McAllen Memorial Michael Lewis (12) carries the ball against Mcallen Rowe in a District 16-5A Di west zone game at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

McALLEN — For the second season in a row, McAllen will send two of its three high school football teams into the postseason, as this time both McAllen Memorial and McAllen Rowe will look to make it back-to-back bi-district championships for each program as both prepare to represent the Rio Grande Valley on the biggest stage in Texas high school football.

The Mustangs and Warriors — who each won road playoff games against Laredo teams in the Class 6A Division I and 6A Division II playoffs, respectively — will instead take on a pair of perennial powers in the Coastal Bend as both teams make their debut in the Class 5A DI postseason.

“This year, we’ve got 956 on the back of our helmets,” said McAllen Memorial head coach Bill Littleton, the school’s all-time regular-season and postseason wins leader. “We want our kids to understand they’re not just representing McAllen or (McAllen) Memorial High School. We are representing the Valley. We want to do it with class and we want to do it the right way, but we also want to show people throughout the state of Texas that the 956 can play football.”

Memorial will make its 10th consecutive trip to the playoff and its 14th postseason berth in the last 18 years to host a Victoria West squad that many RGV football fans will remember from the beginning of the season. Victoria West fell in a shootout to Class 4A DII Raymondville in Falfurrias.

West, however, won six games in a row after that loss to the Bearkats before losing to Corpus Christi Veterans and Flour Bluff to close the season. 

The Warriors of Victoria West have averaged 45.9 points per game and the team’s talented quarterback Blake Buzzell has thrown for at least 200 yards in all nine of their games this season.

The Mustangs defense, however, should match up well against Victoria West’s spread attack. Senior defensive back Omar Salazar leads a much-improved secondary and junior defensive tackle Marcos De Ochoa, a breakout star this year in the RGV who has tallied 68 tackles and a team-high eight sacks, which is more than Victoria West’s defense has recorded all season.

“They’ve come a long way,” Littleton said of his defense. “They’re battle-ready and now they have experienced. De Ochoa has had a great season and he’s one of the top players in the Valley in my opinion. He’s been our bell cow down there on the defensive front and he’s been taking care of business.”

Offensively, Memorial’s depth in the backfield and along the offensive line should represent the toughest rushing attack the Victoria West defense has faced this season so far.

Senior backs Michael Lewis and Andrew Salinas, as well as sophomore Ethan Garcia, have combined to rush 1,464 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground this season as one of the Valley’s newest and most prolific three-headed monsters on the ground.

The original three-headed monster in the backfield, however, resides at Rowe.

The Rowe Warriors are powered by one of the most explosive offenses anywhere in the RGV or across South Texas.

Rowe boasts two of the Valley’s top pass-catchers in senior wideout David Savage and tight end Gustavo Cruz, but the Warriors’ major strengths offensively are its veteran offensive line and the backfield trio of seniors Lorenzo Lopez, Nick Meehan and Joey Partida, who hasn’t appeared yet this season due to a pre-existing injury.

“We’ve got a lot of returners from that team that won a bi-district championship back,” Flores said. “We are, though, missing a key component in Joey Partida. He’s a dynamic player and it’s been a hard pill for us to swallow not having him out there with us, but he’s still a leader on the field and on the sideline.”

Rowe will have its hands full with its bi-district round opponent, though, as the team will go on the road to face a Corpus Christi Veterans squad that’s ranked seventh overall in the state at the 5A DI level.

The Eagles are led by one of the most versatile signal callers across South Texas in quarterback Carter Senterfitt, who leads his team in passing (1,700 yards, 17 touchdowns) and rushing (695 yards, 15 touchdowns), but hasn’t played deep into many games this year with his team winning every game, often decisively.

Rowe will have to lean on an experienced secondary led by senior defensive backs Adam Alvarado and Jason Neal to slow down Corpus Christi Vets’ balanced offensive attack.

The Warriors, however, feel like given their tough non-district slate the past two years and their resiliency in the second half in games throughout this season that they have what it takes to go into the Coastal Bend and leave with a program-defining victory.

“The kids have something to shoot for,” Flores said. “It’s all about goals in programs and being the best program is what we shoot for every year. We challenge our kids to be the best Nikki Rowe team (ever). I’m banking on them carrying that attitude out there.”

McAllen Memorial (4-1) will host Victoria West (6-3) in the bi-district round of the 5A DI playoffs at 7 p.m. Friday at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium, while McAllen Rowe (5-3) will travel to face Corpus Christi Veterans (9-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Buccaneer Stadium in Corpus Christi.

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Twitter: @ByAndyMcCulloch