WESLACO — Weslaco East enjoyed a nice welcome back to the football field Thursday night as the Wildcats played their first official game of the season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, celebrated Homecoming  and emerged with a 44-34 victory over Brownsville Pace at Bobby Lackey Stadium in The Monitor’s Game of the Week.

While Weslaco East head coach Mike Burget and the Wildcats were happy to start the season 1-0, there was admittedly some rust as a few penalties allowed the Vikings to keep things close on the scoreboard.

“First game of the season, so there was a lot of sloppiness, but we’ll get that cleaned up. The rest of the stuff, that was East football,” Burget said. “We ran the ball, played good defense. I’m very proud of the team; they came out and beat a good team. We’re one 1-0 in District and going to get ready for (Brownsville) Porter next week.”

It was a battle of the two favorites in District 16-5A Division I’s East Zone as the Wildcats and Vikings went toe-to-toe.

Weslaco East’s new weapon, Avery Bowen, was used as a running back and quarterback in his debut. The senior started the scoring for East with a 2-yard rushing touchdown, and late during the second quarter, threw a 9-yard touchdown on a screen pass to fellow senior Edward Villalobos.

The defense also got off to a hot start when Wildcat defender Jonathan Granados poked the ball free from a Vikings runner and teammate Gianni Barrera jumped on the loose ball on Pace’s second offensive play from scrimmage. That led to a touchdown run by sophomore receiver Jay Vasquez, who took the ball from Bowen on a reverse.

Weslaco East’s Anthony jay Vasquez (4) carries the ball against Brownsville Pace in a 16-5A DI game at Bobby Lackey Stadium on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Weslaco. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

After jumping out to a 20-7 halftime lead, the Wildcats’ defense kept the pressure on as linebacker Giovanni Barrera returned an interception for a touchdown, and his twin brother Gianni Barrera returned a blocked Pace extra point attempt to give Weslaco East another two points.

“Those twins have been with us now for four years. (Giovanni) was the MVP of our 6A district last year, (Gianni) was first team all-district, you’re talking about special kids. They just love playing the game,” Burget said.

Weslaco East’s Javi Garza and Gio Guerra also carried the Wildcats’ offense down the stretch with key second-half touchdowns to keep the game out of reach.

Still, Brownsville Pace responded with a solid second half effort as the Vikings outscored the Wildcats 27-24 over the final two quarters.

Pace senior quarterback and three-year starter Jose Banda kept the chains moving for the Vikings as he navigated their offense downfield.

Brownsville Pace quarterback Jose Banda (9) passes the ball in a 16-5A DI game against Weslaco East at Bobby Lackey Stadium on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Weslaco. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Banda finished with one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown, while Eric Garcia and Brandon Narvaez both contributed rushing touchdowns. Sophomore running back Ivan Gonzales also gave the Vikings a boost as he returned a fourth-quarter kickoff for a 75-yard touchdown.

Next up for Pace (1-1, 1-1) is a bye week before the Vikings face Brownsville Porter (3-0, 2-0) on Nov. 30.

Meanwhile, the Weslaco East Wildcats (1-0, 1-0) will prepare for those same Porter Cowboys as they face off at 7 p.m. Thursday at Sams Memorial Stadium in Brownsville.

bramos@themonitor.com