By Jeremy Balan
While Mission High School’s “Cinderella” run to the top of the Academic Athletic Association has dominated headlines this year, the slipper could actually fit Burton High School a little better if the Pumas defeat Balboa on Friday.
Burton (4-5, 3-3) and Balboa (3-7, 3-3) are tied for the fourth and final playoff spot in the AAA, so the winner of Friday’s game will face top-seeded Mission next week in the league semifinals.
If Burton wins, the impact on the relatively young football program would be significant, as the Pumas have not qualified for the postseason since the school began playing football in 2002.
Even though the Pumas have already set a school record for wins this season, they will go against a Balboa program that they have never beaten in eight meetings, with the Bucs out-scoring Burton 360-75 in the series.
“A win would be a big step into the direction we want to go,” first-year Burton head coach Anthony Rollins said. “We need to maximize the opportunity. We’ve done this before and we know how it tastes to lose this game. Now we have to change that.”
While Burton is looking for its first postseason bid in school history, second-year Balboa head coach Alvaro Carvajal is looking for his first playoff run after finishing fifth in his first season in 2009.
“Our guys know what is on the line, especially the seniors,” Carvajal said. “We just need to make sure the sense of urgency is there. Everyone knows there are no more excuses.”
The game will feature two of the league’s most potent offenses, but they come in very different packages. Balboa will be running its spread, headed by senior quarterback Kerati Apilakvanichakit, while Burton features an offense that Rollins calls “what Knute Rockne ran at Notre Dame,” led by standout running back Delron Marmen.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less than a good, old-fashioned shootout,” Rollins said. “A lot of the kids are in the same area and know each other. It’s a great rivalry now, not just because of that, but because what’s on the line.”
Each team has shown that it can put up points, but both coaches expressed the importance of their defensive efforts.
“They run the spread, and it’s something we need to recognize and understand,” Rollins said. “We know we won’t be able to stop everything, but we want to limit the big plays. It’s an offense that no one else in the league runs, so we have to be ready to make a play when we need to.”
While Rollins and the Pumas will use a sense of history for motivation, Carvajal and the Bucs have redemption on their mind, looking to avenge losses to playoff teams Galileo, Washington and Mission.
“I would like to play every team again, every team that we lost to,” Carvajal said. “I’m licking my chops to get another crack at them.”
Galileo @ Washington, 2 p.m.
Both teams are knotted at 5-1 in the AAA and tied for second place, but regardless of the result, the teams will face off in the first round of the league’s playoffs as the second and third seeds. The game will decide home-field advantage for the semifinal matchup.
Lincoln @ Lowell, 2 p.m.
It’s hard to imagine that the Cardinals (0-8, 0-6) and the Mustangs (0-10, 0-6) were playoff teams last year, but this season has been forgettable for both. Lincoln hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2004 and Lowell hasn’t missed postseason play in recent memory, but one team will end it’s season on a positive note, while the other will suffer one of the worst seasons in school history.
Marshall vs. Mission @ School of the Arts, 2 p.m.
With Mission (6-3, 6-0) already locked into the first-place spot in the AAA and Marshall (2-7, 2-4) knocked out of playoffs, this game doesn’t mean much in terms of postseason impact. A win for Mission, however, would allow the Bears to clinch their first AAA regular season title since 1977.
Sacred Heart Cathedral vs. Valley Christian (San Jose) @ Kezar Stadium, 7 p.m.
After a loss to St. Ignatius last week, Sacred Heart Cathedral’s (4-5, 1-5) slim playoff hopes will live on if the Irish can upset a powerhouse Valley Christian (8-1, 5-1). The task of an Irish upset looked considerably more difficult a week ago, but the Warriors may have shown signs of weakness, when they were shocked by St. Francis 14-7 last week.
St. Ignatius @ St. Francis (Mountain View), 7:30 p.m.
St. Ignatius (2-6-1, 1-5) will look to build upon an upset win over Sacred Heart Cathedral last week, but St. Francis (5-3-1, 3-3) had an upset of its own last week, beating previously undefeated Valley Christian.
Mitty (San Jose) @ Riordan, 1 p.m.
The Crusaders (1-8, 1-5) will likely be outmatched again against a solid Mitty (5-3-1, 4-1-1) squad that could take over first place in the WCAL if Serra falls to Bellarmine and Valley Christian loses to Sacred Heart Cathedral.