Rivalry renewed as Rangers riled up for matchup with Mavericks

After years of competition, the Rangers look to get revenge after last year's loss to Madison.


Danielle Esperiqueta

Smithson Valley charges the field prior to last week's 43-15 drubbing of Pflugerville Hendrickson. The Rangers are slated to play San Antonio Madison at Heroes Stadium on Thursday.

Jackson Posey, Sports Editor

Heroes Stadium bears its name for a reason. Heroes are born within its spacious confines, and the Rangers are looking to make a few more this Thursday at San Antonio Madison (1-1).

The Rangers have a storied past playing against their orange and blue counterparts, and one that has historically favored the Boys in Blue. The Rangers have won nine of 13 matchups, including four of the last five. The lone exception? Last season, when coach Blaine Pederson led his Madison squad right into the jaws of Ranger Stadium and emerged with a 17-14 victory. And this year’s squad presents new challenges for a Smithson Valley team that is vastly different from last year’s iteration. 

The obvious difference for the Mavs is at quarterback, where graduated signal-caller Dante Heaggans is being replaced by converted wideout Michael Garza. The track star has actually done as much damage with his arm as his legs, with a 14/120/1 passing line (including over 60% completion) and 9/97/2 on the ground serving as a good display for his all-around excellence. Smithson Valley coach Larry Hill is a big fan.

“He is a very versatile player,” the veteran coach said. “He throws the ball well and accurately, he makes great decisions, and he runs the ball very effectively. We cannot ignore him while trying to shut down their running backs.”

And shutting down the running backs will be no small feat. Wide receiver Nevon Cooper (7/58/1) has been solid, but it’s been largely the contributions of Garza and RB Darien Gill (217 all-purpose yards) which have carried the team.

Gill is an excellent all-around back. Although he only has one catch to his name so far in 2019, he clearly has two-way ability. Last year he racked up 446 air yards to match with his 589 on the ground, with ten total touchdowns to boot. In fact, his dynamic athleticism reminds Hill of one of his own players.

They use [Gill] in multiple ways. There’s no real way to prepare for him. He’s a lot like [Greg] Eggleston is for us. If they can’t throw it to him they simply hand it to him. Tough to keep the ball out of his hands.”

And it’s not as if the senior has been a slouch this year; his 17 carries and 211 rushing yards are both team highs. But he does have competition.

Alongside Gill and Garza, the Mavericks have two other weapons out of the backfield: Anthony Cleaver and Gabriel Green. Green’s 14/146/2 are incredible, and Cleaver’s 10/175/1 is legitimately shocking. Coach Pederson has an embarrassment of riches similar to Smithson Valley’s own, but that won’t make it any easier for coach Larry Hill’s team to prepare. Luckily, Eggleston can play the Darien Gill, and the Rangers defense shouldn’t have to strain to hard to imitate their opponents; the Madison defense has allowed 28 and 37 points to Schertz Clemens and Austin Bowie, respectively. But the macrocosm isn’t necessarily indicative of individuals, and that’s as true here as anywhere else. Safety/linebacker DeShaun Heaggans is six-foot, 205, and runs a 4’6 40-yard dash. The production is there, too – his 89 tackles are easily the most among returning players. Despite having a few impressive sidekicks – DB George Johnson (42 tackles) and LB Logan Bomer (54 tackles, two sacks) stand out – it is his defense to do with as he pleases. If he doesn’t perform, much like his brother Dante on offense last year, a win will probably be out of reach for his team. 

Madison is probably better than their 28-0 defeat at the hands of a dominant Schertz Clemens team. A fumble and two missed field goals deep into Buffalo territory robbed the Mavericks of whatever momentum they hoped to gain. On the other hand, they allowed 37 in a victory over Austin Bowie, putting their suspect defense in the spotlight. 

Madison is a much weaker team they were a year ago. An inexperienced offensive line protecting a new quarterback is never great. When that quarterback is a converted receiver, and his exit depleted his former position group, the chances of success dwindle further. And unless the defense can put it all together, a Ranger team with momentum shouldn’t have much trouble putting down their quasi-rivals. But when the lights get brighter and the stage gets bigger, things have a funny way of happening. We’ll just have to see how both squads fare on Thursday night at Heroes Stadium.