The playoff picture is beginning to heat up across the state and El Paso is no exception. One of those games takes place Thursday night the Burges Mustangs (5-1) host the much-improved Austin Panthers (3-3) in a key District 1-5A showdown.
The Mustangs are off to a 3-0 start in district play thanks to senior quarterback Matteo Serrano and a number of versatile playmakers to go with a strong defense. In his second season under the helm at Burges, head coach James Routledge has liked what he’s seen from his team so far in overcoming challenges.
“They’ve been very resilient because the wins haven’t been easy,” Routledge said, “They’ve stayed true to what we’ve coached them to do and have played well.”
Burges did struggle at times offensively last week at home against Jefferson. The Mustangs eventually pulled away for a 14-0 win and Routledge and his team know that they have to play better if they want to keep playing into the postseason.
“We just couldn’t put the ball in the end zone against Jefferson last week,” Routledge said, “But our defense has played great and that’s what we hang our hat on.”
On the other sideline, the Austin Panthers (3-3, 1-2 in District 1-5A) have a renewed sense of energy in the program. Under first-year head coach Eric Pichardo, the Panthers have broken a 25-game losing streak entering this season and managed to give Chapin a run in their first district game of the year.
“We’ve made a lot of progress physically but mentally, we’re still getting there,” Pichardo said, “We’ve had chances to close out a couple of games but we haven’t done it yet. We’re not quite there yet.”
The Panthers are looking to bounce back after a disappointing loss to El Paso High last Friday night. Pichardo says it was a big stage that could prove to be a learning experience down the line for his team. But, with the game against Burges on a Thursday night, he sees the shorter week as a benefit for his team.
“Having a Thursday game is a blessing,” Pichardo said, “Time heals and we’re hoping to get a victory.”
“If we can slow them down on the outside and make them run, we have a chance,” said Austin defensive lineman Luis Rangel.
For Burges, a win would mark them at 4-0 with games against other district-title contenders in Andress and Chapin. As for Austin, a win could significantly boost their chances for a playoff spot.
“The coaches at Austin have the kids believing that they can win every game,” Routledge said, “We know that they have some talent and we have our work cut out for us especially in a short week but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
“We have to play good defense and control the ball,” Pichardo said, “We want to pull it out in the end.”
The two face off at 6:30 p.m. MST on Thursday at Burges’s Mustang Stadium.
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