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Matthew Lickona 5 p.m., Dec. 9
PACIFIC BEACH – Mission Bay started slowly against Serra on Friday afternoon, but finished just fast enough. The Buccaneers erased a 14-point halftime deficit with a big third quarter and hung on to beat the Conquistadors 17-14 in a Western League contest.
“It was the halftime speech a lot of the seniors gave,” said Mission Bay senior Chris Byrd. “We weren’t going to let the Western League think we were a bunch of slack offs, and we knew if we got a spark we could win.”
Mission Bay (3-2-1, 1-0 Western) lacked life early and watched Serra (3-3, 0-1) build a lead with late scores in each of the first two quarters. In the final minute of the first half, Serra quarterback Hunter Correll found tight end Tiree Burton for a 5-yard touchdown pass that put Mission Bay in a 14-0 hole at halftime.
“We went in at halftime and pretty much told them they were losing all respect from the other team. The other team is looking at them thinking, ‘Is this all you got?’” said Mission Bay head coach Willie Matson. “We tried to reach them that way and they took it to heart.”
Byrd provided the initial jolt for Mission Bay in the third quarter, taking the opening kickoff to the Serra 38-yard line. That return led to the Buccaneers’ first score of the game, a 10-yard touchdown pass from Nate Long to JaQuan Madyun with 8:07 left in the third quarter.
“Being one of the senior leaders on my team, I felt like I had to pick my team up and give us a spark,” Byrd said.
Later in the third quarter, Byrd tied the game at 14 with a twisting, weaving 48-yard touchdown run that lasted 17 seconds and featured multiple direction changes. In less than nine minutes, Mission Bay stormed back with big plays to pull even with Serra and seize the momentum.
“I told my coach let me see what I can do with the ball. He gave it to me and he trusted me, so I took it to the house,” Byrd said. “Honestly I thought I was going east and west and I thought I was on the 30-yard line when I was on the 5-yard line. Once I saw the pylon I just stuck the ball out and I scored.”
On the ensuing drive, Mission Bay linebacker Donshay Bandy intercepted a deflected Correll pass and returned it to the Serra 20-yard line. Serra kept Mission Bay out of the end zone, but the Buccaneers took a 17-14 lead on a Bryan Granda 31-yard field goal with 48.5 seconds left in the quarter.
“It was a total team feeling and they came out and said we’re not going to take it,” Matson said.
Mission Bay’s defense stopped Serra twice in a scoreless fourth quarter – including once in the last two minutes – to preserve the comeback victory. The Buccaneers held Serra to just 45 total yards in the second half.
“In the first half we were playing great defense and then we’d have a guy break down here or there. I counted seven different guys who didn’t do the right thing at the key moment and it led to a big play,” Matson said. “That didn’t happen in the second half.”
In 2010, Mission Bay lost its first seven games and started Western League play with two straight losses. The Buccaneers appeared headed for a forgettable league start before storming back in the second half to win its Homecoming game.
“The best thing for a coach is when you find out your team has heart,” Matson said. “At times during the season you question it – they don’t seem to play with emotion and their heads go down too easily – but today they realized it.”
Pictured: Serra running back Jahlil Johnson carries the ball outside of Mission Bay defensive back Airric Parker