By Jeremy Balan
Three teams sit atop the Academic Athletic Association’s football standings at 2-0, but one team stands out.
Maybe one of the most unlikely stories of the still-early league season is Mission High School’s (2-3, 2-0) place at the top of the league, tied with powers Washington and Galileo, which split the regular-season title last year.
What makes it more impressive is the state of the program prior to this season. Mission canceled its 2009 season after three games due to poor player turnout and injuries.
“I’m happy for our kids,” said first-year Mission head coach Joe Albano. “After coming off our preseason, which wasn’t too spectacular, we’ve really built confidence within the team. The wins help too.”
The Bears’ first win came over Lowell, a playoff team last season, in Week 4 and the Bears’ followed that up with a win over Burton last week.
“When we got our first win against Lowell on a Thursday, there was such a good buzz at school on Friday.,” Albano said. “It’s getting the kids excited about football, not only the players, but the student body and the faculty. I’ve been here 10 years and I haven’t seen it like that.”
While the Bears’ early wins have been impressive, they have been against some of the weaker competition in the AAA and will face their toughest test on Thursday against Washington at Kezar Stadium.
“It’s a big test for us,” Albano said. “I’m excited to see how the kids react.”
The Eagles (4-1, 2-0) were one of the few City teams that had a positive non-league season and parlayed that momentum into AAA wins over Lincoln and Lowell to open the league season.
“We’ve been playing good football, not great football,” said Washington head coach Karl Finley. “We need to minimize the mistakes we’re making, but we’re still moving people around to different positions. We just have to get better every week.”
Washington’s strength is undoubtedly its running game, with a stable of three running backs in Jeremy Jetton, Galen Hall and Lajarie Mabrey. Finley also spotlights the presence of another standout running back in Calvin Lee, who missed the first two league games due to injury, but will return to play against Mission.
The crowded backfield will share carries, but each has big-play potential.
“They all really play well together,” Finley said. “Of course they all want the ball, and you see a little frustration there when someone else gets the ball.”
Jetton, like many others on the Washington roster that play both offense and defense, has a significant effect on nearly every aspect of the game. Along with handling running back duties, Jetton serves as the Eagles’ backup quarterback, starts at defensive back, will occasionally line up at wide receiver and has been a consistent threat returning punts and kicks all year.
“He can pretty much play anything,” Finley said. “You only get those guys every so often and we want to get the ball in his hands.”
The Bears’ defense, led by standout linebacker Amine Houri, hasn’t allowed a point in league play yet and will be tasked with stop the dynamic Washington attack.
The possibility of another shutout will be significantly less against Washington.
“We still have a lot to prove,” Albano said.
Lowell @ Galileo, 3 p.m.
Galileo standout senior running back Quincy Nelson will look for another impressive performance against the Cardinals (0-4, 0-2). Nelson ran for a staggering 349 yards and six touchdowns in the Lions’ (3-3, 2-0) win over Balboa last week. The Cardinals have struggled on offense, but may get back on track against Galileo’s stop unit, which has been a weak link.
Sacred Heart Cathedral vs. Bellarmine (San Jose) @ San Jose City College, 7 p.m.
After two losses to start the league season, the Fightin’ Irish (3-2, 0-2) will likely need an upset against a South Bay WCAL team to earn a CCS playoff spot. Bellarmine (5-0, 2-0) will be a tough test, however, as the Bells are considered to be one of the premier teams in the state.
Valley Christian (San Jose) @ Riordan, 1 p.m.
After an upset of St. Ignatius last week, it would be hard to imagine Riordan (1-4, 1-1) springing another upset over a WCAL opponent this season, let alone league power Valley Christian (5-0, 2-0).
Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) @ St. Ignatius, 1 p.m.
The Wildcats (1-3-1) will look for an upset of their own after from a disheartening loss to Riordan last week. The St. Ignatius defense will have to stop a Mitty (2-3, 1-1) attack led by Cal-bound quarterback Kyle Boehm.
Stuart Hall @ Trinity Christian (Monterey), 1 p.m.
Stuart Hall (1-3, 0-2) already beat the Warriors (1-3, 0-2) in non-league play earlier in the season, but will have to do it on the road this time, making the 225 mile round trip journey to Monterey.
Lincoln @ Balboa 2:30 p.m.
After Lincoln’s unexpected loss to Marshall last week, the Mustangs (0-6, 0-2) need a win over Balboa (1-5, 1-1) to keep any playoff hopes alive. The game is important to the Bucs for similar reasons, as a win would significantly bolster their playoff possibilities.
Marshall @ Burton, 2:30 p.m.
Marshall (1-4, 1-1) got its first win since 2004 last week over Lincoln, and should threaten to get another against a struggling Burton (1-4, 0-2).