Unlike most section playoffs, the CIF-San Francisco Section-Academic Athletic Association playoffs are unique in one major way — every game is a rematch.
It’s that familiarity that is at the forefront of top-seeded Mission High School’s consciousness, when they face fourth-seeded Balboa in the semifinals today.
“It’s tough to beat a team twice, so I’m a little nervous,” Mission head coach Joe Albano said.
In their first meeting two weeks ago, Mission outlasted Balboa 50-38. Still, Albano is not comfortable with a high-scoring affair and would prefer to limit Balboa possessions with a solid running game.
“We hope we can run between the tackles. That’s what we’ve been successful at,” Albano said. “I’d prefer not to get into a shootout with them.”
Holding off the Balboa offense won’t be easy though, as the Bucs have averaged over 44 points per game, a league high, in their unique spread offense.
The key to Balboa’s attack is their balance, which features dynamic senior quarterback Kerati Apilakvanichakit, who is a threat through the air and on the ground, and speedy running back Greg Warren who has rushed for 1,006 yards and 16 touchdowns on 110 carries this season.
“With [Apilakvanichakit], who keeps running around to extend the play, our defensive backs have to be in good shape and play to the whistle,” Albano said. “But they also have great running backs, who can really run the ball, so we can’t just drop back and expect the pass.”
Even though Balboa’s offense has been explosive all season, it has also showed signs of dysfunction. The mistakes are have been abundant at times and can be best illustrated by the play of Apilakvanichakit.
Along with 1,496 yards and 18 touchdowns through the air, Apilakvanichakit has thrown 14 interceptions and has turned the ball over five times on fumbles.
“We’re a playoff-capable team, but we kill ourselves out there,” said Balboa head coach Alvaro Carvajal after the team’s first loss to Mission. “Those small mistakes can destroy a team.”
Interestingly enough, the Mission-Balboa matchup, featuring the first and fourth seeds, will likely be the most closely contested semifinal, as Washington cruised to a dominant 55-13 win over Galileo last week to clinch the second seed.
Galileo has been without standout running back Quincy Nelson for three weeks, but coach Mark Huynh didn’t blame the lopsided loss on Nelson’s absence.
“It didn’t matter if we’d had Quincy, because we still gave up 41 points [in a half],” Huynh said after last week’s game. “Quincy’s not going to score 41 points, and [the team] needs to understand that. Right now, they’re still thinking that they’re missing people, but they need to do their jobs.”