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Rivalry is a concept in sports that predates just about everything but sports itself. It’s older than Hank Stram’s 65 Toss Power Trap. It’s older than the Wave. But unlike the power running game of the past and unlike the undulating of a crowd standing and throwing their hands above their heads in unpracticed synchronicity, the rivalry has not lost it vibrancy. Friday night, it certainly won’t be lost on every single person in attendance at Tom Landry Stadium when the Mission Eagles and the Veterans Memorial Patriots resume their annual grudge match in Week 1 of high school football.
It isn’t lost on the players either.
“This is for the whole City of Mission and we’re looking forward to it,” said Veterans Memorial receiver and defensive back Ruben Peña. “This is more than a game. This is for the town and to paint the city blue.”
Don’t think for one minute it’s lost on the coaches either.
While Eagle Head Coach Mario Peña will be tempering the natural instinct of his players to get too worked up over one game, he does concede the game will have implications.
“The kids will take this game more seriously than others,” said Coach Peña. “I know for the community it’s all about bragging rights and who will have them for that year. I guess being a veteran coach, it’s our next game on the schedule and, ultimately, we’re going to get after it. I’m not looking past Veterans, but you have to consider in our case we’re getting closer to District.”
The Eagles are coming into this game off an impressive 33-7 win against the Holy Cross Knights. It was a game in which the Eagles dominated both sides of the ball. The defense consistently got to the quarterback, tallying a total of six sacks and forcing turnovers at critical times.
“I think that, defensively, we got to them. We created some turnovers, which was something I wanted to see. We created five turnovers and our offense took advantage of that,” said Coach Peña. “We are also really emphasizing special teams. Veterans were kept alive by a bad punt and these are the things we are emphasizing to our kids.”
Veterans Memorial, in contrast, is coming off a back-and-forth dogfight of a loss to Somerset where after finding themselves down by 10 early in the first half, dominated the middle stretch only to be nipped in the end, losing 41-34.
You might think considering the tough defeat, Veterans would be somewhat cautious about getting too emotionally invested too early in the upcoming game. Coach David Gilpin is taking a decidedly different angle.
“The way I approach it, it’s a big game,” said Coach Gilpin, currently in his third year as head coach. “There is a disparity in tradition and history and success and over the last two years we feel we’ve made inroads in that.”
This may be one of the rare times when Coach Gilpin can be accused of understatement. You need not be long in the tooth to remember that Koy Detmer led 1990 Mission Eagle team that made the Semi-finals in Texas 5A football under the tutelage of his father, Sonny Detmer. You need not drive too far around town to be reminded that former coach of the Dallas Cowboys and national football icon Tom Landry also played for the Mission Eagles. There’s even a Mission Eagle rap in honor of the 1987 Mission Eagle team that exists to this day on YouTube.com.
However, history and legend notwithstanding, make no mistake, this is a rivalry between two programs quickly becoming equals. Two years ago, Veterans Memorial was beaten by the Eagles who went on to become Bi-District Champs. The following year, fortunes changed when the Patriots bested their brothers handily.
“We know it’s a challenge for us each and every year,” said Gilpin. “The fact that we won by a little bit of a lopsided score last year, they’re going to take that personally. We’ve got to match that intensity.”
For the even-keeled Coach Peña, this will be something he endeavors to harness.
“Motivation is about timing,” said Peña. “You have to be careful as far as the kids burning out during the week. Right now, we’re concerned with teaching our scheme and what we’re going to do.”
And so it should be. These two programs, separated by a mere couple of miles will be taking the field as teams worlds apart. It would seem the only things they share beyond the limits of their city will be Tom Landry Stadium where there will be maroon on one side and blue on the other. However, there will be no visitor’s side. Both sides will simply be home to a good old-fashioned rivalry.
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.