For the majority of the players on the Mission Prep sideline, Friday’s CIF-Central Section Division 6 playoff game against Mira Monte was their first taste of the postseason.
Only a handful of players were a part of the undefeated 8-man championship team last year.
And for the first two quarters, it showed. Penalties, turnovers and missed tackles led to a closely contested first half, which was tied at 21 with under three minutes remaining before Mission Prep scored 28 unanswered points to win 49-21 — the first win in an 11-man playoff game since 2013.
Nerves and miscues
The inexperienced Royals were flagged for four penalties in the first quarter alone and were unable to stop Mira Monte’s Shamar Oliver on the ground in the first half.
But by the second half, there was less room for Oliver on the outside and between the tackles. The team which had won four of its last five games had shown up.
“It was a great lesson for them against a very tough opponent who had nothing to lose,” Mission Prep head coach David Schuster said, who led Mission Prep to the 8-man championship last season. “Playoff football is different and for probably 80 percent of this team this was their first playoff experience.”
The Royals were able to stay in it because senior running back Brian Kowall took over the game.
Vindication for Kowall
Kowall scored four touchdowns — three in the first half — including a crucial 48-yard score on the first play of the ensuing drive after Mira Monte tied the score at 21.
The performance comes near the end of a year that has hardly gone his way.
The cousin of former Mission Prep, Cal and current Miami Dolphin running back Patrick Laird, Kowall started the year watching from the sidelines. He had suffered stress fractures in his feet and missed the first two games of the season.
Then, just two weeks ago in a key league game against Templeton, he left with a hamstring injury and did not play last week.
“I think for him to come out in such a big game, when everybody else was just not playing up to their level — BK kind of took over the game. Everyone’s kind of been waiting for it and it finally happened. I know he feels happy and everybody else feels happy. I definitely feel happy,” Schuster said with a laugh.
‘Selfless roles’ play a part in success
Junior wideouts Assani Berkeley and Carlton Brown each caught a touchdown from quarterback Mark Rodriguez. Mission Prep is not a pass-first offense, but each is a threat to score after the catch. They made the most of the four times the Royals elected to throw, racking up 141 yards between them.
Brown lines up as the tight end in many of the heavy formations that the Royals run, which, Schuster said, is probably not his first choice. His blocking ability helps the Royals control the game with the running game and throw it when they want to for big yards.
Berkeley is often the lone wide receiver on the field for Mission Prep, helping keep defenses honest as a deep threat.
“They’ve grown up tremendously,” Schuster said. “I am so proud of both of them. Their path this season kind of mirrors where the team has been — kind of all over the place to begin the year. And they’ve just progressively gotten so much better.
“When we throw it (Carlton) makes the most of it, same with Assani. They’ve accepted their roles — selfless roles.”
Mission Prep (6-5) will play at No. 3 seeded Orosi (9-3).
Other scores from SLO and northern Santa Barbara county teams
Tulare Western 42, Nipomo 7
Templeton 55, Roosevelt 21
Clovis 56, Arroyo Grande 7
Cesar E. Chavez 28, Morro Bay 7
Redwood 49, Atascadero 6
Robert F. Kennedy 40, Santa Maria 22
Stockdale 34, Righetti 24
St. Joseph 27, Sunnyside 6
Riverdale Christian Academy 24, Orcutt Academy 19
Glendora 49, Lompoc 17