Thanksgiving is made up of food, family and football. Yesterday's holiday began in reverse order for me. I attended the cold, blustery confines of San Francisco's Kezar Stadium to watch the city high school football championship game between the Balboa Buccaneers and defending 2014 champion Mission Bears.
The Buccaneers didn't make it easy for the defending champions as they nearly shutdown the Bears running game, a ground game that featured mostly a quarter-back option play that was unsuccessful at least 80% of the time. But the Bears stuck with it as the play became a factor late in the game by producing first downs against a worn down Buccaneers defense.
The first quarter, with one turnover by each team, was good indication of the defensive theme the game would take on. I counted a total of ten turnovers, four fumbles and six interceptions, advantage Bears (4-2) on interceptions and dead even on lost fumbles (2-2).
Both teams scored amazing 22-yard touchdowns in the second quarter, the Bears a finger tip catch and run and the Buccaneers a pinpoint pass and run after the catch.
One of the interceptions by the Buccaneers was run back for a dazzling 92-yard touchdown, but a penalty after the interception nullified the touchdown, Buccaneers ball at the 8 yard line. With zero seconds left on the game clock the Buccaneers took a knee to end the first half with the score Bears 8 - Buccaneers 7.
For all the hype about the Bears offense being a juggernaut, the Buccaneers were definitely putting them to the test. They had to be proud of their first half accomplishment in limiting the Bears to one touchdown and a two point conversion by what looked like a "Refrigerator Perry" type lineman ( #74) bulldozing two yards across the goal line with little opposition. Yes, The Refrigerator of 1985 Chicago Bears lore. #74 Lil Fridge has a future in football.
To Be Continued..........
After chowing down a cost inflated ($5) coscto-like hotdog and watching the Bears cheerleaders whip and nae nae themselves on and off the field, the half-time intermission gave way to a much anticipated second half football game. The autumn air had gotten more frigid.
The third quarter opened with the Buccaneers throwing an interception early. A beautiful Bears 46 yard pass and run for a touchdown was called back due to an illegal offensive shift penalty. The quarter saw both Teams having success in the passing games. The Buccaneers passed their way to the five yard line before fumbling away an opportunity to take the lead. It was on a broken play (mishandled handoff) that looked like daylight up the middle, but the runner seemed to hesitate and the Bears came crashing in to cause the turnover.
In the fourth quarter, after the Bears forced two interceptions the defending champions implemented a short passing game that racked up YACs (yards-after-catch). Good coaching adjustment on the Bears part got them to the 2 yard line where a short touchdown run put them up by seven points. Lil Fridge couldn't duplicate his two point conversion run, but the Bears were now up by seven points with 4:53 left in regulation.
Bears 14 - Buccaneers 7
Adding insult to injury, on the next play the Buccaneers kick return runner was knocked down by his own man and lay on the field shaken up until trainers could come out and attend to him. At least he didn't fumble the ball.
With a last gasp effort and sensing the early celebratory antics of the Bears, the feisty Buccaneers led an all out attack by air and land. Though the Bears, leading by seven, seemed almost destined to win the game, the momentum was clearly with the Buccaneers on this desperation drive with the clock winding down.
A long pass, a high jump and snag out of the air over defenders and what looked to me like a backward fall into the end zone gave the Buccaneers a touchdown with 1:22 left in regulation. The Bears shadowy sideline and fans went silently cold. The Buccaneers side showed sunshine and unrestrained jubilation at the chance to tie or win the game.
And that is what every mind and heart was waiting for in this moment of truth taking place at frigid Kezar Stadium; trailing 14-13, what will the Buccaneers coach attempt; a field goal or a two point conversion. Does he have a Lil Fridge secret weapon ready to be unleashed? Does his field goal kicker have ice water running through his veins? Can his defense hold up in overtime? Or, as many of us fans were asking, is there overtime in high school championship games?
With less time than it takes to say the Lord's Prayer, the Buccaneers offense lined up at the two yard line for the two point conversion. It had all happened so fast that there hadn't been enough time for the Bears, nor its fans, to let tension or fear settle in.
The snap, the hand-off up the middle. An outstretched runner in white with an orange helmet closing in on the goal line mobbed by a sea of yellow.
Did he make it? I and the fan in front of me agreed that from our angle it looked like he did. We fans watched the referee straddling the goal line at the pylon area. He appeared to be surrounded by camera and video men, none of which were indicating a touchdown. The call took a lifetime. Controversy was immediately brewing, on the field and in the stands. Finally it was confirmed, he'd come up short. The two point conversion attempt had failed.
Bears 14 - Buccaneers 13
The following Buccaneers on-side kick was secured by the Mission Bears and after a few kneel-downs the horn blared out signaling that regulation time had expired. An ocean of yellow and brown rushed onto the field to celebrate a Bears championship season.
The Buccaneers coach would be questioned and probably second guessed by many on the final play call to go for two points. To us fans who watched the game, we feel the Buccaneers and Bears both played like champions and represented San Francisco high school football honorably. The two squads gave us a filling start to our Thanksgiving Holiday.
If any of the young men who played in the game should read this post, know that I and those standing in my section of the stadium, Thank and Salute you and your team for a competitive showing of commitment and character. Always remember, its more about how we measure up to the expectations we have for ourselves than how we measure up against others. Expect greatness. Give your greatest effort. Achieve success.
The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender - Vince Lombardi
11/19/2015 Giving his greatest: Balboa High football coach Edward Williams saves woman trapped in fire.
The AAA/SF Section Varsity Football annual Turkey Day championship game took place November 26 with Mission successfully defending their title with an exciting 14-13 victory over Balboa. The surprising defensive battle culminated with the Bears stopping the Buccaneers a half yard short of the goal line on a two point conversion try with a minute remaining. The victory not only gives Mission the section crown, but also sends them off to the CIF NorCal playoffs December 5th against a yet to be determined opponent. Congratulations to both teams on a very entertaining game, and all the best to the Bears as they head off to battle for a State title!