The annual Turkey Day championship undoubtedly features the two best teams in the Academic Athletic Association and it also presents a clash of history.
The game between Washington High School and Mission today at Kezar Stadium will feature the team with the longest championship drought and last year’s champion.
Washington rolled to the championship last year with a 36-6 win over Balboa, while Mission hasn’t won a Turkey Day title since 1954 and hasn’t advanced to the holiday championship since 1977.
“Obviously it’s a big game, but the biggest thing is we’re going to get to play those guys again,” Mission coach Joe Albano said, referencing the Bears’ only regular-season loss to Washington. “We can’t let the setting overwhelm us.”
The Bears’ reaction to the stage of the Thanksgiving tradition could be a deciding factor, considering Washington’s experience playing in the championship game three of the last four years.
“The excitement level is going to be a lot grander,” Washington coach Karl Finley said. “We’ve been there. We know you have to prepare and play. It doesn’t matter how you get there and they only remember the team that wins. There’s going to be a lot of emotion and a lot on the [Mission] side. We’re going to have to play very well to compete.”
Both teams didn’t show the dominant form they displayed in the AAA regular season in the semifinals last week, with Washington trailing Lincoln at the half before rallying for a 21-10 win and Mission holding off a game Lowell squad in a 42-24 win at rainy Kezar Stadium. Still, both coaches were encouraged that their teams were able to meet challenges in the semifinals.
“The best thing about that Lowell game is that instead of cracking, they got stronger and came together as a team.” Albano said. “That’s the kind of game we need to play. If we’re down 14-0, the game is not over.”
As much as the stage and a possible rain storm may factor into the result, the game will likely be determined by the AAA’s best offense in Washington (9-2) and the league’s best defense, in Mission (8-3).
The Eagles have scored a AAA-high 350 points on the year, while Mission has limited opponents to just 100 points in 11 games.
Up until Washington scored four touchdowns in a 28-7 win over the Bears on Oct. 28, Mission had not allowed an offensive touchdown in AAA play.
“We kept them on their toes last time,” Finley said. “We went outside a little bit, away from those big guys, but we don’t mind playing against big guys.”
The Washington running-back tandem of seniors Lajarie Mabrey and Jamie McHenry ran for 305 yards against the Bears in the regular-season meeting and will be the main focus for Albano and Mission. The Eagles defense also locked down the multiple big-play threats Mission boasts, including quarterback Davon Hargraves and running back Antoine Porter.
“Defensively, we shut down Mission pretty good last time, but that doesn’t mean anything now,” Finley said. “We want the same game, but we know we’re not going to get it.”
Hargraves sat out the first quarter in the regular-season meeting for violating team rules, and the Mission offense never got going. Against Lowell in the semifinal, however, Hargraves may have had his best game of the season, rushing for 173 yards and three touchdowns, while throwing for 90 yards and another score.
“He just helps us open everything up,” Albano said.
With wet conditions, no result is out of the question, but Mission is embracing the role as the underdog.
“I always love the underdog and Washington is undefeated,” Albano said. “I’m also a New York Giants fan and 2008 is fresh in my mind.”
Washington (9-2) vs. Mission (8-3)
WHEN: Today, 11 a.m.
WHERE: Kezar Stadium
PREVIOUS MEETING: Washington beat Mission 28-7 during the regular season
LAST YEAR: Washington is the defending Turkey Bowl champion