By Robert Juarez
Special to S.F. Examiner
KEZAR STADIUM — Coming off a 32-0 shutout of a stumbling Galileo, Burton had the top two teams in the Academic Athletic Association on the schedule next, before facing winless Washington and a rebuilding Lowell.
The Pumas would need to take at least one game from Mission and defending champion Lincoln to ensure a top-four finish in league play.
They didn’t get it on Friday, in their first game against the Bears since 2017. Burton made a late run against resurgent Mission, but couldn’t finish the job in a 35-26 loss at Kezar Stadium.
“Burton was coming off of a good win, I knew they were going to come in with a lot of momentum and make some noise,” said Mission head coach Tobias Whitley.
Burton’s first possession ended with a punt, which the Bears’ Julian Milton took back up the right sideline for a touchdown to open the scoring. The Pumas’ second possession ended when quarterback Jonah Mati let fly with a 50-50 ball, which the Bears picked off and returned to their own 33-yard line. Mission marched another 67 yards, ending with a Will Delaney touchdown to put the Bears up 14-0.
“That’s what we expect to do, we had to come out and punch them in the face,” Whitley said.
Already reeeling, the Pumas answered with their lone touchdown of the first half. A short kickoff and a pass interference call on the Bears led to a Samson Olomua rushing touchdown to cut the lead to 14-6 midway through the second quarter. Mission answered right back, with Julian Neal returning a kickoff for a touchdown to get the lead back to 21-6.
In the final 11 seconds of the half, Rasheed Loveless picked off an overthrown pass, and as the first half expired, Julian Milton took a shovel pass 40 yards to the house, putting the Bears up 27-6.
Burton bounced back after the break, holding Mission to a three-and-out and then putting Alfonso Smith at quarterback for Mati. On this first drive, Smith showcased what he would do for the rest of the game, utilizing his combination of size (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) and escapability to elude defenders and turn broken plays into positive yardage.
After Smith marched the Pumas down the field, Marcus McKinley finished the job with a 15-yard touchdown run, and a two-point conversion cut the lead to 27-14. Burton then recovered an on-side kick and drove down for another touchdown, this time with Olomua carrying the rock in and putting the Pumas within one score, down 27-20 midway through the third quarter.
“We’re down about three starters right now, we got people out of position having never played in that spot,” Whitley said. “We call it making gumbo, just putting stuff in different places and trying to make it work.”
Mission responded by once again returning the ensuing kickoff deep into Burton territory, with Matthew Cohn taking a screen pass in to score and then adding a conversion to go up 35-20, and though the Pumas scored again on a red-zone run by Olomua, the Bears escaped with the win.
Mission will visit the Washington Eagles (0-7) on Nov. 1 at 3 p.m., and the Pumas (3-3, 1-2 in AAA) will face the league-leading Lincoln Mustangs (4-1) on Nov. 2 at 2 p.m.