Galileo High School coach Mark Huynh told his Lions at halftime of the San Francisco Section-Academic Athletic Association championship that the team which possessed the ball last would win.
It didn't play out the way he envisioned, but Huynh didn't have a reason to be mad about what transpired in what turned out to be a game for the ages.
The 90th annual Turkey Day game on Thanksgiving between Galileo and Lincoln — two teams that play complete opposite styles of football — came down to Galileo needing a defensive stop, just like in their regular-season meeting on Oct. 18.
With 1:14 left in the AAA championship, Lincoln had the ball at the Galileo 35-yard line, threatening to win its second consecutive championship. The Lions, however, forced Mustangs quarterback Justin Chiong to fumble, and Lions defensive lineman Joey Winterstein pounced on the loose ball, sealing a 34-30 victory for Galileo on Thursday at Kezar Stadium.
“I guess I was dead wrong,” Huynh said. “Every player found his role, and what a blessing. Just players stepping up to make plays. It was beautiful to watch.”
Senior quarterback Kyle Nelson, who had another spectacular performance, going 8-of-11 for 247 yards, accounted for all five of Galileo's touchdowns (three passing, two rushing), but was relegated to cheerleading most of the fourth quarter as he was on the field for only four plays.
The Lions' defense didn't let Galileo down, forcing two fourth-quarter turnovers, including senior linebacker Lala Haro's interception — which he returned 78 yards to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Nelson that gave Galileo 34-24 lead with 9:08 left in the game. It helped the Lions capture the school's 17th AAA championship.
“We talked all week about how the defense was going to win us this game,” Nelson said. “And look what happened today, the defense won us the game.”
Lincoln was gallant in defeat, as it churned out yardage all game long with senior running backs Davion Telfor and Tyree Marzetta. The backfield duo carried the load as they've down all season, with Marzetta rushing for 195 yards on 34 carries and one touchdown and Telfor added 137 and two touchdowns as the Mustangs held a 69-23 play advantage, keeping Galileo's no-huddle spread offense off the field.
“We didn't make plays on defense, and my hats off to them, they played great,” said Lincoln coach Phil Ferrigno, who was denied his sixth AAA championship. “I'm still proud of the boys, proud of them for sticking together, proud to be a part of this program. We'll be back.”
Leading 16-14 at halftime, Lincoln was stung by Galileo's patented quick-scoring drives. Facing a second-and-15 from their own 15-yard line, Nelson swung a pass to senior wide receiver Dontell Jackson in the left flat. Jackson got behind two blockers — broke a tackle around midfield — and put on the afterburners, outracing the Mustangs' defense for an 85-yard touchdown.
Later in the third quarter with 4:10 remaining, Telfor pounded in a 7-yard touchdown to give Lincoln a 24-20 lead. But 46 seconds later, Galileo retook the lead, when Nelson connected with senior wide receiver Isaac Armstrong down the sideline for a 13-yard touchdown, giving Galileo a 28-24 advantage.
“Even though we didn't come out with a win, we hung together, didn't give up and played hard,” said Telfor, who finished his senior season with a league-leading 1,645 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. “Everybody on this team should keep their head up.”
In what will be a relief for the entire AAA, Nelson won't be back, as the 5-foot-10 left-hander will be attending UC Santa Barbara next fall on a baseball scholarship. He finishes his record-breaking season with 3,244 passing yards and 47 touchdown passes — both AAA records according to CalHiSports.com — while calling all the offensive plays for Galileo.
Nelson couldn't ask for a better ending to a three-year varsity career that saw him and his teammates take plenty of lumps before their remarkable 2013 season.
“I knew I could do something special [this season], but this year has been amazing, more than I can ask for and more than I expected,” Nelson said. “It's been a great season. It's been magical. It's the best feeling I've ever had.”