LINCOLN HIGH SCHOOL — After losing its most productive offensive players following last season’s state title run, Lincoln head coach Phil Ferrigno has challenged his young Mustangs to be more accountable as they slogged through early season struggles.
On Saturday, arguably his most explosive player — Luis Contreras — took that message to heart. For the first time this season, he was the first one at the field at 10:30 a.m., with two of his teammates, before Lincoln’s 2 p.m. tilt against Lowell. “Today, it was like it was my birthday,” Ferrigno said.
Lincoln held the Cardinals to just 89 yards of offense, as Contreras had his best day of the season. The junior running back ran for 245 of the Mustangs’ 380 rushing yards and scored four touchdown on 22 carries against an eight- and nine-man box, as the Mustangs cruised to a 35-0 win with a fourth-quarter running clock.
“[Lowell head coach Danny Chan] and [assistant coach Al Gamboa] do a good job, and those guys were really well-prepared. They really were. It was great,” Ferrigno said. ““What did we run for, a million yards? I love it. I love it. I love it. Unbelievable, the way [Contreras] ran.”
Contreras arrived early and brought breakfast for himself and his teammates, and used the extra time to get his mind right and stretch out.
“I try to make a difference, see if I could start something new,” said Contreras, who brought Tyree Cross and lineman Jeff Barahona. “I felt like I had more energy. I was more relaxed. It was a little team bonding.”
The win was the most complete Lincoln has had this season, but was far from the polished thrashings the Mustangs issued during last year’s 13-0 season. They continue to have trouble holding onto the ball, and their first drive ended when Contreras was rocked by junior Lowell linebacker Jeremiah Hizon, who popped the ball out and gave the Cardinals the ball near midfield. Xavier Abraham and James Walsh, though, came up with a tackle for loss on third down to force a three-and-out.
The Mustangs overcame a pair of penalties on the ensuing drive and methodically marched 65 yards for a score, with Contreras trotting through a massive hole to score a four-yard touchdown with 10:14 to go in the second quarter.
“Big hole, just ran through it,” Contreras said. “My line is always there. They’re good. They’re why I get the yards I get.”
Linebacker Michael Liang — who had a big defensive day with five stops, a sack, two tackles for loss and a pass breakup — ripped the ball out from receiver Ayden Tran on the first play of Lowell’s next drive. A holding call pulled the Mustangs back to their own 40, but Owen Creed — playing quarterback for the first time — hit a 15-yard screen to Karon Richards, and Contreras ripped off a 45-yard score with 8:50 to go before the half, accelerating over the final 20 yards thanks to a hamstring that’s now healthy for the first time this season. Saturday was the first day, Contreras said, that it didn’t hurt.
“I think he’s getting full-speed again,” Ferrigno said.
The Mustangs (5-1, 3-0 in Academic Athletic Association) overcame a fumble forced by Joshua Huynh, with a pair of near picks and sacks by Abraham and Leo Gallegos (who had two tackles for loss on the drive) to go into the half having held the Cardinals to just 54 total yards. Contreras, by himself, had 129 yards on the ground.
Ahleir Barnett — who played sparingly in the first half — opened the second with a 60-yard kickoff return, only to be tripped up short of the end zone. Lincoln handed him the ball twice to get the final five yards and the score with 11:14 to go in the third, putting the Mustangs up 21-0.
Tackles for loss by Gallegos and Barnett stopped the Cardinals at the Lincoln 41, and on the third play of the next drive, Contreras cut inside for a 52-yard touchdown with 6:35 to go in the third quarter.
Lowell (3-3-1, 1-2 in AAA) got as far as the Lincoln 36 on their next drive, but good coverage forced back-to-back incompletions by Cardinals quarterback Reese Miller (4-for-14, 24 yards, INT), and four plays later, Contreras ripped off a 43-yard touchdown as the third quarter expired.
An interception by Jack Lao — who also had a pass breakup — on the second play of the fourth quarter allowed the Mustangs to grind out a 12-play drive to end the game, as Contreras got a well-deserved rest.
With senior leaders like Jack Gaughan, Jovon Baker, Desean Crawford and Julian Aguirre having graduated, Contreras — who only played defense last season — is starting to develop into the leader the Mustangs need, both on the field and off.
“By his natural talent, he’s a leader everywhere,” Ferrigno said. “He just doesn’t realize it. He’s doing well. He’s showing up.”
Lowell’s Brennan Nguy had 21 rushing yards on 7 carries, and Benjamin Ng had 22 yards on 11 carries.The Cardinals’ Ronald Pollick had 22 rushing yards on eight carries.
Richards finished with 46 rushing yards on eight carries for Lincoln. The Mustangs’ Andres Montoya rushed for 48 yards on six carries.
Defensively, Lincoln twins Jonathan and Justin Chow combined for four tackles and a tackle for loss. Gallegos finished with eight stops, three tackles for loss and a sack. Senior outside linebacker Nick Walker had a tackle on special teams, two pass breakups and two QB hurries. Walsh finished with a PBU at the line and two tackles, including a tackle for loss, unofficially.
Correction: In a previous version of this story, Brennan Nguy was incorrectly identified as Brandon Nguy and Benjamin Ng was incorrectly identified as Brandon Ng.