Mission, Washington look to take control of AAA

Three teams sit atop the Academic Athletic Association’s football standings at 2-0, but one team stands out.

Maybe one of the most unlikely stories of the still-early league season is Mission High School’s (2-3, 2-0) place at the top of the league, tied with powers Washington and Galileo, which split the regular-season title last year.

What makes it more impressive is the state of the program prior to this season. Mission canceled its 2009 season after three games due to poor player turnout and injuries.

“I’m happy for our kids,” said first-year Mission head coach Joe Albano. “After coming off our preseason, which wasn’t too spectacular, we’ve really built confidence within the team. The wins help too.”

The Bears’ first win came against Lowell, a playoff team last season, in Week 4 and the Bears followed that up with a win over Burton last week.

“When we got our first win against Lowell on a Thursday, there was such a good buzz at school on Friday,” Albano said. “It’s getting the kids excited about football, not only the players, but the student body and the faculty.

“I’ve been here 10 years and I haven’t seen it like that.”

While the Bears’ early wins have been impressive, they have been against some of the weaker competition in the AAA and will face their toughest test on Thursday against Washington at Kezar Stadium.

“It’s a big test for us,” Albano said. “I’m excited to see how the kids react.”

The Eagles (4-1, 2-0) were one of the few city teams that had a positive nonleague season and parlayed that momentum into league wins over Lincoln and Lowell to open the season.

“We’ve been playing good football, not great football,” said Washington head coach Karl Finley. “We need to minimize the mistakes we’re making, but we’re still moving people around to different positions. We just have to get better every week.”

Washington’s strength is undoubtedly it’s running game, with a stable of three running backs in Jeremy Jetton, Galen Hall and Lajarie Mabrey. Finley also spotlights the presence of another standout running back in Calvin Lee, who missed the first two league games due to injury, but will return to play against Mission.

The crowded backfield will share carries, but each has big-play potential.

“They all really play well together,” Finley said. “Of course they all want the ball, and you see a little frustration there when someone else gets the ball.”

Jetton, like many others on the Washington roster that play both offense and defense, has a significant effect on nearly every aspect of the game. Along with handling running back duties, Jetton serves as the Eagles’ backup quarterback, starts at defensive back, will occasionally line up at wide receiver and has been a consistent threat returning punts and kicks all year.

“He can pretty much play anything,” Finley said. “You only get those guys every so often and we want to get the ball in his hands.”

The Bears’ defense, led by standout linebacker Amine Houri, hasn’t allowed a point in league play yet and will be tasked with stopping the dynamic Washington attack.

The possibility of another shutout will be significantly less against Washington.

“We still have a lot to prove,” Albano said.

Preps sports coverage provided in partnership by The San Francisco Examiner and www.SanFranPreps.com

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