KEZAR STADIUM — Ten years ago, on Thanksgiving night, Rocky Marania stood clutching a Nerf football on the sideline of Kezar Stadium and watched his brother Ronnie win Lincoln High School’s fourth straight San Francisco Section football title. He’d been a part of the Mustangs family since he was four-years old.
As he took his place under center in mop-up duty at the start of the fourth quarter on Friday, three months after switching from quarterback to middle linebacker, Lincoln’s 11th section title was well in-hand. He looked over to that same sideline for a play.
“Quite honestly, I didn’t see myself in this position at all,” Marania said. “Knowing my two brothers were quarterbacks, I expected to be a quarterback in the game. A position change, it worked our for the better.”
Marania had already tallied nine tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. All that was left was a running clock fourth quarter. All he had to do was hand the ball off. Twelve minutes later, Marania and the rest of the Mustangs celebrated a 53-0 win over Mission, winning the Academic Athletic Association and section title, securing a place in the state playoffs.
“We knew that once we stopped them on that first drive, they weren’t going to be able to pass us,” said Marania, the third of three Marania brothers — after Ronnie and Roel, who graduated in 2017, to win a section title. “We had no doubt. We had no doubt. Our D-line, they’re the best in the city. They broke up everything. All I had to do was pick up the ball.”
The win — which saw a total of 11 fumbles and bad snaps by the Bears, including one of each on their first drive — was very much a family affair for Lincoln, despite the fact that smoke from the Camp fire prevented the game from being played in its traditional Thanksgiving slot. As Ferrigno cradled the section trophy in one hand, and his 12-day old granddaughter Elizabeth Rose Pena Halloran in the other, he was surrounded by his extended family, including his nephew Brendan, the Mustangs’ defensive coordinator.
“She’s my good luck charm,” Ferrigno said, bouncing Elizabeth up and down.
Beyond the Marania clan — both of Rocky’s older older brothers Ronnie and Roel played under head coach Phil Ferrigno — one of Ferrigno’s former tailbacks at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Jamar Williams, who graduated in 1997, saw his son Jalen called up from junior varsity two weeks ago. He scored the Mustangs’ fourth touchdown on an 80-yard end-around.
“Last week, I got it and I slipped, so I thought, I’ve got to get myself right,” Jalen said. “Once I got it, I hit it and ran full speed.”
“I was fired up,” Jamar said.
Ferrigno saw Williams’s talent playing for junior varsity. In his final game, he ripped off over 150 yards against Balboa. With seniors Jovon Baker, Jack Gaughan and Desean Crawford graduating, Ferrigno figures Williams, a sophomore, will be one of the next group of playmakers.
He has some big shoes to fill. Crawford rushed 11 times for 51 yards and four touchdowns, taking just five handoffs after halftime, and none in the fourth quarter. Gaughan rushed four times for 29 yards, caught one pass for eight yards, made three tackles and delivered a 22-yard kickoff return that set up the Mustangs’ second touchdown, a four-yard run by Crawford with 8:58 to go in the first quarter. He also delivered a key block for Crawford’s third TD of the night, a four-yard trot with 1:36 to go in the second quarter.
Baker went 3-for-3 passing for 60 yards and a touchdown, while rushing four times for 119 yards, including an 89-yard touchdown.
“After my big run, I was like, ‘This is getting crazy,'” Baker said. “That run was a midline option, and I pulled it. I had to beat the inside linebacker, gave him a stiff-arm, and I didn’t think I was going to get there. There was one more defender there, he missed a tackle, I turned around and saw my two blockers, Budda (Albert Moore) and Leo (Leonard Gallegos) and it just felt great. I knew I was going to take it to the house.”
On a bad PAT snap following Crawford’s third score, Baker — the holder — made something out of nothing, scoring a two-point conversion to give the Mustangs a 36-0 lead.
At that point, Ferrigno turned around and looked at the scoreboard. He hadn’t realized, until then, that what was supposed to be a tight title game had turned into a rout.
“I’m looking for perfection,” Ferrigno said. “That’s what we do. Every year, we look for perfection. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there.”
After Mission fumbled on its next play from scrimmage at its own 15-yard line, it took just two plays for Crawford to score his fourth TD of the night with 1:14 to go before the half.
“You can’t say too much about the seniors,” Ferrigno said. “Jovon, Desean, Jack Gaughan, Albert Moore, Eugene [Larios-Felton], AJ (Ajani Adewusi), they’re the heart and soul of our team.”
Larios-Felton hauled in the final touchdown of the day on a 22-yard play action pass with 9:15 to go in the third.
As the Mustangs lined up to receiver their championship medals, linebacker Julian Aguirre repeated to himself: “I want a state ring. I want a state ring.”
For now, until Lincoln finds out where it’s headed on Monday, perfection will have to do. The Mustangs are 12-0 for the first time under Ferrigno.
“It’s awesome. It’s unbelievable,” he said. “We’re undefeated. I don’t know if we’ve ever been undefeated before in my time. I don’t think it’s ever happened in our school history.”
“This means everything to me,” Marania said. “I’ve been a part of the Lincoln program ever since I was four-years old. I’ve been around the program for so long. It means everything for me to be able to go out on top, perfect.”