By Jeremy Balan
The Academic Athletic Association has a tradition of upsets in the semifinal round of the football playoffs, but the trend appears to be waning for now.
The top two seeds met in the Turkey Day championship last season, and after running through their AAA regular season schedules with ease, Lincoln and Mission will be considerable favorites in their semifinal matchups on Thursday.
Lincoln has outscored AAA opponents 213-62 this season en route to an undefeated league record and will take on fourth-seeded Lowell, which it dominated 54-14 in the last week of the regular season.
“It was pretty gnarly,” Lowell head coach Danny Chan said of last week’s loss. “We’ve told them that they don’t want to end on that note. Our mistakes were self-imposed. We probably would have still lost by two touchdowns, but our mistakes compounded that. A lot of bad things happened to us and you can’t make those mistakes against Lincoln.”
Lowell took a 6-0 lead in the first quarter, but the Mustangs rattled off 54 unanswered points behind 367 rushing yards, including 138 and four touchdowns from standout senior running back Demetrius Williams.
Despite the convincing win, Lincoln head coach Phil Ferrigno still isn’t entirely comfortable playing any league opponent twice.
“Playing twice is how you get to Turkey Day. It’s now or later. You always have play two teams twice [to win the championship],” Ferrigno said. “It’s just another game. We’re just trying to get better every week.”
While Lowell, specifically its defense, appears to me outmatched by Lincoln, third-seeded Galileo appears to have a better shot to upset second-seeded Mission.
The Bears prevailed 39-20 in their regular-season meeting, but only led 25-20 after the third quarter.
“They hung in there,” Mission head coach Joe Albano said of Galileo’s effort in the first meeting. “[Ronzel] Fox has a couple big plays, like he always does, they recovered an onside kick and put a couple things together.”
One of those big plays was a 99-yard touchdown run by Fox, one of the best all-around players in the AAA (he plays running back and middle linebacker), has shown the ability to score in multiple ways at any location on the field.
“He’s going to be our horse and Mission has to stop him to beat us,” said Galileo head coach Mark Huynh. “We’ll put the ball in Ronzel’s hands and see what happens.”
Fox will be the focus for Mission’s defense, but Galileo will again have to deal with dynamic senior quarterback Antoine Porter. The Lions intercepted Porter three times in their first meeting, but he still managed 203 yards passing and 122 yards rushing.
“If we keep him in the pocket, they don’t win,” Fox said after Galileo’s playoff-clinching win over Balboa on Friday. “If we contain the quarterback, they don’t win. He’s their biggest threat. If we shut him down, they don’t win.”