GALILEO HIGH SCHOOL — Wide receiver and defensive back Michael Duran has wanted to play for the New York Giants since he was three years old. The path from Galileo Academy — just up the hill from Ghiradelli Square — to the Meadowlands is a long one, especially for a spindly, 6-foot, 160-pound receiver on a team reliant on the run.
That doesn’t mean, though, that Duran doesn’t have a sense of occasion. In previous weeks, Duran caught a 70-yard touchdown, turned in two picks — including a 39-yard pick-six — and run for a 60-yard touchdown.
With under six minutes to go on Friday, and Galileo tied at 36-36 with rival Mission, Duran hauled in a 41-yard touchdown and recovered a fumble to seal a 42-36 win. It was the second of two touchdown receptions on the day for Duran, who also recovered a fumbled snap on a field goal.
“Every week, we’ve got another player who just performs and makes people notice them,” said Lions head coach Marcus Blacksher. “Our seniors are a hell of a class, and we’re hoping they can keep it up.”
“I put my body into this game,” Duran said. “I love my team, I love my family, I love everything about this school.”
Ahead of the rest of this weekend’s action, the win put the Lions at the top of the Academic Athletic Association heap at 2-0 in league play, with arguably the hardest games — against the Bears and Burton, last week — out of the way. Galileo stomped the Pumas 44-8 a week ago, and face winless Lowell next week, before their next big test on the road against Lincoln on Oct. 20.
The Lions (5-1) had lost to Mission 40-36 on the road during the regular season last year, before besting them 50-28 in the AAA title game.
They had lost to the Bears five of the last six times the two teams tangled, dating back to 2014. The Lions’ last win over Mission in the regular season came on Oct. 5, 2013.
“All respect to Mission,” Blacksher said. “I’ve been coaching against [Mission head coach Tobias Whitley] since I was the JV coach here, and he was the head JV coach, so we’ve been bumping heads, going at it for five years. A lot of respect for them. He’s a hell of a coach.”
With the Blue Angels flying overhead in the midst of Fleet Week, the Lions’ offense was far from high-flying on Friday. With five minutes remaining in the AAA title game rematch, quarterback Ronald Fox had completed 5-of-11 passes on the day for 107 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Yarvell Smith — the only player in the City getting multiple Power 5/Group of Five looks (Oregon State, San Jose State, San Diego State) — had run for 249 of his 250 yards on the day (with three touchdowns), part of a 406-yard rushing performance by Galileo.
After junior Kobe Cabuntala recovered an onside kick, though, the Lions couldn’t get much going. Then, on fourth-and-five at the Mission 41, Fox rolled left, set his feet and found Duran on a double-move with 3:50 to go for the decisive score.
“We kind of ran a fake bubble,” Duran said. “I seen No. 4 (Jelani Al-Malik) come up, because he’d seen Yarvell coming out [of the backfield], and I just ran as fast as I can to try to get up the seam. I caught the ball, saw No. 7 (McKinley Oliver), gave him the stiff arm and dove in.”
“Ron doesn’t throw often, but when he does, he’s clutch,” Blacksher said. “Ron’s a clutch player. He’s been playing at a high level for four years.”
After Galileo failed to recover their next onside kick, Cabuntala forced a fumble by Bears quarterback McKinley Oliver. Jimmie Edwards III came close to snagging the ball, but it was Duran who fell on it at the Mission 48. The Lions bled the final 3:40 off the clock.
“I seen my brother Kobe come in and knock it out, Jimmie came in and he kind of bobbled it, and I seen it on the ground, and nobody was going for it,” Duran said. “I just came in and laid down on it, hoping that we could turn this game around.”
Those final 3:40, though, were not without incident. Smith, in the process of converting a fourth-and-1, was pushed back and bruised his right knee, the same right knee he injured against Rio Vista. Though the Lions had thought the initial injury was an ankle, it turned out to be his knee, though the MRI showed no ACL tear. Smith sat for the rest of the game.
The junior running back, though, did plenty of damage earlier. He had three runs of 40 yards or more, including a 51-yard touchdown and a 58-yard score. One of Galileo’s Big Five, Smith got help from Edwards, who tore off a 53-yard run on the opening drive, setting up a one-yard score from Smith with 11:27 to go in the first quarter.
“The corner was small, so I juked left, and I saw the safety come up high, so I juked back right and kept going,” Edwards said.
The Bears (3-3, 1-1 in AAA) immediately responded with a 55-yard touchdown run up the far sideline by Al-Malik, who finished the day with 152 yards on 11 carries. That 55-yarder put Mission up 7-6. The Lions answered right back, when after a bad snap and a broken play, Fox found Roberto Lee for a 15-yard touchdown strike with 7:06 to go in the opening stanza.
With the Blue Angels flying overhead and buzzing the City, Al-Malik fumbled a snap on Mission’s next drive. After the two teams traded punts, Smith ripped off his 51-yard score with 13.9 seconds to go in the first quarter to give Galileo its largest lead of the game, at 18-7.
On the first play of the second quarter, Oliver found DeMar Simons for a 51-yard touchdown heave, drawing to within four points. After a tackle for loss and an apparent sack looked to push the Lions back inside their own 25, Mission was flagged, giving the Lions new life at their own 37. After a four-yard run, Smith exploded for a 58-yard score with seven minutes left in the half to make it 24-14.
A seven-play drive by the Bears ended with a 26-yard touchdown run around left end by Will Delaney Jr. once again pulled Mission within four points. Delaney pressed the advantage on the Lions’ next drive, picking off a halfback pass by Duran and taking it 46 yards to the house to take the lead with 1:43 left before halftime.
Mission then blocked a pooch punt on fourth-and-20 with 19 seconds left, but couldn’t capitalize.
Duran foiled the Bears’ first drive of the second half with a pass breakup on fourth-and-20 at the Galileo 31 , but with 2:43 to go, Mission took over at their own 20. After a tackle for loss by Edwards, Al-Malik broke through two piles of Lions defenders and sprinted up the near sideline with 1:02 to go in the third for a 76-yard touchdown.
After a four-yard Fox run to start the ensuing Galileo drive, Edwards burst for a 16-yard gain, then Smith gained two to get across midfield. A 19-yard Smith run put the Lions in striking distance, and Fox obliged, finding Reese Bickart on a crisply-executed buttonhook route on the far sideline for a 25-yard touchdown. Galileo was down six, 36-30, with 10:35 to go.
Mission’s next drive stalled, and on fourth-and-12, the Bears attempted a 40-yard field goal. Oliver, serving as the holder, fumbled the snap, and there again was Duran, falling on the ball with 8:55 to go. That set up an eight-play, 70-yard drive, punctuated by a 38-yard hook up by Fox and Edwards, where the senior receiver gained 30 yards after the catch up the near sideline. A two-yard Smith touchdown with 6:02 left tied things up at 36-36.
Fox finished the game with 45 rushing yards on 20 carries, diminished by a pair of sacks for 10 and 11 yards.
“We had the mentality of the championship game today,” Duran said. “We had to come in and win this. We needed to get the No. 1 seed in the whole City, so we could maintain home and have the playoffs here.”