AUSTIN – Ask any player on coach Mark Soto’s San Marcos Rattlers squad and they’ll tell you as they told me on Friday night.
“We know we may not be the fastest or tallest or most talented, but we believe in each other,” senior quarterback Prudy Calderon said.
It’s been a sentiment that’s been echoed over and over again this season, but the belief has never ended.
While they may not believe those certain words belong on the back of their jerseys the way words like gratitude and tenacity do, there is one word that now describes the Rattlers perfectly.
For the first time since 2003, the San Marcos Rattlers came home with a district championship, but the battle getting there made the 31-26 win on Thursday that much sweeter for Soto and Co.
While the Rattlers have had several key games this season, including their lone loss to New Braunfels and a test against Manor, Bowie likely presented the biggest test of the Rattlers’ mettle.
Bowie’s Kyle Carter broke loose on the first play of the game for a 63-yard putting the Bulldogs in the red zone, where Elijah Higgins would finish the drive with a touchdown two plays later.
San Marcos and Bowie then traded field goals before Kyle scored again on a five-yard run.
The Rattlers finally found pay dirt late in the first half on a Jamon Johnson 28-yard run, but they entered the half down 16-10.
The Bulldogs then made the mistake of kicking to Johnson to start the second half, and he immediately made them pay with a 101-yard kickoff return.
“It was really exciting because I know it changed the momentum of the game,” Johnson said.
As if the momentum had not already begun to swing, San Marcos then recovered a fumble in the red zone. As soon as San Marcos took over, Calderon tucked it on an 18-yard keeper for the touchdown.
On Bowie’s next drive, the Rattlers defense forced a three and out, and on the punt attempt, the ball sailed on the snap and the punter was ruled down on the five-yard line. Calderon once again found the end zone on a keeper, and the Rattlers had scored three touchdowns in under three minutes.
The Bulldogs weren’t quite ready to hand over their title as reigning district champions just yet, and a Aizayah Santiago touchdown catch and Nick Medina field goal narrowed the gap to five points.
But the Rattlers defense, as they have done throughout the season, made the stops when they needed them, forcing and recovering a fumble on a fourth and short attempt that would give the offense the ball to end the game.
“It’s just affirming to our coaching staff,” Soto said shortly after receiving a celebratory gatorade bath. “I can’t do this alone. It’s been important for us to build this foundation and continue to keep on working and believing in what we were doing.”
Soto and his coaching staff have transformed a team that started six years ago with far more losses than wins into a team that has reached the playoffs for the third consecutive year even through realignment from 5A to 6A.
The coaching staff and the players now have another feather in their caps as district champions, but the Rattlers have never been a team to settle, and Soto has instilled in his team the desire to continue to set the bar higher.
They’ll look to leap past that bar in their Bi-District playoff matchup against Round Rock Westwood on Friday in San Marcos.