By Jeff Weisinger
Special to S.F. Examiner
Entering Friday’s semifinal matchup against Balboa High School, the Lincoln Mustangs knew that they would be facing rainy conditions. What they didn’t know was how bad it would get.
“We’ve been really good on turnovers all year,” Lincoln head coach Phil Ferrigno said. “But with the sloppiness, we didn’t handle the ball well. We were awful with that today.”
Senior quarterback Jovon Baker fumbled three times, didn’t attempt a single pass and the Mustangs scored one touchdown on the day, but it was enough to secure a 7-0 win over visiting Balboa in the San Francisco Section semifinal, sending the Mustangs to a section title game against Mission next Friday.
“When we came into the game, we knew it’ll be raining and we’ll be facing the weather,” Baker said. “I didn’t know it’ll be that hard to hold the ball or handle it at all and I completely underestimated it.”
His first fumble came on a high snap late in the second quarter with Lincoln driving and the ball at midfield. The first bad snap under center, which he turned over, came with just over eight minutes left in the fourth quarter and Lincoln, again, driving inside the Balboa 35-yard-line. The second one under center came in the final three minutes of the game, but he recovered.
Lincoln senior running back Desean Crawford scored the game’s lone touchdown on the Mustang’s opening drive, a 2-yard run to cap a 13-play, 46-yard drive. Lincoln took possession inside Balboa territory after a short punt by Balboa.
“I think we cam out strong,” Crawford said. “But we’re not used to playing in the mud, so we had to adjust our game a bit to the mud. After that, we got better in the run and punched it down their throats”
Crawford finished the day with his seventh 100-plus yard rushing day of the year, racking 29 carries for 153 yards and the touchdown.
Balboa was forced to adjust away from their usual spread offense to a more power-running type of game due to the harsh elements. While they had a few brief great moments — most notably a 16-play drive from their own 13 to the Mustangs’ 25 after Lincoln’s touchdown (that drive ended with a turnover on downs) — it wasn’t enough against a Mustang defense that bent, but never broke.
“It was unbelievable,” Ferrigno said. “We put ourselves there by not playing well and having position (on offense), but we just rose to the occasion.”
Penalties hurt Balboa throughout the game. Lincoln’s touchdown was set up on Balboa’s one-yard-line after a personal foul in the first quarter, a pair of holding penalties late in the third quarter cost them prime field position with a chance to possibly score the tying touchdown. A key holding call early in the fourth quarter pushed them out of Lincoln’s 30-yard line and forced a punt two plays later, which was botched in the end.
Prior to Friday’s semifinal, Balboa was 0-18 the last two seasons in the two seasons before first-year head coach Fred Velasquez arrived. Velasquez sees this tight loss a step in the right direction.
“I thought that we played well,” Velasquez said. “We had to adapt to the weather conditions and not being able to run our real offense. But I’m proud, the future looks bright. The younger kids can learn a lot (from the loss). It’s building blocks. It’s about the process.”
Lincoln will take on Mission High School in the section championship next Friday at 5 p.m. at Kezar Stadium. Lincoln defeated Mission 29-15 back in early October as both Crawford and Baker combined for 200 yards on the ground with four touchdowns.
Mission defeated Galileo 27-0 in their semifinal game on Fridayto advance to the championship, their second shutout of the season.
“We’re excited to play the Bears,” Baker said. “It’s a battle of the defenses and we get to see who can make a play on offense.”