Thursday’s Academic Athletic Association league opening football game between Mission High School and Lowell was the best matchup either team could have asked for.
Both teams failed to win any nonleague games, both teams were convincingly outscored in the process and both needed a win to reassure a direction for their respective seasons.
Now, following a 24-0 victory over Lowell (0-3, 0-1), Mission (1-3, 1-0) has announced itself as a sturdy football team with intimidating size.
Due to the two teams’ run-heavy offenses, the first quarter moved quickly and without a score from either side.
But from the first snap of the second quarter onward, Mission dominated.
After a 26-yard scamper by running back Davonte Gaines landed Mission eight yards shy of the end zone, senior Bears quarterback Davon Hargraves found Algeron Malbrough for an 8-yard touchdown to take a 6-0 lead with 11:01 left to play in the first half.
Lowell responded by driving down to the Mission 30-yard line before a fumble ended the drive and stalled the Cardinals’ momentum.
That fumble began a trend of mistakes for Lowell. Later in the same quarter, a touchdown run from senior Richard Quang was called back for holding.
“I think really it’s a mental game,” said Lowell coach Danny Chan. “We need to get the guys believing that they can win, in this program’s tradition, in being aggressive.”
Exploiting the Cardinals’ lack of aggression was the Bears’ two-headed running attack, comprising Gaines and senior fullback Jaleel Stancil.
Although the two backs’ combined statistical performance (226 total yards and three touchdowns) was impressive, their downhill running style and attitude got the sideline players involved and proved invaluable.
“I’m the smallest guy on the field,” Stancil said. “Doesn’t mean I don’t run around and bring the pain to whoever I see.”
After recovering a Lowell fumble on the first offensive play of the second half, Mission found the end zone once again.
This time, the Bears relied on a bit of trickery. Gaines started off on what looked to be a halfback sweep before pulling up and firing a 33-yard touchdown pass to 6-foot-7 receiver Alec Tatum.
“We knew we needed a big play,” said Mission head coach Joe Albano. “I saw what the defense was expecting and I knew that the play would work.”
Following the passing touchdown, both teams spent the duration of the game on the ground, with the only other completed pass being a 37-yard strike from Lowell senior quarterback Robert Lee to receiver Calvin Ma.
A 45-yard rushing touchdown from Gaines late in the third quarter and a 2-yard run from Stancil midway through the fourth was all the Bears needed, as their defense, led by linebacker Amine Houri, completed the shutout while allowing just 98 rushing yards on 39 carries.
Lowell will look to refine its option attack against Washington next week, while Mission will face Burton, with its 0-3 start a distant memory.
“1-0, baby, that’s all that matters now,” Gaines said.
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