Mustangs’ defense rises to occasion

For the first half of the Turkey Bowl, the Lincoln defense — the self-proclaimed “junkyard dogs” — played more like a litter of harmless puppies against the physical Lowell football team.

In the second half, the dogs regained their bite.

After giving up 158 yards rushing and 16 points in the opening half, the Lincoln defense stiffened when needed most, holding the Cardinals to just six second-half points in the Mustangs’ 29-22 win Thursday at Kezar Stadium.

The Mustangs’ rejuvenated effort began on Lowell’s opening possession of the second half, as Lincoln forced the Cardinals into an important three-and-out possession, something that didn’t happen once in the first half.

Immediately following the big defensive stand, Lincoln got the break it needed — David Garcia’s punt block and Jose Medina’s subsequent 53-yard return that pulled the Mustangs within 16-13, providing them with a desperately needed momentum shift.

“In the first half, we weren’t getting low enough on them,” said Garcia, a senior lineman. “We came out in the second half and we’re able to control the line more and make some defensive stops.”

The Mustangs’ defense gave up one more touchdown, boosting Lowell’s lead to 22-13 late in the third quarter, but buckled down after that, coming up with the necessary big plays to shut out the Cardinals’ ball-control offense.

After giving up 178 yards on the ground in the first half, the Mustangs held Lowell to just 80 in the second.

“Our biggest adjustment in the second half was our heart and attitude,” Mustangs seniorlinebacker Phillippe Lewis said. “We knew we had to step it up and compete and that’s what we did.”

Despite allowing Lowell to hold onto the ball for more than 34 minutes, the Mustangs were able to fight off fatigue and come up with a couple of crucial stands late in the contest.

Lincoln’s first big stop came when it stuffed Lowell running back Bismark Navarro for no gain on a fourth-and-7 at the Mustangs 32, forcing a turnover on downs.

Then, on Lowell’s final drive of the game, Mike Paolucci, who blocked Balboa’s final extra-point attempt in Lincoln’s dramatic 21-20 Turkey Bowl win last year, again came up with the late-game heroics, intercepting a Carter Rockwell pass near midfield to seal the Mustangs’ victory.

“Our defense is the heart and soul of this team,” said Paolucci, a junior cornerback. “We look to play the perfect game every time. We might have started slow today, but I think we finished pretty near perfect.”

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