Today’s San Francisco Section football semifinal playoff game pitting top-seeded Lowell against fourth-seeded Mission will certainly feature plenty of offensive star power.
The Cardinals’ three-headed monster at tailback of Duc Anh Le, Marcos Cronander and J.R. Ayalde combined to post more than 1,500 yards rushing and the Bears boast star running back DeAngelo Winston and veteran quarterback Greg Tucker.
But the game’s outcome could be decided by a couple of players who have flown under the collective radar this season.
Lowell senior defensive end-tight end Patrick Schock and Mission senior defensive lineman-offensive lineman Joe Kelly might not garner all the attention that comes along with scoring touchdowns, but the importance of each to their respective teams could not be questioned and their effectiveness today will be paramount in determining who advances to the Turkey Bowl.
For Kelly and his fellow defensive linemates, job No. 1 will be stuffing Lowell’s potent running attack in hopes of forcing the Cardinals (9-1) to abandon their time-consuming, ball-control offense.
“We’ve been practicing real hard all week on stopping their run,” Kelly said. “We first have to make sure we know who is running the ball for them on each play, then we have to keep our assignments, play physical and wrap up and tackle.”
Schock will be on the opposite end of Kelly for most of the day, essentially acting as anextra lineman in the Cardinals’ run-oriented offense, but his biggest impact may be one the defensive side of the ball from his end position.
“Last game, we didn’t really get that much pressure on their quarterback,” Schock said of the Cardinals’ 28-6 win over Mission
(5-5) on Sept. 29. “It’s real important this game that I get into the pocket more and disrupt their timing.”
Schock and Kelly seem to get more satisfaction in seeing their teammates succeed and are content to embrace their roles in their oft-overlooked positions.
“When we’re blocking and a running back gets a first down, then we know we did our job,” Schock said. “We definitely take pride in opening up holes because we know that’s what our offense centers around.”
As for Kelly, playing in the trenches may not get you noticed, but that’s hardly the point.
“We know we’re doing our job when the linebackers are having a field day tackling people,” Kelly said. “It’s a good feeling when we’re standing the lineman up and opening up holes for our linebackers.”
While Kelly and Schock bring an undeniable importance to the field, they play an equally vital role off it, too.
“Pat is kind of the spokesman for the team,” Cardinals coach Danny Chan said. “He knows when to get the guys up and focused, but he also keeps them light and not too tense. He’s our captain and guys respect him — they really listen up when he has something to say.
Chan’s comments about Schock are mirrored by Mission coach Carl Sullivan’s feelings about Kelly.
“Joe does most of his talking with his play,” Sullivan said. “But he’s definitely a leader and does a great job of rallying his teammates around him when they need it.”
Kelly will hope to use those motivational skills to encourage his teammates to avenge Mission’s loss in last year’s playoffs — a drubbing at the hands of Lowell.
“They ran all over us in that game,” Kelly. “That was one of my worst games I’ve ever played. We can’t let that happen again this year.”