It was only fitting that the unlikeliest of Academic Athletic Association champions would win in one of the most unlikely ways possible.
After a dizzying sequence of events in the fourth quarter, Mission High School clinched its first AAA title since 1954 with a 12-7 win over defending champion Washington at a rain-soaked Kezar Stadium on Thursday.
"I'm just so happy," said second-year Mission head coach Joe Albano, who took over the team after the Bears only played three games in 2009 and had to forfeit the rest of their season. "I've worked at the school for 11 years and now we're in the history book. The school has such great history and I'm so happy to bring the fans, the community and these kids a championship."
Down 7-6 with 5:48 remaining in the game, Mission quarterback Davon Hargraves handed the ball to running back Algeron Malbrough on an apparent sweep to the right, but Malbrough tossed the ball to speedy junior Antoine Porter on a reverse and Porter beat a surprised Washington defense into the end zone for the game-winning score. Porter also had an interception early in the fourth quarter on a Washington halfback pass.
"All I saw was a wide-open lane and I hit it hard to put my team up," Porter said. "I've never been through anything like this. All I know is that we came together as a team."
Prior to the reverse, the Mission offense almost entirely ran through the middle of the field.
"It was in my bag of tricks," Albano said. "I knew going into the game they were an over-pursuing defense. I knew they were baiting and baiting. It was just the right time."
Mission (9-3) then inexplicably recovered the ensuing onside kick and gave the ball back to Washington (9-3) on a turnover on downs with just under two minutes remaining.
"To be honest, it wasn't my call," Albano said of the onside kick. "They just did it. We worked on it in practice, and I was looking away and I saw it go onside."
Porter may have put the Bears up, but it was the Mission defense that proved to be the difference and it came up large on the final Washington drive.
The Eageles got a single first down with 46 seconds remaining, but three plays later, Mission senior linebacker Miles Prescott sacked Washington quarterback Aram Gevandian with just seconds left. Without any remaining timeouts, the Eagles could not run another play.
Mission held the Washington offense, which ran for over 300 yards in their regular-season meeting, to just 97 yards on the ground and 120 total.
"They took our momentum away on offense and held us scoreless, and that hasn't happened in — I don't even remember," said Washington head coach Karl Finley. "I guess I'll say they're a dominant defense now. I didn't say it before the game, but I'll say it now."
Washington's only score game on a 93-yard punt return from standout running back Jamie McHenry, who also had one of just two Washington gains over 10 yards with a 35-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Mission's offense didn't exactly blow away the Eagles either. The Bears gained 195 yards and lost two fumbles, while Washington committed four turnovers (two interceptions and two fumbles).
"We shot our momentum a couple of times and we didn't take advantage of our opportunities," Finley said.
Until Porter's score, it appeared a blocked extra point would give Washington a one-point win.
After McHenry's touchdown and a successful extra point by Washington kicker Adam Badi, Mission answered with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Hargraves to wide receiver Demitrius Thibeaux, but the extra point was blocked by Washington senior Abraham Rivera.
"That's what football is about. One bump here, one bump there and you can lose the game," Finley said.