By Jeremy Balan
Both Mission and Lowell have locked down Academic Athletic Association playoff berths, but no other game this week can shake up the postseason picture more.
The winner of the Friday afternoon matchup at Lowell High School will clinch second place outright in the AAA and host a first-round playoff game.
Beyond that, things get considerably complicated.
If Balboa (currently tied for fourth place with Lincoln) upsets undefeated Washington, Lincoln beats Burton and Lowell loses, there would be a three-way tie for third place and only two playoff spots. Balboa would claim third place due to win over Lowell, Lowell would drop to fourth and Lincoln would fall out of the postseason. With a loss, Mission can only drop to third, setting up a rematch with Lowell in the first round.
“It’s an important game, but it doesn’t matter who we [get] in the playoffs,” said Lowell head coach Danny Chan. “In the playoffs, you roll the dice. It’s all or nothing in that game. We might be playing Mission for eight quarters.”
Stopping the Lowell double-wing option offense will be a top priority for Mission’s standout defense, which features the biggest defensive line in the AAA.
“They’re very big [up front] and we’re going to have a tough time,” Chan said. “They also have a lot of athletes everywhere. We’ll figure something out, maybe with some smoke and mirrors.”
Regardless of the postseason circumstances that arise from this week’s games, Mission head coach Joe Albano said he wants to leave an impression against Lowell this week, especially if the Bears have to take them on again in the playoffs.
“We know that we might be playing these guys twice, so we want to prove we can beat them,” Albano said. “The kids are taking everything a little more seriously. This is what we’ve been working for. Hopefully we can finish strong.”
Other than its only AAA loss to Washington, Mission has been dominant in league play, led by the play of senior Algeron Malbrough. Malbrough has been a key cog in the Mission defense at linebacker and has developed into the Bears’ most reliable running back.
In his second year at the head of the varsity program, Albano is also making adjustments to how he’s handling the team down the stretch.
“We haven’t really changed too many things around. Last year, I was always adding things, but this year has been the complete opposite,” Albano said. “We’re just fine-tuning.”
The Bears clinched a playoff spot with a 25-point win over Lincoln last week, and heading into the postseason, last season’s first-round loss to Balboa is fresh in their minds.
“Washington, Lincoln and Lowell are all really good football teams,” Albano said. “Everyone learned some lessons last year.”
Balboa @ Washington, 2 p.m.
For Balboa (4-5, 3-3) to gain entrance to the AAA playoffs, they will need to knock off undefeated Washington (7-2, 6-0), then receive help with Lincoln and Lowell losses.
Lincoln @ Burton, 2 p.m.
Lincoln (3-6, 3-3) only needs to knock off Burton (1-6, 1-5) to secure a playoff spot and will look to ride the running back tandem of Demetrius Williams and Jay’von Fields.
Marshall @ Galileo, 2 p.m.
The Lions (3-6, 1-5) and the Phoenix (2-7, 1-5) won’t be competing for a playoff spot, but will look to end their seasons on a high note.
Sacred Heart Cathedral vs. Mitty (San Jose) @ Kezar Stadium, 7 p.m.
Multiple sources have confirmed Sacred Heart (5-4, 2-4) is already in the Central Coast Section playoffs, but a win over the Monarchs (5-3-1, 3-2-1) could give the Irish a first-round home game.
St. Ignatius vs. Bellarmine (San Jose) @ San Jose City College, 1 p.m.
The Wildcats (3-5-1, 1-4-1) also sealed a CCS berth by beating Riordan last week, but would put the entire region on notice if they could knock off the first-place Bells (8-1, 6-0).
St. Francis (Mountain View) @ Riordan, 1 p.m.
The Crusaders (1-8, 0-6) will try to finish off their WCAL season with their first league win, but could be without starting quarterback Zach Masoli, who was injured in Riordan’s loss to St. Ignatius last week.