Lincoln quarterback Luis Contreras is hit by Piedmont safety Joe Hempek in the third quarter of a game at Lincoln High School in San Francisco on Sept. 21, 2019. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)

SF Preps: Lincoln’s mistakes cost them in 17-14 loss

Turnovers and ill-timed penalties lead to Mustangs’ first loss in more than a year

LINCOLN HIGH SCHOOL — As Piedmont quarterback Cal Barna readied to kneel out the final 39.5 seconds, Lincoln head coach Phil Ferrigno looked resignedly at the grass on the Mustangs sideline, play card hanging from his waistband.

Lincoln’s first game in two weeks began inauspiciously — with the Mustangs’ fullback running the wrong way on two of the first three plays — and ended in a drive that featured a false start, a fumbled snap, intentional grounding and the wrong player lining up at quarterback.

A host of mistakes — mental and physical — cost the Mustangs in a 17-14 loss to the Highlanders, their first loss since Nov. 24, 2017. The game was, as coaches said afterward, embarrassing for the defending Division 6 state champions.

“It’s totally disappointing, and you knew it was coming,” said Ferrigno, who coached the Mustangs to a perfect 13-0 season a year ago. “They’re not there yet … They’re slumbering. They’re all sleeping right now. They think you can just turn it on. You’ve got to work.”

Lincoln (1-1) turned the ball over five times and fumbled six. The Mustangs threw two interceptions and lost 50 yards due to five penalties. That may not seem like much, but one such penalty — an unsportsmanlike flag on an injured player standing on the sidelines — exacerbated an interception on third-and-five at the Piedmont 33. A false start and an intentional grounding hobbled Lincoln’s final drive, putting them in second-and-32 at its own 15, meaning the run-based Mustangs had to complete at least two passes to even think about tying things up.

Luis Contreras — who ran for 149 yards on 30 carries — lined up at quarterback when Jonas Francovich was supposed to take the snap, burning 10 seconds on the clock before the error was resolved. Contreras took a handoff and gained five yards, and Francovich threw incomplete on fourth-and-22, all but ending the game.

“He played tough. He ran hard. He’s a tough kid. Luis is not the issue,” Ferrigno said. “All these guys got to go to school, they’ve got to be on time for class. They’ve got to get their [stuff] together.”

After going down 7-0 in the first five minutes, Lincoln rode Contreras for 65 yards and a touchdown on a six-minute drive, but missed the PAT with 1:17 to go in the first quarter. Piedmont’s second drive of the second quarter ate up 3:41, and saw the Mustangs lose edge contain as fullback Georgie Brayer rushed for a 16-yard touchdown.

After a promising 17-yard kickoff return by senior James Walsh, junior running back Xavier Abram fumbled a pitch on second-and-six at the Lincoln 23, but two key stops by Tyree Cross (who had seven tackles on the day) forced a pooch punt.

A false start, an offsides penalty and a snap over Francovich’s head hamstrung the Mustangs’ next drive and Piedmont took advantage. The Highlanders kicked a field goal as the half expired to go up 17-6.

Lincoln got a bit of luck at the start of the third quarter, as Leo Gallegos — the top two-way lineman in the Academic Athletic Association who battled 6-foot-6 defensive end Patrick Siena to a standstill and racked up five tackles, including two tackles for loss, along with a forced fumble — popped the ball out on Piedmont’s first play. The Mustangs gave the ball right back with a fumble of their own, but then forced a three-and-out.

“They’re a tough team and we played them hard, but there were too many negatives that outweighed the positives,” Ferrigno said. “There are so many things we could have done. They did a good job of controlling the ball and taking it to us. We did a good job of coming back and playing good defense and opportunistic offense. At the same time, it just isn’t enough.”

A 47-yard end-around by Walsh with 6:59 to go in the third got Lincoln within a field goal, and came at an opportune time for Walsh, who had dropped two passes. That was as close as the Mustangs could get. For every stout defensive stand — a pair of stops by Gallegos and a pair of Highlanders penalties, followed by a fourth-and-goal tackle by Francovich stopped the next Piedmont drive — Lincoln couldn’t move the ball smoothly on offense. A bad exchange and a fumble quashed the Mustangs’ next driveand a fumble and a pick the drive after that.

A Mustangs fumble recovery on their own 32 with 1:56 to go gave Lincoln a chance, but after a false start, a fumbled snap led to Francovich throwing the ball to the sideline as he was getting hit, drawing the intentional grounding penalty. That put the Mustangs at their own 10, and they couldn’t recover.

Lincoln will host South San Francisco-El Camino next Saturday, before beginning AAA play on Oct. 4.

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