By Jeremy Balan
Even after a 2-0 start in league play, Mission High School head coach Joe Albano said the Bears had “a lot to prove” prior to their game against league power Washington.
With a 16-13 win over the Washington on Thursday at Kezar Stadium, it was the Mission defense that proved it is the premier stop unit in the Academic Athletic Association.
Mission (3-3, 3-0) began the game by holding the Eagles (4-2, 2-1) to 44 yards on just 12 offensive plays in the first half. Then, after allowing two third-quarter touchdowns that allowed the Eagles to cut the Mission lead to 16-13, the Bears held Washington on three consecutive drives into Mission territory in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
Prior to Thursday, the Eagles had averaged just over 29 points per game.
“Most of my kids play every play, offense and defense, so for my kids to hunker down on those [drives] is just great,” Albano said. “[Washington] is a damn-good football team. We stuck with one of, if not the best team in The City.”
Mission needed every ounce of that defensive effort, as the Bears’ offense stalled in the second half, gaining only nine yards.
The key difference was the loss of standout running back Devonte Gaines early in the second half to an apparent leg injury. Gaines led the Mission attack in the first half with 65 yards on 14 carries and put the Bears up 8-0 on a bruising 14-yard run with just six seconds remaining in the half.
“It was tough,” Albano said. “He’s my go-to guy and we like to run the ball aggressively, so without him in there, we’re a different looking football team.”
After dominating possession in the first half, Mission extended its lead to 16-0 on an 86-yard return for a touchdown on the opening kickoff in the second half by Laron Davis.
Washington responded just over three minutes later on a 3-yard touchdown run from Lajarie Mabrey and added its second score on an 11-yard pass from Aram Gevandian to Peter Tran with seconds remaining in the third quarter.
But the game ultimately came down to missed opportunities for Washington. The biggest was a missed 27-yard field goal by kicker Adam Badi with 5:44 remaining in the game. Washington began that drive on the Mission 14-yard line after a botched punt attempt by the Bears. Washington also had three key turnovers.
“We can’t make those mistakes,” said Washington head coach Karl Finley. “Technically we were a very unsound football team. We need to go back and work on the basics, back to scratch.”
Washington came in boasting the league’s best overall record and figured to be one of the favorites to win the league championship, but Finley felt that fact may have gone to the players’ and coaches’ heads.
“I think, from me all the way down, we came in a little too confident. We weren’t mentally focused and that starts with me,” Finley said. “It looked like we hadn’t played football before, but that’s a testament to what they did [on defense]. What it comes down to is that we need to do a better job of coaching.”
M: 0:06 — Devonte Gaines 14-yard run (Algeron Malbrough pass from Davon Hargraves on conversion)
M: 11:46 — Laron Davis 86-yard kickoff return (Jaleel Stancil run on conversion)
W: 8:28 — Lajarie MAbrey 3-yard run (Conversion failed)
W: 0:32 — Peter Tran 11-yard pass from Aram Gevandian (Adam Badi kick)