KEZAR STADIUM — At the start of this month, Lincoln running back Desean Crawford — who had rushed for 769 yards in five games — was bored. He couldn’t really explain why. He just wanted a change.
So, the 5-foot-7, 175-pound senior dyed his black hair green. Bright green. As if his hot pink Under Armour compression shirt and 8.7 yards per carry weren’t enough to make him stand out.
After Lincoln failed to convert an interception by Jovon Baker into a score with five minutes to go, and Lincoln up by a score, Crawford stepped in front of a deep ball by McKinley Oliver 32 yards down field. He returned the interception down to the Bears’ 16-yard line, and just over two minutes later, punched in a five-yard touchdown run up the gut for his second score of the day, clinching the 29-15 win to remain undefeated.
“When I got the pick, I was looking to score so we could end the game, and go back on defense to finish it, because our defense is our better side,” Crawford said.
Crawford rushed for just 74 yards on Friday against Mission — a pedestrian total for him — and the Mustangs offense was largely quiet on the day. After scoring 42 points or more in each of the last three games and averaging 312.67 yards of offense over that stretch, Lincoln managed just 208 yards against the Bears.
“Our offensive line wasn’t very disciplined at the beginning of the game,” Crawford said, flanked by three of his linemen. “Towards the end, we came together, and were able to do what we’re supposed to do. We just felt like we could do better, and we did what we had to do.”
Lincoln (6-0, 2-0 in Academic Athletic Association) clutched up defensively, holding running back Jelani Al-Malik to just 34 rushing yards on 14 carries and tallying three sacks.
After Mission (3-4, 1-2 in Academic Athletic Association) and the Mustangs traded scoreless drives to start, a Al-Malik fumble set up a three-yard Jovan Baker three-yard rush with 5:18 to go in the first quarter.
Mustangs edge pressure forced McKinley to scramble and overthrow a wide-open Al-Malik on Mission’s next drive at the end of the first, and six plays later, Crawford ran for an 11-yard score, capped by a two-point conversion pass to Eugene Larios-Felton to make it 15-0 with 10:08 to go in the half.
With the Mustangs driving with 2:12 to go, Baker rushed for five yards on third-and-6, but came up just short. A handoff to Jack Gaughan looked to get the final yard, but a bad spot and measurement on fourth-and-1 turned the ball over to Mission.
The Bears needed just one play to score — a 65-yard bomb from McKinley to Matt Cohn — and with the two-point conversion to Jamariea Burroughs, Mission closed to within six points.
An interception in the end zone by DeMar Simons with 10.1seconds left prevented another Lincoln touchdown.
Simons nearly had the momentum-swinging play at the start of the third quarter, but saw 40-yard bomb by McKinley slip through his hands after getting a step on his defender.
Baker then engineered a 10-play, 66-yard drive, rushing for 62 of those yards himself, including a 25-yard touchdown with six minutes to go in the third, giving the Mustangs their largest lead of the day at 22-8.
With five minutes remaining in the third, Oliver turned a bounced snap into a scramble and a screen to Will Delaney Jr., who sprinted 91 yards for a touchdown to cut the Lincoln lead to 22-15. Delaney Jr. had put the Bears in a tough spot by taking the previous kickoff out of bounds at the nine.
The Mustangs punted to start the fourth quarter, and the Bears turned to their star running back Al-Malik to narrow the gap even further. On the first play of the drive, Oliver tried to pull his handoff late, resulting in Al-Malik losing a yard. Al-Malik got two yards on the next play, but then the Bears took to the air.
Baker — also Lincoln’s quarterback — tallied his fourth interception of the year, picking Oliver and returning it to the Mission 34.
“Right off the bat, I knew it was going to be a pass,” Baker said. “I knew they were going to pass. They did some play action, and I felt my right side corner, AJ [Adewusi] — he’s new playing corner — I felt him bite hard. I knew I had to get back to the zone. I turned around, seen him running a corner ball, and I hustled and got there. I just put my hands up and it was there.”
That pick, though, didn’t produce any points, as another bad spot, a false start and a delay of game penalty trying to draw Mission offsides stymied the Mustangs’ next drive.
Then, three plays into the Bears’ next drive, Crawford picked off Oliver with 4:51 to go. On the ensuing drive, he recovered his own fumble, then rushed for eight yards on third-and-seven and finally scored with 2:47 to go.
The Lincoln defense held strong for a three-and-out, and the Mustangs got down to the one, but instead of running it in, Lincoln elected to let the clock run.
Crawford wasn’t thrilled with the decision. That green hair? He’s now using it as part of a Joker costume for Halloween. Some running backs just want to watch the world burn.
“I wanted to score,” he said. “Everybody that plays over there is like family to me. We compete every year, even in the offseason, even when we’re not playing each other. We’re brothers, and it’s competition every day.”