For the past two years, Mission Prep football players have been subjected to people driving by the school and shouting, “Eight-man!” After the Royals’ 60-20 victory over Fresno Christian in the CIF-Central Section 8-man championship — the first football title in school history — those taunters should have less to say.
The program made the move to 8-man last year because of declining numbers. The 2018 season marked a return of 11-man football — for the first three games — and an overall resurgence, culminating in an undefeated record and a championship.
“It’s incredibly special,” said head coach David Schuster, who took over at the outset of 2017. “These guys put in so much work, especially when nobody was paying attention to them and everyone was giving them crap.”
This year, taunts and all, the Royals were the last of the SLO County teams still playing. For the seniors, it’s been quite the journey, from new coaches to eight-man football.
“It means so much,” senior and team captain Brayden Farr said. “It’s been a wild four years. I can’t even put into words what it feels like.”
Seniors show out
Anchored by seniors Chase Jones, Mace Sherlock, Kevin Gridiron and Farr, the Royal defense held the Eagles well under their average total of 48 points per game.
The defense forced a three-and-out on Fresno Christian’s first possession. It set the tone for the rest of the game.
Fresno Christian quarterback Anthony Lonardo rarely got a clean pocket, and it resulted in 18 incomplete passes. Lonardo finished 13 of 31 for 145 yards and a touchdown. Lonardo, who did not play in the first meeting between the schools earlier in the year, also had a 4-yard rushing touchdown.
Farr had two touchdowns on the night. One was a 51-yard interception return off a failed Eagle screen, and the other was a 31-yard rushing touchdown.
“Brayden Farr is the heart and soul of the team,” Schuster said. “That kid makes plays all over the field, he’s a very special kid. I love that kid dearly.”
The Royals will lose eight seniors to graduation. Most of the team will return, however, including standout junior running back Brian Kowall, who had three rushing touchdowns Friday.
Sophomore quarterback Mark Rodriguez will also return. He threw for a pair of touchdowns and had a rushing touchdown of his own.
Junior Connor Borges had a pair of sacks, and junior Dalton Strouss had a 41-yard rushing touchdown.
“Tonight they cemented a legacy,” Schuster said. “They really cemented a foundation for the future of the program. I’m so proud of them.”