As quarterback Jovon Baker knifed through the middle of his scout team defensive line for a big gain during practice on Tuesday, Lincoln’s coaches grimly re-set the defense as one coach barked, “We’re not going to be able to do that on Saturday.”
On Saturday at noon, Baker, the Academic Athletic Association Player of the Year, and the Mustangs’ four other senior leaders will be facing an Orange Glen defense that’s racked up 14 interceptions, 22 sacks and 57 tackles for loss.
“They have two tackles that are really good, and their linebackers are good. It’s going to be a great test,” said head coach Phil Ferrigno. “I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully, we can show our city well.”
Ferrigno has coached at Lincoln for 17 years. Seven times, he’s won the San Francisco Section title. He’s never gotten to a state title game. On Saturday, at City College of San Francisco, Lincoln (12-0) will become the first San Francisco team to host such a game.
“It’s huge, right? First one in San Francisco,” said senior linebacker and running back Jack Gaughan. “First state title game that’s been played here. We all want to go out with a bang, let everyone know who we are. We already know. We’ve just got to prove it to everyone else.”
As a freshman, Gaughn, who has 63 tackles and 5.0 tackles for loss this season, was glossed The Ninja by assistant coach Mike Paoluci.
“He was the silent assassin, ever since his freshman year, just coming in and laying out and destroying people,” Paolucci said.
Ferrigno has another nickname for the clean-shaven, silent, dirty-blond two-way grinder: Captain America, for his quiet, workmanlike approach and physical power. And also for his stars-and-stripes gloves.
Crawford is easily the most colorful of the group — literally. He accents his trademark hot pink undersleeves with a shock of green hair, which he dyed because, he said, he got bored in October. Then, he used it to cap off a Joker costume for Halloween.
The quick-talking quarterback Baker is the most verbose — and therefore the spokesman — of the group.
“He had some candy earlier,” said running back DeSean Crawford.
“Gelato,” said tight end Eugene Larios-Felton.
“Skittles,” Baker said. “Beast Mode snack.”
As a free safety, Baker made 51 tackles and picking off four passes this season. On offense, the 6-foot, 175-pound quarterback rushed for 1,017 yards, averaging 10.1 yards per carry this season, while passing for 466 yards.
“His spin move’s nasty,” said linebacker Julian Aguirre, who played blacktop football with Baker back in middle school.
“Last year in practice, almost every single run that me and DeSean had, face-to-face, he would make this spin move, and every time it would get me, so now I do it,” Baker said.
After the Mustangs’ signature win this season on Oct. 20, Crawford, Baker and Gaughan celebrated their birthdays — which all come within five days of one another — together. Studying, Gaughan said.
Generously listed at 5-foot-7, 180 pounds, Crawford didn’t play with the other seniors during their freshman season on junior varsity, due to a 1.83 grade point average. Now, he boasts a 3.5 mark, to go along with his 1,526 yards (7.1 per-carry average) and 25 touchdowns.
Lincoln capped their season with a resounding 53-0 win over Mission in the San Francisco Section final, and held opponents to 10.45 points per game, and scored an average of 38.5. The Patriots will present a whole host of new problems.
On Saturday, the run-first attack led by Baker and Crawford will come up against a salty defense that held opponents to 16.25 points per game this season.
“They have big guys on the inside, fast guys on the outside, so all we have to do is hold our blocks and get to the secondary,” Crawford said.
The Mustangs racked up 3,312 rushing yards this season, averaging 7.5 yards per carry. The Patriots are led by senior linebacker Ruben Ramirez and senior defensive lineman Carlos Galan, who have 27.0 total tackles for loss. Galan has 9 hurries to lead the team, plus four sacks, while Ramirez leads the team with 5.0 sacks.
“I’m up for any challenge,” said tight end Eugene Larios-Felton. “As long as I do my job, the rest of the team, we all flow.”
Orange Glen rushed for 2,969 yards on the year, led by 2,321 from 5-foot-10, 180-pound junior Cael Patterson, who averaged 193.4 yards per game and 6.4 yards per carry.
“[Patterson], we need to shut him down, contain all our gaps, and things will play out,” Gaughan said.
Sophomore quarterback Ethan Villalobos will attempt fewer than 10 passes per game, and he’s not very accurate when he does throw, going 55-for-106 (51.9 percent) for just 776 yards.
While both offenses are run-centered, the Patriots accomplish their ground dominance in a different way than the Mustangs.
“It’s a little different, because they have a lot more pulling linemen, as opposed to a fullback lead blocking,” Gaughan said.
“I feel like we’ve seen an offense similar to theirs over the years,” said Aguirre, who led the team with 76 tackles, including 4.0 tackles for loss.” The only difference is that they’ve got five big boys who can move. They stand straight up. It’s just a challenge … The biggest challenge is just doing our job. We’re just competing against ourselves.”
“These kids are in it for each other,” Ferrigno said. “Whatever happens, we’re playing with house money.”