LINCOLN HIGH SCHOOL — Knotted in a scoreless tie with Mission at the start of the second half on Saturday, Lincoln needed something to spark them against a team looking for revenge. On the Bears’ third play out of the break, in the shadow of his own end zone, quarterback Jarmareia Burroughs threw a desperation screen to Julian Milton. Senior Owen Creed was waiting.
Creed wrapped his arms around Milton and put him in the ground for a safety.
While Mission has recovered from eligibility issues and non-league struggles, Lincoln has been looking for an identity after losing the core of their state title team to graduation. After early blunders and missed opportunities, Creed’s heads-up play keyed a 16-0 win for the Mustangs in a likely playoff preview.
“We played really well defensively,” said Lincoln head coach Phil Ferrigno. “Eighteen years I’ve been here, and we never really start well, but they’re a good team, and they played us hard. I’m just happy that our guys got it together. We played very physical.”
The Mustangs defense helped to paper over early offensive struggles and stagnation, along with five fumbles on the day. Lincoln held the Bears — who had outscored Lowell and Galileo 96-0 over the previous two weeks — to just 84 offensive yards on the day, 81 in the first half. The Mustangs racked up seven tackles for loss and five sacks, including two by Leo Gallegos, one by Creed, one by senior Michael Hicks and another by Temani Morris.
The two teams, though, were knotted 0-0 after the first quarter, a far cry from last year’s Academic Athletic Association championship, which saw the Mustangs roll to a 53-0 win en route to a perfect 13-0 season.
Lincoln (4-1, 2-0 in AAA) had a chance to strike early in the second quarter, driving from their own 15 down to the Mission one, but Tyree Cross fumbled on the would-be touchdown run. Matt Cohn returned the fumble 63 yards, but the Mustangs held strong, forcing a three-and-out by the Bears (2-4-1, 2-1 in AAA) thanks to a pair of pressures from James Walsh.
“We’ve been heavy on missed opportunities,” said Mission head coach Tobias Whitley. “That was just another missed opportunity we’ve got to go over.”
Lincoln had another drive snuffed out by a stop at the sticks by Noah Lee with 4:04 to go before the half, but the Mustangs defense held strong again, though not in a traditional sense.
After a 43-yard bomb from Burroughs to Lee and a pass interference on Creed on second-and-nine brought Mission to the Lincoln five. Creed made up for his blunder with a sack for a loss of 10, then Burroughs came back with what looked to be a fade to the end zone. Junior Jack Lao went up early against Julian Neal, only to see the ball come much later than he’d anticipated.
“I thought if it’s not in his hands, I’ll just go for it,” Lao said. “I didn’t backpedal fast enough. My ankle’s kind of tweaked right now. I saw the ball, and I just ran toward him.”
The pass interference call stopped Mission from scoring, and they were flagged on a fumbled snap on the next play as the half expired, keeping the game scoreless.
In the post-game breakdown, Lao’s coaches said they didn’t fault him for a mistake made “at 100 miles an hour,” because it showed effort.
On Mission’s third play of the third quarter, backed up to his own 13, Burroughs felt back side pressure from Gallegos, fielded a bad snap and hurried a throw to Milton behind the line of scrimmage. Creed was on the spot, and dropped Milton in the end zone for a safety — the first score of the day — with 10:18 to go in the quarter.
“Don’t let him out of the end zone,” Creed recalled thinking. “We need that safety. We need those points. It gave us that boost of momentum.”
It was an inauspicious return for Burroughs, who hyperextended his left knee on the first series last week. He finished the day 4-for-10 for 71 yards and a pick.
“It clicked it for us,” Gallegos said. “We knew if we had something — our goal was to score on defense, and we did — right when we got the safety, it clicked. Our defense went beast mode.”
Lincoln then recovered from a Contreras fumble forced by Rasheed Loveless and Noah Lee to force a three-and-out, and rode Contreras to an 89-yard scoring drive. Contreras broke off a 25-yard run that saw him bounce off two tackles, cut back and get down to the 11. He then punched in an 11-yard TD, breaking three tackles with 44.3 seconds left in the third to put the Mustangs up 8-0 and punctuating a 256-yard rushing day on 33 carries.
Back-to-back sacks by Gallegos and Hicks stifled the next Mission drive, and Lincoln marched 92 yards on 11 plays to score, with Ahleir Barnett ripping off a 35-yard touchdown run, stiff-arming Loveless and avoiding a Khalil Ford tackle, getting a block by Gallegos for the back-breaking score with 4:26 to go in regulation.
“Those two sacks really meant a lot to our defense,” Gallegos said. “It showed the crowd that we’re still No. 1. We knew they were going to come out hard, looking for revenge for what happened at the championship game.”
With three minutes left, Jonas Francovich jumped a route in the red zone for a 35-yard interception return, sealing the win.
For the Bears, Loveless had seven tackles and a fumble recovery, Dean Manley had seven tackles as did Edward Humphries and Emare Sumpter had five tackles, including one for a loss.
“I figured it was going to be a tight game,” said Whitley. “I knew they were going to come prepared, ready to play … They played good football, sound. Dives, counters, Lincoln football. They played Lincoln football today.”
Other AAA scores:
Balboa 61 vs. Washington 0
Burton 32 vs. Galileo 0