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SAN DIEGO – The Mira Mesa High School football team begins postseason play Friday night with their hearts set on a deep run to honor of late coach Chris Thompson.

Thompson died in September from COVID-19 complications. He also reportedly was battling bone cancer.

Despite the adversity, Mira Mesa won the Eastern League title and hopes to play on a lot longer.

“When everything happened to us, we had no idea where we were going to be,” head coach Aurelio Morales said. “I was just hoping to get three wins and get into the playoffs. To find out we were the top seed was pretty exciting for the community, the kids, all of us.”

Following Thompson’s death, his friend and Mira Mesa classmate Morales took over as interim head coach. It’s admittedly a completely new experience for him.

“I was talking to a friend today and we were on the phone and I talked to another person who came up to see me today and I just told them it’s what I have to do,” Morales said. “It’s what I need to do. It’s what Coach Thompson would want me to do.”

And in the wake of a tremendous loss, senior wide receiver Tajon Evans said coaches “stepped up to the plate” and made the players feel like family.

“That’s the biggest key for us winning, just playing for our brothers and playing together,” Evans said.

Morales argues it’s easier to step up “when you have these kinds of kids.” But showing up to practice every week, playing their hearts out in the face of tragedy isn’t easy. So, how did they do it?

“It’s a lot to do with the way Coach Thompson had set the program in place,” Morales said. “Everything we needed to do was in and I think they just followed the plan.”

From the start of the year, the team’s goal was to land in the playoffs. Having done that, there’s some satisfaction in knowing they didn’t let Thompson down.

“He’s looking down at us and I feel like he’s happy,” Evans said. “I feel like he’s proud of us and that’s really what matters.”

Asked how far he believes the team can go, Evans barely paused before answering.

“We’re gonna win CIF,” he said. “There’s no question. There’s no doubt.”