The Lincoln Mustangs are AAA football champions for the second year in a row, and just like last year, they earned the crown by way of a shutout. While they had to play last year’s game a week later than the traditional Thanksgiving date after smoke from the Camp Fire in Butte County reached the Bay Area, the game returned to its traditional date for the first time since 2016.
With damp conditions that wouldn’t stop the fanfare, the Mustangs only allowed Balboa (6-6) into the red zone once and yielded just 113 yards on the day. Lincoln (10-1) scored with 13 seconds left in the first half on a 45-yard touchdown pass from Jonas Francovich to Ahleir Barnett and added a 33-yard Kevin Murrieta field goal in the third quarter. It wasn’t the first time Murietta made a clutch kick against the Buccaneers: in their regular season meeting, he connected on a field goal at the end of regulation and made the winning kick in double-overtime as well. Thursday, though, was on a much grander stage, and it was a moment that wasn’t lost on the senior, who had never played football before the year.
“It was awesome,” said Murietta, who had attended City Arts and Tech, a charter school without an athletic department, before the year. “I love playing with the boys.”
Barnett had just two touches on the day, but he had the game’s lone touchdown and converted a fourth down on the game’s final drive as Lincoln ran out the clock. His reception came on just one of three completed passes from Francovich on the day. Francovich had an interception of his own, making up for a pass of his that was picked off by Balboa’s Mazi LaSalle. Sikoti Manumua had a fumble recovery for the Mustangs as well, and Lincoln was able to control the clock through the efforts of Luis Contreras, who was held out of the end zone but managed to rack up 138 yards over the course of 40 carries. Tyree Cross and Manumua each had seven tackles in the winning effort as well.
With the win, the Mustangs will continue their efforts for a second straight state championship. After receiving a bye directly to the title game last year, they’ll be playing in a regional bowl game Friday night, traveling out to the Central Valley to face Mariposa County (8-4). The Grizzlies are the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII Champions, and they’ll be hosting the game at 7:30 p.m. at Golden Valley HS in Merced.
Riordan opens season with a bang: The Riordan Crusaders delivered on their preseason hype on Saturday, winning their season opener at the NorCal Tip-Off Classic at Newark Memorial. Bryce Monroe, having inked his letter of intent to Sam Houston State two weeks earlier, capped off a phenomenal month of November by scoring 33 points in a 64-59 win over San Juan Capistrano-JSerra. The Crusaders also got 12 points from Nevada-bound guard Je’Lani Clark and a huge debut from seven-foot sophomore Mor Seck. A native of Senegal who attended DME Academy, a prep school in Daytona Beach, Florida, as a freshman, Seck had 12 points and 11 rebounds to give Riordan (1-0) a presence in the paint that was lacking last season. Combined with South Sudanese seniors Riiny Riiny and Chan Ngot, the Crusaders should now have a front line that can battle with teams that offer exceptional size and physicality, complementing their outstanding guard play. The win, coupled with Mitty’s 60-58 win over Campolindo, made for an excellent weekend for the West Catholic Athletic League and Central Coast Section as a whole. The top teams from the league and section have typically been fed to the dogs in the Northern California Open Division over the last four years, but landmark wins over other major powers like Campolindo and JSerra should help the section’s status tremendously. Riordan and Mitty both look to be favorites in the WCAL this season, with Bellarmine also in the running.
University opens with win: Replacing four starters from a NorCal championship team is no easy task, but the University Red Devils got off to a good start with a 57-52 home win over Oakland on Saturday afternoon. Raki Cabrera-Scarlata, a sharpshooter who came off the bench when the offense needed a lift last year, scored 20 while Zach Beischer and point guard Christian Heng each added 12.
Stuart Hall splits first two games: The Stuart Hall Knights won their opener on Wednesday afternoon, traveling to San Mateo for a 60-57 win over Aragon, fueled by 24 points from Kyle Jasper. Jay-Henry Ryan and Tomas Wolber each added 12 points of their own, with Wolber dishing out eight assists. Stuart Hall led 23-13 after a quarter, held an 11-point advantage after three and still led by 10 with four minutes left before the Dons managed to cut the lead to three, attempting a game-tying 3-pointer that rimmed out in the final seconds. On Saturday, the Knights suffered their first loss with a 65-52 defeat at the hands of Miramonte, led by first-year head coach Chris Lavdiotis, who guided Lowell during the prior season.