Xavier Solares returned two interceptions for touchdowns, etching both himself and his head coach into the record books as the Lincoln Mustangs dominated Balboa in the second half for a 44-7 victory in the 98th Turkey Day Game.
Solares’ show-stealing performance headlined the Mustangs’ 13th Turkey Day Game title, and their third in the last four seasons, a win that made head coach Phil Ferrigno the first coach to win nine San Francisco football championships.
“That’s like fantasy,” Ferrigno said of Solares. “He was a young boy coming to our team dinners when his brother was on the team.”
Solares’ older brother, Erick, was on Lincoln’s 2018 team that went 13-0.
Xavier’s first interception, a 52-yard return of a rushed pass after Diego Cristerna broke into the pocket, gave the Mustangs a 14-7 lead with 3:15 left in the first half. His second served as an exclamation point, an 80-yard race up the left sideline with 1:56 to go.
“The second one, I kind of baited him into it,” Xavier said. “I saw he kept trying to lick me off and hit that little curl route underneath. I took a little step, and I just jumped it as soon as I saw him snap his head back. It was off to the races after that.”
Lincoln (9-3) scored once more as time expired, with Jaylen Lopez tipping a pass before securing it at the 7-yard line and taking it into the end zone.
“We call him the sloth,” Ferrigno joked about Lopez, who had two defensive touchdowns in a 49-0 win over Washington on Oct. 28.
Offensively, the Mustangs found success by opening their playbook in the first quarter, then pounding the ball on the ground behind the trio of Cristerna, Jamelle Newman and Ricky Underwood. Cristerna scored on a pair of 15-yard touchdown runs in the second half.
His score with 9:17 left in the third quarter put the Mustangs up 22-7, capping off a five-play drive after Newman set them up in Balboa territory with a 46-yard kick return. Newman also had a 28-yard punt return in the first quarter to set up the opening score. Michael Simmons completed passes to Solares and Cristerna, then scored on a 1-yard sneak after Underwood converted a third-and-5.
“I knew that they were focusing on the run,” said Simmons. “My receivers did what they were supposed to do and our passes were there where we needed them.”
Balboa (6-6) responded with a nine-play drive, tying the game at 7 on Edwin Maiava’s 30-yard pass to Nick Wong on fourth-and-2 with 1:08 left in the first quarter. It would be the Buccaneers’ lone score for the day.
“We made more mistakes than them,” Balboa head coach Fred Velasquez said. “We’ll be back. We don’t wanna rebuild, we wanna reload. If we train like we’re reloading, we’ll be back.”
By the time Lincoln had gone up two scores, Balboa’s hopes had all but disappeared. The Bucs struggled to move the ball quickly, including after Solares’ first pick-six. They held the ball for the remainder of the first half, but gained just two first downs over the last three minutes of the second quarter.
“I think the interception before halftime took some life out of us,” Velasquez said.
Dontae Allen-Wilson ran 19 times for 86 yards in the losing effort.
Andre Petrilli’s 27-yard field goal on the third play of the final quarter gave Lincoln a three-score lead, and Cristerna ran for his second touchdown after Myles Hamlin’s interception, the only one of four Lincoln takeaways that didn’t go for a pick-six.
“I can take as many people on me as possible,” Cristerna said after dragging tacklers throughout the day.
He ran eight times for 70 yards from the fullback position, Underwood carried 12 times for 76 yards and Newman racked up 61 yards on nine carries. Simmons ran three times for 14 yards and completed three of his four passes for 45, including a fourth-down conversion to Cruz Snopkowski to set up Cristerna’s second score.
Cristerna also had a game-high 11 tackles.
“He’s a really fun kid to be around,” Ferrigno said. “He’s kind of a knucklehead, we tease him a whole lot. In the last few weeks, he’s starting to figure out, ‘hey, maybe the coaches are smart, and if I just listen to them, I’ll be alright.’”
The Mustangs will advance to a Northern California regional bowl next week, likely in one of the lowest two divisions. The past four Academic Athletic Association (AAA) champions have gone on to win state bowl games. Galileo won Division 6-A in 2017, Lincoln won 6-A in 2018 and 7-AA in 2019, and Balboa won the 7-A crown in 2021. An odd number of teams qualified for Northern California bowls in 2018, so the Mustangs advanced directly to the state title game. The 2019 unit beat Mariposa County on the road in a regional final before playing for the state championship, while Balboa advanced directly in 2021.
“I’m just glad we’re there. Whatever happens, happens,” Ferrigno said. “They move us down, they move us up, whatever.”
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]