Veterans Memorial High School holds off Alice in season opener

Rey Castillo
Corpus Christi Caller Times

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

NON-DISTRICT

VETERANS MEMORIAL 22, ALICE 20

What this game means: New Veterans Memorial head coach Ben Bitner records a win in his head coaching debut and the Eagles increased their regular season winning streak to 12 games –– dating back to the 2019 season. Alice, which was playing its first non-district game since 2019, falls short in its first game against the Eagles. 

Friday's highlights: Alice and Vets played a season opener that came down to the final minutes at Alice Memorial Stadium. Connor Rye opened the scoring with a 36-yard field goal to give the Eagles a 3-0 first quarter lead. Noah Cervantes answered for Alice by recovering a fumble and running 44 yards for a touchdown. Cervantes extended the Coyotes' lead with a 3-yard touchdown run before Vets quarterback Elijah Durrette connected with Ryan Wilson for a 9-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-10. Durrette converted on a fake punt late in the second quarter to set up the Wilson touchdown. The Eagles' best play came in the second half with a 14-point third quarter. Durrette found Cameron De La Pena on a 17-yard touchdown pass to give the Eagles the lead for good and Rye added some insurance with a 37-yard field goal. Alice responded with a 72-yard touchdown pass from Josh Camarillo to Landon Rodriguez, but the two-point conversion was no good and the Eagles held onto their lead to secure the win. The Coyotes turned in a strong defensive effort after forcing three fumbles and recovering all of them. 

Veterans Memorial running back Tracy Jones is tackled by multiple Alice players in a high school football game in Alice, Texas on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021.

Friday's Stars: Durrette passed for 186 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 47 yards in his first game as the Eagles' starter. Tracy Jones paced Vets on the ground with eight carries for 49 yards. De La Pena finished with 52 receiving yards, a touchdown and two interceptions on defense. Camarillo finished with 147 yards through the air for Alice –– including a 72-yard touchdown pass to Rodriguez, who had 72 receiving yards. Alejandro Vasquez added 42 receiving yards and Cervantes had three carries for 30 yards, two touchdowns and a fumble recovery. 

Vets coach Ben Bitner on the Eagles opening the season with a win: "I think our effort was really really good. I think our guys played hard all night. We made a bunch of mistakes but that's on us as a coaching staff. Alice did a good job mixing stuff up and making things hard on us. Our kids played really hard and that's the reason why we won."

Vets quarterback Elijah Durrette on his first start: "At the beginning, we started rough and there was a lot of nerves. It was my first time in this environment and it's not easy to come here and win. We got it together at the end of the half with the fake punt and started the third quarter with a touchdown pass to Cameron. It was good. There were first-game jitters but it's over with now. Now it's time to get in the film room and get ready for next week."

Veterans Memorial quarterback Elijah Durrette looks for running room against Alice in a high school football game in Alice, Texas on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021.

Alice coach Kyle Atwood on the Coyotes' effort throughout the game: "Our kids fought hard and we knew we cold get that out of them... We know we have a team that's going to give 100 percent effort every single snap and that's what we did tonight. There were a lot of busted plays offensively, missed assignment up front and offensive penalties that stopped drives. We knew Vets is good in the special teams area and I feel like we're not going to face someone as efficient as Vets on special teams. Overall, I felt like we were a good enough team to pull that one out."

Alice defensive back Noah Cervantes on Alice's defensive effort: "I think we did pretty good defensively. We executed and kept up as much as we could. They came up with the win but we did good. A game like this puts us way ahead."

Next: Victoria East at Alice, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 3; Veterans Memorial vs. Miller, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 2.