The saying goes that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but perhaps you can teach a new dog — or, more appropriately, a new horse — some old tricks.
The Lincoln Mustangs snapped their three-game losing streak on Saturday afternoon and avenged last year’s Turkey Day Game loss to Balboa, beating the Buccaneers 21-7 in the Academic Athletic Association (AAA) opener for both teams.
Balboa’s 21-0 win last year on Thanksgiving snapped a string of eight straight losses to the Mustangs, but on Saturday, Lincoln (2-3, 1-0 AAA) played its signature style of suffocating defense, controlling both the clock and the line of scrimmage. The Mustangs allowed just 56 yards of total offense, forced three turnovers and took advantage of two botched snaps on punts.
“(The) 2019 (season) is like an old jalopy that you’ve got to put up. Last year? Old jalopy,” Lincoln head coach Phil Ferrigno said when asked about his team’s recent history against the Buccaneers, which includes postseason meetings in 2018 and 2019. “This year? We can be a nice looking car, but we gotta shine it up.”
Specifically, Ferrigno’s Mustangs still need to shine up a few things on offense. They turned the ball over twice and were limited to just 219 yards, 83 of which came on one play.
A lack of big plays has been part of Lincoln’s undoing in recent years, but the Mustangs had their share of them on Saturday thanks to Xavier Solares. He caught a deep lob from freshman quarterback Latu Manumua with 2:53 left in the first half for the game’s first score.
“I was running a streak on that play and I just got to the line, and when I looked back at my quarterback, I couldn’t really find the ball until right at the last second,” said Solares, who also recorded a pair of interceptions on defense. “I just put my hands out there and hoped for the best. When I caught it, I saw there was no one around me and I just sprinted as fast as I could to the end zone.”
Balboa’s safety whiffed on an attempt to intercept Manumua’s pass, leaving Solares with nothing but patchy grass in front of him. The defensive back overplaying his hand was just one of the countless mistakes that plagued the Buccaneers on the afternoon, errors that went far beyond the turnovers and penalties.
“I think I have 20 guys that have never frickin’ played youth football before, so that’s what we’re struggling with, trying to teach these guys the game of football,” head coach Fred Velasquez said following the loss. “These kids in the city of San Francisco nowadays, they don’t go outside and play catch and run the ball and tackle each other. They’re on these goddamn video games. The team that makes the most mistakes is gonna lose, and that was us today.”
Balboa (1-4, 0-1) did have the ball down just one score in the fourth quarter, having forced a three-and-out after Dontae Allen-Wilson’s 15-yard touchdown run cut the lead to 14-7, but the second bad snap on a punt attempt set the Mustangs up at the Buccaneer 2 with 3:31 left. Manumua’s QB sneak on second down put the game away, and Solares’ second interception served as the exclamation point.
Running back Jamelle Newman, who filled in for an injured Ricky Underwood, was the center of Lincoln’s offense, carrying the ball 22 times for 82 yards. He fumbled twice and left the game with a minor injury late in the first half, but returned for the third quarter.
“My mindset was to help my team win, to get more than two yards per carry and help my line look good,” he said.
Newman’s 10-yard touchdown run with 52 seconds left in the third quarter gave the Mustangs a 14-0 lead.
Omar Blanco, who transferred from Lincoln over the summer, had a pair of receptions for 12 yards for Balboa, who will host Galileo (0-5, 0-1) next Saturday. Lincoln remains at home next Saturday, welcoming Mission (0-4, 0-1) to the Sunset District.
Gabe Fisher can be reached at [email protected]