Washington High School got to Turkey Day with a run-heavy attack, but the Eagles looked like an entirely different team early in the CIF-San Francisco Section-Academic Athletic Association championship game against Balboa on Thursday at Kezar Stadium.
The Eagles' first four plays from scrimmage resulted in four incompletions, but Washington quickly reverted to the form that led them to the championship game, amassing 303 yards on the ground in a decisive 36-6 win over the Buccaneers. The win gives the Eagles their first AAA title since 2003.
"The were giving us the pass somewhat [early]," said Washington head coach Karl Finley, who won his first Turkey Day title in his fourth year at the helm of the program. "Then we switched up on our formation and did some good things."
The Eagles (10-2) got an explosive performance from junior Lajarie Mabrey, who ran for a game-high 172 yards on 11 carries, including runs of 65, 46 and 37 yards.
"I was just running hard," Mabrey said. "I'm ready to come back next year and do it again."
While Mabrey provided the big plays, senior Jeremy Jetton carried most of the load for the Eagles, as he has for most of the season. Jetton ran for 98 yards on 16 carries, including a 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
"Right now, I'm ready to cry with my coaches," Jetton said. "We got here and got blown out in my freshman and sophomore years, and we all promised the coaches we would be here in our senior season."
Washington only outgained Balboa 359-276, but it was a familiar theme that disrupted the Bucs on Thursday.
Balboa (5-8) has struggled with turnovers in most of their losses this season and the championship game was no exception. The Bucs committed four turnovers, including a lost fumble and a muffed kickoff return less than three minutes apart in the third quarter, that led to two Washington scores and allowed the Eagles to open up a 29-0 lead.
"I'm just very, very shocked with our performance," said Balboa head coach Alvaro Carvajal. "Football is really simple. You gotta take care of the ball and we did not do that. Because of that, we fell short today."
Balboa got its only score on a 2-yard touchdown pass from senior Kerati Apilakvanichakit to Andres Arellano late in the third quarter, but when the Eagles ate up almost six minutes of game clock on a 12-play scoring drive to start the fourth quarter, any designs for a Balboa comeback were squashed.
Apilakvanichakit threw for 106 yards on 12-of-20 passing, but lost two fumbles on sacks and threw an interception.
"I'm unsatisfied. We were in the red zone four times and we only scored once and the turnovers...we just can't have that," Apilakvanichakit said. "This one is on us."
The Bucs also got a game effort from senior Christian Pulusian, maybe the most talented all-around player in the AAA. Pulusian showed why colleges like Oregon State are looking at him, with 50 yards rushing on 10 carries and two receptions for 12 yards out of his wing back-tight end position on offense and appeared to be in on every tackle as a linebacker on defense.
"We were prepared, but they played harder and faster than us," Pulusian said. "If we make no turnovers, this game would have been different and it would have been in our hands. We had them, just too many turnovers."
With the win, Washington capped what was the most complete season in the AAA. Even though the Eagles were upset by Mission early in the league season and finished behind them in the regular-season standings, it would be hard to argue that the Eagles weren't the best team in the league on a week-to-week basis.
"It's a monkey off [our] back, because [we've] been here a few times and haven't won," Finley said. "They couldn't do any better than they did today."
For Balboa, a program undoubtedly on the rise, advancing to the championship game from the fourth seed can be viewed as the foundation of future success.
"When we were on and we played well this season, that was us. That was the new Balboa football," Carvajal said. "Today, we didn't show that too much, but that's OK. At the end of the day, you have to look at the whole experience, and overall, I'm very proud of these guys."
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