KEZAR STADIUM — With 8:09 left in Mission’s Academic Athletic League opener, Rasheed Loveless jumped a route in front of Lowell’s sideline. With a clear field ahead, he sprinted for a 30-yard pick six.
On Friday, armed with their three biggest linemen and their biggest impact defensive back for the first time this season, Mission notched its first win of the year, a 42-0 drubbing of Lowell to open AAA play. In a comprehensive rout, the Bears held the upstart Cardinals to just 94 yards of total offense.
“It feels good to actually get a W in the column,” said head coach Tobias Whitley. “I feel like they deserve it. They’ve been playing and hustling all preseason, all non-league. We were down a few bodies, and we knew we were playing undersized, but I’m proud of them, to get on the winning side and see what it feels like again. I think a lot of people underestimated us.”
The fact that Loveless was held out of the first four games of the season for discipline, and Velasquez and others were held out for grades, is a point of pride for Whitley, who has been working to shore up Mission’s off-the-field culture.
“That was big for him,” Whitley said of Loveless’s game-sealing play. “He earned his way back. He had to do a few things, he had to bring progress reports, he had to have good progress reports in the hallways, with security, with teachers, everybody. He did that. He fought his way back to get back to his spot. He had to practice by himself somedays. He had to run on the sled, do little knick-nack things where he had to deserve it. he had to earn it. I want them to see how it feels to earn something.”
Velasquez ended last season with a GPA of under 1.0, and by the time the first grades came out this year — following what wound up as a 20-20, fight-shortened tie at Oakland — he had a 3.0.
“I just feel good, I feel motivated,” Velasquez said. “I did go through it last year. Last year is pushing me this year, and coach TB (Whitley), he pushed me. I didn’t listen to him until it was the end of school. That’s when it hit me.”
Like upwards of 20 Bears, Velasquez was on the honor roll.
“A lot of people don’t talk about that part, and we were heavy on them and their grades,” Whitley said. “We’ve been on them. We’ve had study hall twice a week, we added tutors. We did a lot with the program to get them to not only be athletes, but be academically inclined.”
Along with Velasquez, Mission also got the services of the massive Bonilla brothers — Francis and Andre — who sat out all of last season. With some beef back on the line, the Bears rushed for 217 yards on what’s proven to be a tough run defense for Lowell, led by the dynamic Noah Lee, who added 118 rushing yards on eight carries to a 35-yard punt return.
“We ran the ball, we ran it consistently, we ran it good when we needed to,” Whitley said.
The extra size on the line helped the Bears to stifle what had been a productive running game for Lowell (2-2-1, 0-1 in AAA). Top running back Benjamin Ng rushed for just 36 yards on nine carries, while Adrian Navarro ran for 32 yards on 12 carries. Cardinals quarterback Reese Miller had his moments, completing two of his first three passes for 39 yards, but didn’t complete another pass the rest of the day, going 2-for-11, taking a pair of sacks.
Mission quarterback Jamareia Burroughs went 12-for-17 for 183 yards and showed off a gnarly pump fake. On the Bears’ first drive, Burroughs recovered from a 72-yard called-back touchdown screen to hit Julian Neal for a 36-yard bomb in coverage. After three outside zone runs, Burroughs took the ball the final 11 yards himself for a touchdown with 2:54 left in the first quarter.
Lowell and Mission (1-3-1, 1-0) traded drives for the rest of the half, until, with the clock winding down before halftime, Neal picked up a fumble by his teammate Lee for a 13-yard touchdown. Lee more than made up for his brief miscue by leading off the second half with a 60-yard touchdown rumble, part of a 153-all-purpose-yard day.
A sack by the Bears’ Lowell Herrera stifled the Cardinals’ next drive, and Mission ripped off a 12-play, 67-yard scoring drive, with Burroughs pump faking and hitting a wide-open Julian Milton for a 34-yard score. On his next drive — the first of the fourth quarter — Burroughs recovered from a massive hit from Lowell sophomore Anthony Ly to hit what looked to be a 52-yard score by Neal, who broke three tackles on a screen. The play, though, was called back due to a block in the back.
On the next play, Burroughs hit a perfect back-shoulder pass off yet anohter punp fake, finding Milton for a make-good score with 11:09 to go, setting off a running clock.
“First, we ran a screen, and we came back and ran a fake screen,” Burroughs said. “I seen the corner come up, and I knew my receiver was going to get past it, so I put it where only my guy can get it.”
It was a marked departure from being outscored 79-38 over the first three weeks of the season.
“We’re a better team than what we displayed in the non-league,” Whitley said.
Other AAA Scores
Lincoln 50, Washington 0
Galileo (0-4) at Balboa (0-4) at 2 p.m. on Saturday