Senior running back Davonta Gaines, left, and his teammates react from the sidelines in the final minutes of Mission's championship semi-final against Balboa High School.

Victory is sweet. The Mission Bears know the feeling very well. This past season, the varsity football team enjoyed a clean 7-0 victory run against every single Academic Athletic Association team in San Francisco.

But Thursday, the Balboa High School Buccaneers served the Bears their first defeat since the early season non-league matches.

Mission’s Cinderella season ended with Balboa outscoring and outrunning the Bears for a 28-to-8 upset victory in the team’s first playoff game.

“A lot of things didn’t go right for us tonight. A lot of penalties. Unfortunately, these things happen,” head coach Joe Albano told the team after the game, against the roar of Balboa’s victory celebration.

In the team’s postgame huddle, emotions ran high. Players cried and consoled each other. Some sat silently on the field, dazed. Others exchanged hugs with girlfriends and family members.

“We play every game. We just try to win it every time,” Albano said. “This week we lost. It’s new to us.”

This was not the way the team wanted to close out the season.

“Us only putting 8 points on the board isn’t what it was supposed to be,” Albano said.

Balboa put up 6 points in the middle of the first quarter off an endzone sprint by quarterback Kerati Apilakvanichaki.

In the second quarter, Mission struggled its way into the red zone, but failed to score. Mission put up its first points following a turnover on downs that set them up for a 2-point safety when Misson’s defense forced Balboa’s quarterback to fumble out of the endzone for a safety.

On their following possession, Bears quarterback wide receiver Alec Tatum ran in for Mission’s first and last touchdown.

For the remainder of the game, Mission struggled for possessions.

The defense missed several tackles, allowing Buccaneers running back Greg Warren to rush 154 yards and make two touchdowns. The offensive line, composed of several players who double as defense, appeared fatigued and failed to protect quarterback Davon Hargraves against serial sacks.

To add to the team’s frustration, numerous penalties forced the Bears back, negating any forward motion the team managed to produce.

Mission players stretch at halftime. At the half, Balboa was up by just one touchdown.

Tempers flared in the fourth quarter, when a late whistle after a stop appeared to crescendo into a minor shoving match on the field. Again, the referees penalized Mission.

“I thought definitely there were some holds that weren’t called. They didn’t call a single offensive hold on them (Balboa), and I saw several holds,” said Mission defensive coordinator Alex Ware. “And several of the calls on us, I thought, were just not right.”

Balboa continued to control the ball until the end, with a mid-fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Christian Pulusain that sealed the deal.

“They’re very explosive on offense and on defense. They dialed up a good game plan,” Ware observed.

The Buccaneers will advance to the Turkey Day championship game against Washington.

More than half of Mission’s 24-man varsity team are graduating seniors.

“My heart goes out to the seniors. Really, I am truly sad for you guys the most,” Albano told the team.

“We just could have done better,” said senior running back Davonta Gaines. Like many of his teammates, he had tears in his eyes. “We played our hearts out.”

“I apologize. I’ll take the blame for this loss. We’ve just got to learn from it,” Albano said.

The Mission varsity team joins for a final cheer after the game.

Coach Ware reminded the heartbroken team that they should be proud of a strong season, which included three shutout games.

“We’ve had an amazing year. We’ve come a long way,” Ware said. “We didn’t even have a team last year. No one wrote us off.”

“We’ve really accomplished a lot, and we don’t want to take away from that.”

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An admitted technophile, Jessica Lum navigates the Mission with Google Maps, but has only really come to know the neighborhood by wandering on foot, looking at murals, and occasionally watching the guy on the BART steps play “Stairway to Heaven.”

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