BY ANDREW McCULLOCH
McALLEN — Rolling out and retreating backward, quarterback Jonas Ortiz scanned the field frantically looking for an open receiver. As multiple Mercedes defenders closed in, McAllen Rowe’s senior quarterback heaved a desperation pass toward the sideline.
Junior wideout David Savage hauled in the deep throw for a 36-yard pickup that would set up Rowe quarterback and receiver to connect again on a 9-yard touchdown pass. The two’s chemistry gave the Warriors a 7-0 lead over the Tigers on the opening drive of the contest, but it would be their final connection of the evening.
Savage went down with a lower-leg injury in the second quarter and never returned, as Ortiz and Rowe leaned on a potent rushing attack lead by Lorenzo Lopez, Joey Partida and Nick Meehan to capture a 28-25 victory over Mercedes on a soggy Thursday night at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium.
On their next possession, theWarriors marched the ball 78 yards downfield without attempting a pass, capping the drive off with a 5-yard touchdown run by Lopez.
That trend of power running continued into the second half with Lopez finding the end zone again from 2 yards out and Meehan punching it in for the decisive 8-yard touchdown run that put his team ahead by two possessions late in the contest.
“I saw the defense stack everybody up on one side, so nobody was on the other side. I go up, cut it back and score the touchdown,” Meehan said. “Everybody was excited because that was the one that finished the game.”
The trio of Lopez, Meehan and Partida tallied a collective 109 yards on the ground off 26 combined carries.
“I feel like we’re all really good competition for each other,” Meehan said. “We just give each other more of a motive to keep going.”
Ortiz led the late charge that helped secure the Warriors’ lead for good with his veteran leadership and composure.
The senior quarterback had a few long scrambles in the fourth to help put the game on ice. Ortiz ended the night with 52 rushing yards on eight carries and 105 yards through the air on 7-of-13 passing, adding a touchdown and interception.
“They work hard, and they all work together,” Rowe head coach Bobby Flores said of his trio of backs and senior signal caller. “Jonas tucking the ball and making some big plays, whether it was called or it wasn’t, he continued (to lead) especially on that third down. That was huge. He got in there and put us inside the red zone. Without that, we don’t seal the game.”
On the other side, the Tigers actually enjoyed a decisive advantage in total yardage as the passing and rushing attacks were clicking. Sophomore quarterback Michael Cisneros looked confident and composed leading the offense in just his second game as the team’s starter.
Cisneros completed 20of-31 passes for 306 yards and a pick while adding 133 rushing yards on 20 carries. Receivers Josiah Cantu and Alex Rincon caught a combined 11 passes for 70 and 78 yards, respectively.
Running back Jared De Los Santos was the key to the Tigers’ offense coming out of halftime. He ran for 94 yards on just 16 carries and provided his team with a few key second-half scores.
But problems sprung up for Mercedes in the second half when the team couldn’t stop turning the ball over. The Tigers fumbled three times and threw a key interception that set up the Warriors go-ahead touchdown drive on the Mercedes 47-yard line.
“Turnovers were huge for us,” Mercedes head coach Roger Adame said. “That turnover at the goal line, that defense makes a stop, we’re driving and then another turnover. We can clean those things up and we’ll focus on that next week and hopefully can hold onto the ball a little bit.”
The Tigers specifically ran into problems whenever the offense pushed its way into the red zone. A fumble jarred loose by Rowe senior linebacker Josiah Alonzo and coughed up by Cantu resulted in a turnover at the 14-yard line.
Another drive was stalled out in the end zone because of multiple false start flags. The Tigers fumbled again at the goal line in the fourth quarter, robbing them of a touchdown that would have handed them the lead late.
Mercedes made the most of that turnover, notching a safety when Warriors quarterback Jonas Ortiz was flagged for intentional grounding in his own end zone. But the Tigers lost control of the game when they fumbled for the third time on the first play from scrimmage after the ensuing punt, setting up Rowe for the decisive score at the end.
“Our defense with that big fumble they forced inside the 5,” said Flores of the turning point in the game. “That was a huge play. Then after that safety, we kicked it off and on that initial play, our defense stepped up and got them on that fumble.”
“I really like the way our team fought,” Adame said. “That fumble on the goal line killed us, but we still had our chances. That’s what we want, just an opportunity.”