The circumstances were higher than usual, but the 77th Bell Game looked just like the last nine editions that preceded it, with the Lincoln Mustangs trouncing the Washington Eagles.
The Mustangs scored four defensive touchdowns by halftime and allowed just 102 yards of total offense in a 49-0 rout, securing no worse than a share of first place and the top seed in the Academic Athletic Association (AAA) playoffs.
“Pretty crazy,” head coach Phil Ferrigno said of his team’s defensive performance. “I’m happy tonight.”
Lincoln (6-3, 5-0 AAA) took the lead on Jamelle Newman’s 52-yard touchdown run 58 seconds into the game, then doubled the lead when freshman Latu Manumua recovered a botched punt in the end zone.
The Mustang defense added three more scores in the final 3:26 of the second quarter. Jaylen Lopez scored twice in just over two minutes, recovering a fumble in the end zone and returning another for a 56-yard score.
“I’m gonna remember this for the rest of my life,” Lopez said.
Lopez’s second touchdown would have gone in the books as a pick-six had the screen pass he snatched out of midair been thrown forward, but as it traveled backward, it was technically a lateral and therefore considered a fumble recovery.
“If teams try to go away from one side of our defense, they don’t know how good the other side is,” Lopez said. “We’re a really well-rounded team. There’s no one you can pick on.”
Newman, who ran 10 times for 136 yards and a pair of touchdowns, capped off the first half with a 40-yard pick-six, tipping and intercepting a pass before returning it to the south end zone.
“Jamelle just keeps making plays,” Ferrigno said after entertaining his team by singing a few bars from Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell.” “He’s doing great. He’s playing his ass off.”
Newman, who ran for a 43-yard touchdown with 5:10 left in the third quarter, split carries with Ricky Underwood, who was playing for the first time since breaking his collarbone in Lincoln’s season-opening win over Jefferson. Underwood played the first half and finished with 61 yards on nine carries.
Lincoln’s defense accounted for 30 total points on the day, with Myles Hamlin blocking a punt out of the end zone for a safety before the end of the third quarter to make it 43-0. With a running clock in effect for the fourth quarter, Renay Taylor scored on a 4-yard run to round out the scoring.
Without quarterback James Mertz, who injured his knee at the end of last week’s win over Balboa, Washington (7-2, 4-1) had no answers for Lincoln’s defense, turning the ball over six times in all.
“We got beat up up front, we got beat up in the back, we got beat up everywhere,” Eagles head coach Mike Ramos said. “No excuses.”
Washington was also significantly limited on defense without Sam Dunn (calf), Elyjah Qasevakatini and Quadir Jules.
“This was a kick in the ass,” Ramos said. “Early in the season, we lost to Irvington 23-22, and it was what we needed at the time. If this is what gets us back in line, I’ll take it.”
Ayan Razzak had an interception for the Eagles, one of two times Washington stopped the Mustangs in the red zone. The other came in the second quarter, but was quickly erased by Lopez’s fumble recovery in the end zone.
“I told the guys, I’ll give up the Bell Trophy any time if we can get a state championship,” Ramos added.
Zach Gillern blocked an extra point for the hosts, and Tommy Mayfield-Commer ran 13 times for 61 yards.
“They’re gonna be way different in the playoffs,” Ferrigno commented.
Vincent Huang forced a fumble that Diego Cristerna recovered less than two minutes in for the first of Lincoln’s six takeaways, and one of only two that didn’t result in a defensive touchdown. Hamlin also recovered a fumble in the third quarter.
“We lifted really well all week,” Huang said of his team’s preparation.
With a fourth consecutive regular season title already locked up, Lincoln visits Burton (0-4, 0-3 AAA) next Saturday before a bye in the final week of the regular season. The Eagles have their bye next week and will host Mission (2-5, 2-2) for Senior Day on Nov. 11. Washington is still in line for the second seed, and would only drop to third if Mission wins its final two games, including next Saturday at Balboa (3-5, 2-2).
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