Having won their second city championship in a row, there’s little uncharted territory left for the Lincoln Mustangs, but they’ll be making their way on to a new trail Friday night.
After advancing directly to the state championship last year, the Mustangs will have a regional playoff game this season, traveling to the Central Valley on Friday for the Northern California Division 7-AA Championship against Mariposa County. It’s something football head coach Phil Ferrigno has done before, but the last time Lincoln played in a NorCal championship was 2016, when the current seniors were only freshmen. The only current player on the roster was lineman Leo Gallegos, a late-season JV callup, who looked on from the sidelines as the Mustangs lost that game to Sutter Creek-Amador.
Until Galileo turned the tide in 2017 with an upset win at Rio Vista, the NorCal playoffs were harsh to San Francisco teams. With the CIF’s expanded state playoff format not introduced until 2015, the only city team to ever play in a NorCal game under the old system was St. Ignatius, and they were defeated soundly by Granite Bay in 2012.
Mission became the first benefactor of the new format in 2015, only to be crushed by Merced-Stone Ridge Christian. Under the new competitive equity system, in which teams were seeded by perceived strength rather than simply being ordered by student enrollment, new opportunities opened up for the AAA schools. But with losses in the smallest division to schools with significantly smaller populations in the first two seasons, fans wondered if San Francisco teams were worthy of a seat. That changed in 2017, with Galileo not only beating Rio Vista but then traveling to Calexico to bring home the first state football championship for any San Francisco school, public or private. A reduced field, a casualty of the Camp Fire in Butte County, meant no NorCal challenger for Lincoln in 2018, but any questions about the Mustangs were emphatically answered with a 24-13 win over Escondido-Orange Glen in the state championship.
Now, Lincoln has a chance to do what very few directors have been able to accomplish and author a sequel worthy of following up the first installment in the series. On Friday night in Merced (the game will be played at Golden Valley High School, the nearest suitable site for the host Grizzlies), the Mustangs will look to reach their second straight state championship game by earning the title of road warriors. Last year, their longest trip for any game was to Piedmont, and the way the schedule shook out this season, 10 of their 11 games have been within city limits, only traveling to San Bruno for a season-opening victory against Capuchino. To win, they’ll have to beat a Mariposa County team that’s no stranger to close games, having beaten Denair in overtime to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII title.
While the Mustangs’ game plan will be a heavy dose of Luis Contreras, who ran for 40 times in a Turkey Day Game victory over Balboa, the Grizzlies’ strategy will be harder to figure out. Lincoln’s defense will be tasked with stopping a team that has a healthy run-pass mix thanks to sophomore quarterback Wyatt Green (105-180 passing, 1,572 yards) and senior running back Logan Donati (127 carries-928 yards). Most AAA teams seldom pass, but Tyree Cross, Jonas Francovich and James Walsh will need to stand tall in the secondary if the Mustangs want to slow down wide receiver Jonathan Chapman, who has 38 catches for 644 yards and six touchdowns.
Small schools playing in Lick-Wilmerding tourney: Lick-Wilmerding’s annual holiday basketball tournament gets underway on Thursday with the host Tigers taking on San Francisco Waldorf amidst a field full of small local schools. SFI plays in the 5 p.m. game on Thursday against Oakland Military Institute, and the 8 p.m. game to finish off Thursday’s action is a battle of two San Francisco programs, Balboa and International.
Jefferson’s Blue and Gold Classic hosting four city basketball teams: All four games in the opening round of Jefferson’s Bud Bresnahan Blue and Gold Classic will feature a San Francisco team taking on an opponent from San Mateo County, starting with Wallenberg’s clash with Aragon at 3:15. Lowell plays Carlmont at 4:45 and University has a tough test with Hillsdale at 6:15. The host Grizzlies cap off the first day of the tournament at 7:45, taking on Galileo.