By Bonta Hill
After Washington crushed Galileo last week, many coming to Eagle Stadium were expecting a similar result on Thursday, but instead saw an inspired Lions team nearly pull off the upset without star running back Quincy Nelson.
But Jeremy Jetton’s interception with 1:34 remaining in the game sealed Washington’s third Turkey Day appearance in four years as the second-seeded Eagles held off a gritty Galileo bunch 19-13 in the Academic Athletic Association semifinals.
Washington will meet Balboa, a 28-8 winner against Mission, on Thanksgiving for the City championship.
“It’s almost a little surreal right now and it’s a wonderful thing to keep going,” said Washington head coach Karl Finley. “It’s a testament to the kids’ hard work, as well as the assistant coaches.”
Washington (9-2) overcame six turnovers, including four fumbles, to beat Galileo (6-6) for the second week in a row.
“[If] you take the turnovers away, we played a solid game,” Finley said. “Our kids were trying so hard to get the extra yard that we fumbled.”
The turnovers kept the Lions in the game throughout.
With 10:54 left in the second quarter and Washington up 6-0, Lions defensive back Wesley Choy stepped in front of Eagles quarterback Aram Gevandian’s pass and took it down to the Eagles’ 20-yard line.
Five plays later, Lions quarterback Jonathan Lu punched it in from 1 yard out to give the Lions a 7-6 lead.
The defending AAA champions kept things interesting and came out of halftime to put together a seven-play, 73-yard drive to tie the game at 13-13 with 8:57 left in the third quarter.
“We wanted our boys to be competitive, so I’m proud of the way they fought,” said Galileo head coach Mark Huynh. “Our mind-set coming into today was a lot different than last week.”
Washington though, sensing an urgency to put the Lions away, scored the go-ahead touchdown on the ensuing drive on Lajarie Mabrey’s third touchdown of the game with 3:13 left in the third quarter.
After Washington’s Chris Jackson fumbled at the Lions’ 9-yard line, Galileo had 3:57 remaining to mount a game-winning drive.
From the Eagles’ 36-yard line, Lu’s pass intended for wide receiver Waynelle Buckner was picked by Jetton, and Washington would run out the final 1:34, setting up another trip to the Thanksgiving Day game.
Jetton led the Eagles’ rushing attack with 107 yards on 16 carries, and Gevendian was 7-of-8 through the air for 101 yards with one interception.
After watching his team rebound from last week’s drubbing, Huynh was proud of his team’s effort.
“Washington is a heck of a team and for us to hold them to 19 points is a testament to our team’s fight,” Huynh said. “The season was a roller coaster with the injuries that we had, but we made the playoffs two years in a row. We’re excited about our program and what’s coming up in the next year.”
For Washington, they’ll be trying to help Finley capture his first championship, a feat that has eluded the Eagles since 2004.
“We’ve been knocking on that door since I’ve been here,” said a giddy Finley. “Hopefully we’ll knock that door down.”
W:7:21 — Lajarie Mabrey 2-yard run (Adam Badi kick missed)
G: 9:07 — Jonathan Lu 1-yard run (Haroon Mohammed kick good)
W: 0:55 — Mabrey 3-yard run (Badi kick good)
G: 8:57 — Lu 1-yard run (Mohammed kick blocked)
W: 3:17 — Mabrey 1-yard run (Badi kick missed)