SAN FRANCISCO — The Lincoln Mustangs are San Francisco Section/Academic Athletic Association champions for the second year in a row, and they won the title by playing their way.
Using a stifling defense, a tireless performance by running back Luis Contreras and just a little bit of razzle-dazzle, the Mustangs beat the Balboa Buccaneers 10-0 in the 96th Turkey Day Game, winning the AAA title at Kezar Stadium before an estimated 2,000 fans.
That razzle-dazzle came on the game’s lone touchdown, a 45-yard pass from Jonas Francovich to Ahleir Barnett with 13 seconds left in the first half. Out of timeouts and an incompletion away from calling a run play to take the game into the half with no score, Francovich found a streaking Barnett ove the middle and the junior receiver shook off his lone would-be tackler en route to the end zone.
“It felt good,” Barnett said. “I was able to put my team in a better situation.”
By far the longest play of the day, Barnett’s touchdown provided a break from the pattern of suffocating defenses in a game that appropriately honored its longtime traditions by playing out like an old-school battle from the days of leather helmets. Barnett, who was deemed by many of his peers before the season as a potential breakout star, etched his name into San Francisco lore with the reception.
Those seniors who had Barnett as a potential star dominated in the trenches. Lincoln (10-1) allowed just 113 yards on the day and only let the Buccaneers into the red zone once, fueled by a line led by Leo Gallegos and Sikoti Manumua. A Manumua fumble recovery in the second quarter set the Mustangs up at the Balboa 23, but the Buccaneer defense held and Kevin Murrieta’s 44-yard field goal try, made longer by a delay of game penalty, came up short.
Undeterred and perhaps inspired a bit by the confidence that his coaches showed in him on the early attempt, Murrieta went back out to the west side of the field midway through the third and split the uprights with a 32-yarder. Having also hit a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation and a double-OT winner in a regular-season victory over Balboa, Murrieta’s first year of organized football has been a memorable one.
“It was awesome,” said Murrieta, who had spent his prior three years at City Arts and Tech, a charter school that not only doesn’t field a football team but lacks an athletic department altogether. “I love playing with the boys.”
With his 32-yard field goal, a two-score lead looked all but insurmountable, though Balboa (6-6) did follow with a valiant push. Raiden Thien-Jones, who completed six of his 11 passes on the day for 57 yards, found Orlindale Carraway for a 30-yard connection on one of the best catches of the day, and with a 13-yard carry by Jaziah Amataga, the Buccaneers were in business. They reached the red zone with a completion from Thien-Jones to Chris Whiley but found themselves stopped on downs moments later as Tyree Cross knocked a pass down in the end zone.
Though the Mustangs wouldn’t score again, that stop was Balboa’s penultimate possession. The Buccaneers held the ball for just a minute and 49 seconds in the fourth quarter, thanks in no small part to Luis Contreras. While the Balboa defense held the senior, who sits at third on Lincoln’s single-season rushing leaderboard, to 138 yards, he carried an unbelievable 40 times, breaking the 2,000-yard mark for the season on a six-yard carry late in the first quarter.
“He’s a tough little guy,” head coach Phil Ferrigno said of Conteras, who’s become a viable heir to 2018’s state championship offense, which was led by Jovon Baker and DeSean Crawford. “He plays hard and I’m happy that he’s a part of our team. He’s a guy we took our chances on, and he got himself together.”
Meanwhile, Balboa was stuck searching for answers against a Lincoln defense that authored its fifth shutout of the season and second consecutive championship clean sheet.
“We made a lot of mistakes on the front line,” Balboa head coach Fred Velasquez said. “We only have one senior that started today on that line. We have a freshman and three sophomores.”
There may be tons of promise for the Buccaneers’ returning players, but Thursday marked the end for an excellent senior class that will leave without its ultimate goal.
“I lost my auntie in the middle of the season, she’s like a mother figure to me, and I just wanted to take it all the way for her. To see this, we’re going to depart on a note like this, and it’s not something anybody wanted,” Amataga said.