SAN FRANCISCO – After a one-year hiatus Lincoln is back on top of the CIF San Francisco Section after the Mustangs turned back defending champion Balboa with an impressive 44-7 Turkey Day victory on Thanksgiving afternoon at historic Kezar Stadium.
The win avenges a 21-0 blanking by Balboa in last year’s Turkey Day championship and completes a sweep by the Mustangs (9-3) over the Buccaneers this season after Lincoln won 21-7 in early October in Academic Athletic Association league action.
The Turkey Day championship is the third in the last four tries and fourth in the last six for Lincoln, and also the third straight meeting between Lincoln and Balboa on Thanksgiving Day. It’s also Turkey Day title No. 13 for Lincoln, moving them past Lowell and the now long-closed Polytechnic (12 titles each) for No. 2 in San Francisco Section history behind the 17 championships of Galileo.
And finally, for head coach Phil Ferrigno, a San Francisco native and 1983 graduate of Riordan who’s in his 21st year and 20th season at the Mustangs helm, it was his ninth Turkey Day win, the most ever for a coach in SF Section history.
Despite his record the affable and always humble Ferrigno wanted to talk about the team.
“It’s all them,” Ferrigno remarked. “We prepared them well and they worked hard and did a great job. The rewards of today is what they have.”
“Never in my life would I have dreamed this,” said Ferrigno about his record for most section titles.
The game was a matchup of two teams that like to run the football, but Lincoln had a few tricks up its sleeve.
Balboa got the opening kickoff, but after five plays the drive stalled. Following a 34-yard punt return by Lincoln junior Jamelle Newman, the Mustangs were in business at the Buccaneer 42-yard line.
On the first play, and to a somewhat astonished assembled media, Ferrigno called for a pass and senior quarterback Michael Simmons completed it to Xavier Solares for an 18-yard gain. The first one worked so why not try it again. On the next play it was a 16-yard completion from Simmons to junior Diego Cristerna. Five plays later, all runs, Simmons took it in on a 1-yard plunge and Lincoln had a 7-0 lead.
“Amazing isn’t it, and we completed some,” said Ferrigno in reference to passing the ball. “We can do it, but most of the time it’s a matter of why do it?”
Lincoln would only throw three more passes in the game, including an incomplete halfback option on fourth down, but the seed was planted.
After the Lincoln score, Balboa mounted its only scoring drive of the game. The nine-play, 71-yard drive came down to fourth-and four, and the equalizer came on a 30-yard pass from senior quarterback Edwin Togiai-Maiava to senior Nick Wong.
Lincoln took the ensuing kickoff but its drive stalled after eight plays on the option pass by senior running back Ricky Underwood.
At that point Balboa got the ball on downs at its own 20. The ground game pounded out eight runs and the Buccaneers looked like they might drive to take the lead. However, on the ninth play Balboa tried a pass on third-and long and Solares stepped in front of the receiver and the momentum quickly changed when he intercepted the pass and took it 53 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 halftime lead the Mustangs would never relinquish.
Newman took the second-half kickoff and had another long return. This time he brought it back 46 yards to the Balboa 45. After four runs totaling 30 yards by Underwood, Cristerna took a handoff and carried three tacklers into the end zone for a 15-yard TD run. A bad snap on the PAT caused Underwood to scoop up the pigskin and he ran for a two-point conversion and a 22-7 lead with 9:17 left in the third quarter.
Lincoln took the 15-point lead into the fourth quarter and from there the roof caved in for Balboa.
On the third play of the fourth quarter Lincoln junior kicker Andre Petrilli drilled a 27-yard field goal for a 25-7 lead. Being behind by three scores in the fourth quarter, and with a running offense, Balboa tried to pass and it totally backfired.
An interception by sophomore Myles Hamlin set up a 15-yard TD run by Cristerna and at 31-7 the rout was on.
On Balboa’s next possession Solares got his second pick six, this time on an 80-yard interception return. And finally, junior Jaylen Lopez, who Ferrigno affectionately referred to as “the sloth,” got a third pick six and fourth interception when he ended the game on a 12-yard return for a score.
“Our defense is probably the best in the league,” Solares said. “So we just tried to keep things going from when we played them last time, and we were able to shut them down again."
Cristerna finished with 75 yards rushing and the two touchdowns, plus he added nine tackles on defense at linebacker. Underwood added 72 yards rushing, and Newman added 47 yards rushing to go with the two long returns. Simmons was 3 of 4 passing for 46 yards and he had the one rushing touchdown.
On defense for Lincoln, junior defensive end Jaylen Lopez had two sacks and senior linebacker Vincent Huang registered 16 tackles.
“We felt like the regular season win didn’t really matter as much as this game,” Newman said. “We lost last year and got shut out so this year we wanted to be the bully.”
Balboa (6-6) was led by junior running back Dontae Allen-Wilson with 77 yards rushing on 17 carries.
The Buccaneers started 1-4, and when they lost to Washington 22-0 they were 3-5 and people were counting them out, but they came back to win their next three games, including avenging the loss to Washington with a 17-14 victory in the semifinals.
“Lincoln was well prepared today,” said Balboa head coach Fred Velasquez. “They did some uncommon stuff that they usually don’t do, and they saved it for Turkey Day with a great game plan. But we also made a lot of mistakes today and went away from what got us here.”
San Francisco Mayor London Breed was at the game, posed for a picture with Ferrigno, and handed out the awards to both teams.
For Lincoln, winners of two back-to-back state CIF Bowl Game championships in Division 6-A in 2018 and 7-AA in 2019, they will wait to see what division they’ll be placed in by the CIF at the seeding meeting on Sunday and who their opponent will be.