— Ryan Gorcey (@RyanGorcey) December 15, 2018
CITY COLLEGE — Jovon Baker didn’t make a sound as he wrapped his arms tightly around his mother Laura at the 50-yard line of the City College of San Francisco’s football field. In a wordless embrace, there was only silent sobbing.
Laura and her older son Joe have raised Jovon for the past 13 years. Laura leaves home at 6 a.m. and gets home at 11 at night to support her family, yet, she’s made it to every single one of her younger son’s football games, including Saturday’s state title game against Orange Glen, the first ever state title game hosted in San Francisco.
“If she could, she would make it to every single practice,” Baker said, as he broke down, wiping his face with his hand as he tugged down his black ballcap, embroidered with a CIF State Champions logo. “That’s my anchor right there.”
Baker, Lincoln High School’s senior quarterback and the Academic Athletic Association Player of the Year, rushed 19 times for 143 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday’s 24-13 Division VI title game win over the Patriots, earning the Mustangs’ first state football championship, and capping off the program’s first ever perfect season at 13-0.
“I just can’t believe we did this,” Baker said through tears. “I can’t believe we did this. Since we’d seen Galileo do this last year, that’s the only thing we’ve been looking for. We had to one-up them. We knew we were better than this. We knew we were better than them. We knew we could get the job done.”
This season, Baker led the Mustangs to a 52-18 win over the league rival Lions, piling up 1,160 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. In a game where the Patriots, the San Diego Section’s Division V champions, keyed in on running back DeSean Crawford, holding him to 86 rushing yards, Baker took the lead.
“That’s my right-hand man,” Crawford said of Baker. “We do everything together. We got the great connection, and he knows how to make stuff happen.”
“Jovon’s our heart,” said linebacker Rocky Marania. “Jovon’s the heart and soul of the team. He’s our quarterback, he’s our leader, he’s one of the biggest reasons we’re state champs.”
Baker had five tackles as a free safety on Saturday, along with a tackle for loss, giving him 56 stops for the season. That, as much as his offensive prowess, was one of the big reasons he was named the league’s player of the year. Going hard both ways stems from the work ethic Baker observed in his mother.
Laura worked security at nights in Vallejo during Jovon’s infancy, and after getting her Associate’s Degree, began working hospice care as a certified nursing assistant, which took her away from her sons for most days. There were times she couldn’t afford to let him play football, but she has found a way to be at every game.
“She doesn’t care what day it is, what time it is, she’s there,” Baker said. “To be able to make her proud is all I try and do, every single day. She works her ass off. Sometimes, I don’t even get to see her; I know she’s always working hard, so I have to work twice as hard.”
After a 53-0 shutout of Mission in the San Francisco Section title game — in which Baker rushed for an 89-yard touchdown — Baker and the Mustangs’ defense held a Patriots team that rushed for 2,969 yards on the season to just three net yards in the first half.
“That’s just Mustang defense, man, you’ve got to play with heart, and you’ve got to play with instinct,” said linebacker Julian Aguirre, who had six tackles and half a tackle for loss.
“It’s everybody on this team. Everybody had a role to play,” Baker said. “They did their job, and that’s why we executed everything that we did.”
Baker got things going by marching the Mustangs down the field on the first drive, hitting A.J. Adewusi for a 30-yard strike before letting DeSean Crawford grind out 32 yards on the ground, and finishing a 4:27 opening drive by leaping over the line of scrimmage for a one-yard score.
Baker then made a crucial stop on a third-and-15 sweep by Orange Glen, pinning them back deep at their own six.
“This dude, he can play anywhere, man,” Aguirre said. “Just a great athlete.”
Two drives after Baker’s stop, he dropped back and lofted a wobbling pass 22 yards down field into double coverage. His tight end Adewusi came down with the ball between Ruben Ramirez and Kieran Villalobos, setting up a 24-yard field goal by Isaac Kolberg with 5:47 to go before the half.
On defense, Marania — the third of three Marania brothers to have played for Ferrigno at Lincoln — continued the work he’d started two weeks ago in the San Francisco Section title game. Marania racked up five tackles in the first half, with two of the Mustangs’ three tackles for loss, and played a part in three stops for no gain.
The first half ended, appropriately enough, with another show of defensive force, as Crawford — the first-team all-league running back who doubles as a corner — picked off an Ethan Villalobos pass at his own 40, and returned it to the Orange Glen 23 as the clock expired. The Patriots — which gained 2,969 yards on the ground this season — had just three yards of net offense in the first half.
Orange Glen didn’t need offense for their first score, when senior Moray Stewart took the second half’s opening kickoff from the two-yard line in the corner back across the field and up the opposite sideline for a 98-yard kickoff return.
Baker tore off 55 rushing yards on the next drive, including a 21-yard scamper and a 24-yard run over the left B gap. On Wednesday, he ran that same play in practice, and coaches admonished the Mustangs that they would not be able to get those yards against a stout Orange Glen front line. What was different?
“I think the fact that it was just here, it was our last opportunity, the last time for us playing together,” said Baker. “We just had to pull everything out of the bag … We just tried to have every single play in our play book executed.”
Baker would add a one-yard touchdown trot to finish the drive, giving Lincoln a two-score lead.
Patterson, though, answered right back, rushing for 22 yards and catching a 30-yard wheel route on the ensuing drive, plunging in nine yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 17-13 with 4:12 left in the third.
The Patriots’ Kieran Villalobos then recovered an onside kick at the Lincoln 45, but the Mustangs came up with their fourth TFL, courtesy of Baker, and forced a punt.
“For our quarterback to be laying hat like that, that just inspires all of us to go hard,” Marania said.
On third-and-2 on the ensuing drive, Lincoln motioned Crawford across the formation, faked the handoff to the backside and opened Baker up on the left. He flew up the far sideline, 53 yards for a touchdown, galloping across the back of the end zone to give the Mustangs a 24-13 lead with 11:53 left for the final tally.
“You saw him,” said head coach Phil Ferrigno. “Hell, he had a 69-yard touchdown called back for a phantom motion penalty. He’s just a great kid. I’d leave him home with one of my nieces or nephews. He’s a great kid. Everything you want in a kid is in him.”
“Love him. He’s like my brother,” Aguirre said. “His mom, Jovon gets a lot of love from his mom. It keeps him going. It’s just great to see that type of love.”
A 12-yard sack by Jack Gaughn and a leaping interception by sophomore Jalen Williams with 8:23 to go felt like the final dagger, until Adewusi sniffed out a fake punt with 3:37 left — a fake punt the Mustangs coaches had been screaming about in the press box for much of the game.
“All week, they told me to aim back shoulder on the bootleg, because that’s the one play they’re going to pass out of, and they rolled out, so I aimed for his back shoulder,” Gaughn said. “Definitely a lot of pressure off, but we still had to keep our foot on the gas … It’s a good feeling to be perfect. Never felt it before.”