By Jeremy Balan
With a playoff spot on the line, the Galileo Academy defense only played one good half against Balboa on Friday, and that was enough.
The Lions limited Balboa to just 66 yards of total offense, scored a defensive touchdown and recorded a safety in the first half to give Galileo enough cushion to absorb a second-half Balboa comeback and win 38-28.
In the final 2 minutes of the first half, Galileo senior linebacker Rafael Vergara returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown, junior defensive end Kris Balarezo forced an intentional-grounding penalty in the Balboa end zone for a safety and junior running back Ronzel Fox took the first play from scrimmage following the safety 52 yards for a score. The surge pushed the Galileo lead from 15-6 to 31-6 at the halftime break.
“In those last 2 minutes of the second quarter, the ball didn’t bounce our way and we didn’t execute,” said Balboa head coach Alvaro Carvajal.
The win gives Galileo (4-5-1, 3-3) a spot in the playoffs and knocks the Bucs (2-7, 2-4) out of the postseason for the second consecutive year.
The game was scoreless until the final seconds of the first quarter, then turned into a slugfest between two of the best running backs in the City.
Fox ran for a career-high 195 yards on 15 carries, including touchdown runs of 52 and 65 yards, and Balboa senior running back Antoine Crecy ran for a career-high 175 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries.
Almost all of Crecy’s yards and most of his touches came in the second half, as the standout senior was held to just 28 yards on 11 carries before the break.
“We tried to get him the ball, but they really wanted to shut down our outside run, which is one of our strengths,” Carvajal said. “When we started pounding it up front, down the middle, that’s when things started happening.”
Crecy was the driving force for Balboa’s second-half surge, but the Bucs got an injection of momentum on the opening kickoff after the break.
Galileo, which has attempted onside kicks on the majority of kickoffs this season, tried another to open the second half. The ball bounced directly to Balboa junior lineman Marlon Canaya, who broke one tackle and outran the rest of the Galileo special-teams unit down the left sideline for a touchdown.
The special-teams score was the beginning of a 21-7 third quarter in Balboa’s favor, but the Galileo defense stiffened again in the fourth.
After Crecy’s third rushing touchdown cut the Galileo lead to 38-28 with 4:18 remaining in the third quarter, the Lions forced the Bucs to punt on their next drive, then ended any hope of a comeback on Balboa’s final drive in the fourth.
The Bucs faced a fourth-and-11 situation from the Galileo 39-yard line with just over 2 minutes left and quarterback Eli Smoot found receiver Jaedon Brassil open, but Fox made a textbook open-field tackle well short of the first down to seal victory.
“It was good defense for one half,” said Galileo head coach Mark Huynh. “It was a little disappointing that we had the game in hand and didn’t step up in the third quarter, but in the fourth we did.”
Also a leader on defense at linebacker, Fox delivered several punishing hits on Balboa ball-carriers, but no tackle was more important than his last.
“It was all about defense and we need to step that up if we want to go to the big game,” Fox said. “We’re going up against Mission [in the playoffs], which is a much better team and we gotta play better.”
G: 0:00 – Kyle Nelson 13-yard run (Yanek Hakobyan kick)
G: 6:53 – Isaac Armstrong 28-yard pass from Nelson (Armstrong pass from Nelson on conversion)
B: 3:22 – Antoine Crecy 7-yard run (kick blocked)
G: 1:52 – Rafael Vergara 44-yard interception return (Hakobyan kick)
G: 1:02 – Safety
G: 0:47 – Ronzel Fox 52-yard run (Hakobyan kick)
B: 11:58 – Marlon Canaya 45-yard kickoff return (conversion failed)
G: 11:31 – Fox 65-yard run (Hakobyan kick)
B: 8:47 – Crecy 1-yard run (Crecy run on conversion)
B: 4:18 – Crecy 31-yard run (Jeremiah Iuli run on conversion)