What a difference a year makes.
The Lincoln Mustangs dropped three of their four non-league contests in 2021, playing a quartet of games against opponents that had at least gotten the opportunity to play some form of a truncated 2020-21 season in the spring. Such an opportunity wasn’t afforded to members of the San Francisco Unified School District, and the lack of experience was apparent.
With a proper year of play now under their belts, the Mustangs returned to the field for their 2022 season opener and clobbered a Jefferson team that had beaten them during the prior season, rolling to a 43-14 victory.
“We were finally able to get all the guys together and get them on the same page,” linebacker Diego Cristerna said. “We worked all summer and all off-season for this opportunity.”
Cristerna and the Mustangs couldn’t have dreamed of a better first quarter. Ricky Underwood set Lincoln (1-0) up near midfield with a 35-yard kick return, then gained 25 on his first rushing attempt of the season before scoring on a four-yard touchdown run, the first of three scores he recorded in the opening frame.
The Mustangs held a 9-0 lead less than halfway through the opening quarter as Jefferson’s backup center sent consecutive snaps over the head of quarterback Tyler Taylor, with the latter going out of the end zone for a safety. Michael Simmons scored two plays later, catching freshman Latu Manumua’s first career pass on a swing route for a gain of 24 before scoring on a three-yard sweep. A Cristerna interception on the first play of the ensuing Grizzly drive set Underwood up for a seven-yard touchdown run, and after Jefferson went-three-and-out, Underwood showed off his skills out of the backfield with a one-handed reception for a gain of 20 before scoring on another seven-yard plunge.
Underwood finished the day with 103 yards on 13 carries, numbers that would have easily been higher had he not left with an injury in the second quarter, feared to be a broken collarbone.
His understudy, Jamelle Newman, filled in admirably for the remainder of the game. He racked up 44 yards and a pair of touchdowns on just five carries, scoring from four yards out in the final minute of the first half to make it a 36-0 lead at the break. His seven-yard score with 54 seconds left in the third quarter extended the lead to 43-6.
“We already had a talk about this,” Newman said of his relationship with Underwood. “If I got hurt, he was gonna step up for me, and if he gets hurt, I would step up for him.”
While high schools around the region are shifting to modern spread offenses, Lincoln head coach Phil Ferrigno is still a traditionalist. The Mustangs ran the ball on 31 of their 34 offensive plays, and only one of those 31 looked like it may have been improvised after a pass was called.
“Maybe I’m an old fart, but we run the ball and we play great defense,” Ferrigno said. “Everybody wants to do the spread, everyone wants to have shotgun snaps. Look what happened today. They snapped it over their guy’s head four times, it gave us the ball in the red zone and we were cooking with gas.”
Lincoln’s offensive line made it easy for Underwood, Newman and Cristerna, who rounded out the trio with 38 yards on seven carries. Jacob Diaz Padilla, Deion Solis and sophomore Gabriel Tato combined to bully the Grizzlies in the trenches.
“I saw nothing but holes and daylight,” Newman said. “I didn’t know which ones to pick, so I just ran.”
Taylor was one of the few bright spots for the visiting Grizzlies, completing five of his 13 passes for 60 yards and running 14 times for 78 yards. He accounted for both of his team’s scores; he scored from a yard out in the third quarter after a 47-yard pickup, and he scored on a seven-yard run in the fourth. Nate Sanz recovered a fumble in the third for Jefferson (0-1), but sloppiness and a group of injured starters kept the Grizzlies from ever putting up a serious fight.
Lincoln will face a second consecutive opponent from the Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division, the middle of the league’s three divisions, next week. The Mustangs travel to Pacifica to face Terra Nova (1-0). The Tigers opened their season with a 42-21 win over Santa Clara.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]