By Jeremy Balan
Mission High School’s defense was far from dominant against Lowell in the Academic Athletic Association semifinals, but when the Bears needed it, they got the stops.
After Lowell scored on the first possession of the second half to cut the Mission lead to 28-24, the Cardinals recovered an onside kick and appeared to seize momentum, but the Mission defense held strong and didn’t allow a point for the rest of the game to lead the Bears to a 42-24 win on Thursday at Kezar Stadium.
Following the onside kick, the Bears (8-3) forced a punt after a Lowell three-and-out, then stopped the Cardinals (5-5) on the Mission 5-yard line midway through the fourth quarter and forced another turnover on downs in Mission territory with 1:34 remaining.
“We bent but didn’t break,” said Mission head coach Joe Albano. “They were coming up with some big runs, came out with some different formations and ran the ball down our throats, but we eventually got stronger and stopped them.”
The Cardinals came out with an entirely different game plan than last week’s 20-0 loss to Mission, primarily running junior quarterback Michael McCarthy on direct-snap, straight-forward runs.
In his first start of the season, McCarthy ran for 199 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries, played the entire game at cornerback on defense, and also recovered the Lowell onside kick, as the kicker.
“He does everything for us, and was our starting quarterback heading into the season, but he does so many other things,” said Lowell head coach Danny Chan. “He’s going to be featured next year, and he’s going to have to put on some pounds and we’ll see what happens back there.”
The change in game plan visibly surprised the Bears, who held the Lowell double-wing rushing attack to less than 100 yards last week.
“It wasn’t there at all last week,” Albano said. “It was brand new, and God bless those guys for coming out with that.”
McCarthy was the game’s most consistent runner, but to put the game away, Mission took a page out of the Lowell playbook.
Every play Mission called in the fourth quarter was a run by senior quarterback Davon Hargraves, who scored on runs of 25 and 76 yards in the final frame.
“We just tried to spread them out and run the ball with him,” Albano said. “He wants the ball in crunch time, so I’ll give him the ball.”
Hargraves finished with 173 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries and also threw for 90 yards and a touchdown on 7-of-10 passing.
“This year, the seniors just had to step it up,” Hargraves said. “A lot of stuff wasn’t going our way, so we had to make the plays.”
Lowell’s season ends with the loss, but following a 1-8 season in 2010, the Cardinals got back on track in 2011.
“It was just fun to see our guys up for this game. It was probably the best game we’ve played this year,” Chan said. “We were right there until the end.”
The Mission win sets up a showdown in the AAA championship game with Washington in a battle of the best two teams in the league for the past two years. Mission will look to claim its first AAA title since 1954.
“It’s just great to see the kids get excited about playing with each other and as a team, and enjoying this moment on the field,” Albano said. “That was a great football game and I’m proud I was part of it. Lowell played their asses off. From the team we played last week to what they looked like this week was totally different.”
M: 4:56 — Algeron Malbrough 7-yard pass from Davon Hargraves (conversion failed)
L: 3:00 — Michael McCarthy 52-yard run (McCarthy run on conversion)
M: 0:14 — Antoine Porter 49-yard run (conversion failed)
M: 7:46 — Porter 52-yard interception return (Porter run on conversion)
L: 1:49 — McCarthy 7-yard run (Luke Gonhes run on conversion)
M: 1:05 — Hargraves 11-yard run (Malbrough pass from Hargraves on conversion)
L: 7:08 — McCarthy 5-yard run (McCarthy run on conversion)
M: 11:53 — Hargraves 25-yard run (Malbrough pass from Hargraves on conversion)
M: 3:46 — Hargraves 76-yard run (conversion failed)