” said Gilpin. “But I think that if Mission was in 5A this year they’d be having the same kind of year. I think that they’d be competing with the La Joya schools, the Edinburg schools, Sharyland and Donna and I think they’d be right in there. One of the reasons I think they’re having the kind of year that they’re having is because they have 14 starters back. They’ve had experience from the start of the season and they’re a good ball club.”

The Eagles are not the only team taking the field at Tom Landry Stadium tonight that has improved significantly from last year. With three games remaining on their schedule, Gilpin’s Patriots have already won twice as many games this year as they won all of last year. In 2011, the Patriots like the Eagles managed to win only two games all season. Thanks in part to their last minute 28-27 win against Roma last week, however, the Patriots will be entering tonight’s game at 2-2 in district and 4-3 overall.

As for what last week’s come-from-behind victory against the Gladiators means to his team as they prepare for tonight’s game, Gilpin knows that even though any game against the Eagles would be big, the fact that the Patriots are still in the running for the district title adds even more significance to tonight’s game that would not have been there otherwise.

“There’s no doubt that it would’ve been a big game for us no matter what,” said Gilpin. “If we were 0-7 and they were 7-0, it would still be a big game. The fact that we put ourselves right back into the playoff hunt and quite possibly back into the district title hunt and the fact that our kids did not quit meant that everything we’ve been teaching these kids about dealing with adversity and never quitting, whether it be in a football game or in life, came to fruition against Roma.”

With both teams in the thick of the District 32-4A playoff race, there is much more at stake in tonight’s game than hometown bragging rights for the victor. The Eagles are not only attempting to do what few teams have ever done by going undefeated, but since they are currently tied with the Mercedes Tigers for the top spot in the district, a loss against the Patriots could end up costing Mission its first district title since 2009.

For Veterans Memorial, a win tonight would allow them the ability to control their own destiny in regards to the playoffs and it will keep the possibility of a Patriots district title alive. A loss in tonight’s game, on the other hand, will eliminate any hopes of a district title for Gilpin’s team.

In regards to what tonight’s game means to the Eagles, Coach Pena is looking at how a win will help his team remain on track to achieving its goals.

“We don’t need to hype this game anymore than the game itself,” said Pena. “This one game is not our football season for us. We want to remain undefeated, of course, and hopefully clinch a playoff spot. That’s our first goal as a team. Our second goal is to win the district championship, and if we have the opportunity, going undefeated would be our final and ultimate goal as a football program.”

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