The Mission Prep football team lost 28-21 to Aquinas in their CIF-Southern Section Northwest Division playoff game Friday night.
The Royals jumped out to a 21-7 lead in the first half, largely in part to the passing game. Quarterback Bryce Fledderman was given time in the pocket and he found the open man more often than not, connecting on touchdowns to Sal LaCasto and Brayden Corona. A big completion to Christian Harvey set up a Fledderman keeper.
The second half was a different story, with Aquinas scoring 21 unanswered points.
“Upfront, we weren’t able to handle their pass rush,” coach Chad Henry said. “We didn’t do a good job of running the ball all night. They were a little more physical up front than we were and then down the stretch we just didn’t make plays. I thought we had a couple drops on some big downs and couldn’t get off the field on third down. Those keep accumulating, and the momentum just switched, and once it switched we were in a battle.
“First half was perfect. The second half, the momentum shifted and suddenly things that were there, weren’t.”
Branden Rankins, Aquinas’ leading rusher and with a team-leading 14 touchdowns entering Friday’s game, was mostly held in check in the first half, only scoring one touchdown. He scored three more in the second half.
The Royals (8-3) came into the game boasting an undefeated Northern League record and an 8-2 record. Mission Prep posted a 4-7 record and 1-3 in league in the 2014 season. Henry said the seniors had a meeting the day after the 2014 season ended and they decided the 2015 season would be different.
“I’m proud of these guys, for them to be able to accomplish what they did this year, to win a league championship, go 4-0 in league, (and) really more than anything come together as a team,” Henry said. “How we played down the stretch compared to how we played at the beginning of the year, how these kids really truly came together for one another and played. You can’t say they didn’t play hard tonight. They played so hard tonight, they gave everything of themselves and that was something that I’m really proud of.”
The Royals will lose 16 seniors to graduation this year.
“This was a great class. I’ve had these guys all four years, this is my second four-year class that I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Henry said. “This group has always been extremely committed, worked really hard, great group of guys, they really care about one another. They’re really tight knit.
“This class has been one that has been a joy to have and they’re really going to have an impact on how we continue to grow in the future.”