GEORGE WHITE FIELD — After losing to the Galileo Lions in last year’s City championship, and again in a regular-season meeting in October, the Mission Bears weren’t pulling any punches on Friday.
“We came together,” said Mission head coach Tobias Whitley. “We got in the lab, sat down, figured some things out, and this is the result of us collectively working hard.”
McKinley Oliver ran for three touchdowns — including one on the first play from scrimmage — and the defense forced six turnovers en route to a 27-0 victory, a far cry from the past five meetings between the two teams, in which Galileo had scored an average of 37.8 points.
“It’s talent, but on top of that, it’s hard work,” said Oliver. “All this smoke over the last two and a half weeks, we’ve still been working. We grind the whole time, we’ve practiced in the rain and we came out and did our thing.”
Hopes of a state title came to an end for the Bears last year in a 50-28 loss to Galileo in the AAA Championship, and a 42-36 defeat on October 5 dashed Mission’s hopes of a third consecutive regular-season title, but the Bears will be playing for the City title once again at Kezar Stadium thanks to a dominant performance on Galileo’s soggy field against a shorthanded opponent.
Galileo (7-3) had been dealing with injuries on the line all year, starting with 317-pound sophomore tackle Joseph Ale, who tore his ACL during the preseason. Interior lineman Rafael Oropeza tore his meniscus in the Lions’ first game, and though he did return towards the end of the season, he was never fully healthy and was held out of Friday’s game. Mikah Coleman had missed practice throughout the past week and didn’t play in the semifinal, and star running back Yarvell Smith was ineligible.
“The boys we had out there did the best that they could,” said co-head coach Marcus Blacksher Jr. “There was a lot of pressure coming from both sides of the line.”
Jimmie Edwards III ran for 39 yards on 10 carries and had an interception, Ronald Fox ran for 32 yards on 10 carries and Michael Duran led the Lions with 45 yards on eight carries, despite taking numerous big hits and battling significant knee injuries.
Having lost the past two AAA title games, Mission (6-4) was more than happy to take advantage of those absences. Julian Milton reversed the field and took the opening kickoff 74 yards, setting up Oliver’s six-yard score on the first play from scrimmage. Oliver intercepted Fox on the following drive and then scored on a 38-yard run to give the Bears a 14-0 lead just over eight minutes into the game.
The pattern in the first quarter would last all day. Mission rattled off big plays while Galileo would have the makings of a solid drive but get unwound by penalties and turnovers. By the end of the first half, Mission would have two more interceptions from Rasheed Loveless and Emare Sumpter and a 20-0 advantage thanks to a 59-yard run by Jelani Al-Malik that set up a three-yard Josh Miles touchdown run.
Oliver continued his tremendous all-around day in the second half with a fumble recovery and his third touchdown run, a 23-yard score with 6:32 left in the third. He would have a second interception wiped out by offsetting penalties and finished the day with 96 yards on 16 carries, while Al-Malik ran for a game-high 135 yards on 12 rushes. Miles added 40 yards on 10 carries, rounding out the three-headed monster that did more than enough for an offense that failed to complete a pass and attempted only three on the day in the slippery conditions.
The last two turnovers forced by the Mission defense effectively came on the same drive, as lineman Joe Martinez intercepted a screen pass but would fumble it back to Galileo when Edwards managed to rip the ball loose. Two plays later, the Bears would seize possession again as Milton, who opened the game with the long kick return, would snag the final turnover. From there, the Mission offense was able to run out the final seven minutes and secure a rematch with Lincoln next Friday evening.