Story by Richard Lee/photographs by Rigoberto Hernandez
Spectators expecting exciting and eventful Thanksgiving football got all they could have hoped for as the 2012 AAA championships came down to a matter of inches. A two-point conversion decided the winner, and the Lincoln Mustangs escaped with a narrow victory, 22-21, over the Mission Bears.
Despite surrendering 176 total offensive yards in the first half and trailing 14-0 at halftime, the Bears did not allow the game to get away from them.
“If we were going to come back, we knew we had to stay together,” said senior wide receiver Alex Tico.
“When we were in the locker room [at half-time], we were saying we’re a second-half team, so we wanted to just fight and play hard and prove to everyone that we’re not just a team that’s going to lay down and let these guys beat us like that,” said senior wide receiver Demetrius Thibeaux. “We were going to come out hard like some animals.”
The Mustangs opened up the second half threatening to score after driving the ball up the field to Mission’s 12-yard line. But the momentum took a drastic turn when Mission senior Armani McFarland picked off a throw at Mission’s own one-yard line before returning possession to the Bears at Mission’s 14-yard line.
“We knew we could do it, we just had to tighten up our defense and we did that,” Tico said.
On the very next play following McFarland’s interception, senior quarterback Antoine Porter broke free from the pocket and scrambled for an 86-yard touchdown run. Lincoln responded with repeated rushing attempts to advance the ball to Mission’s red zone before turning the ball on downs. On 17 plays, Porter capped off an 82-yard drive running off his left tackle to fight his way to the score.
With the game tied, the Bears continued their intense defense with a swarm of Mission defenders retrieving a fumble in Lincoln territory. The Bears scored off a four-yard touchdown run to capitalize on a five-play, 38-yard drive that earned them a 21-14 lead late in the fourth quarter.
With the ball spotted on their own 41-yard line, the Mustangs had touchdown on their minds. On third and 13 to open up the drive, the Bears’ defense surrendered a 39-yard Lincoln pass. Lincoln quarterback Derek Morell threw the ball just four times in the whole game. On seven more rushing attempts, the Mustangs were able to squeeze their way into a touchdown to lead by just one point.
With less than a minute of regulation left, Lincoln decided it was time to end the game by lining up for a two-point conversion. In a run that decided the season, the Mustang blockers gave the extra push Lincoln needed to take the lead, 22-21. There was only one timeout left, and Lincoln was playing zone coverage, so the Bears could not rack up enough yards to score again.
“It was fun,” Tico said as he packed up his pads and cleats. “I’m not going to lie. The whole game was fun. It was exciting. As [in] all championships, someone has to lose and it just wasn’t our time.”
Mission wrapped up the season with an overall record of 7-4. Despite the loss, the game proved to be the first time that they had erased a deficit of more than one possession. Many seniors will be graduating this spring, but the Bears have made their mark around the city with a 21-4 AAA record (including playoff games) under head coach Joe Albano, who will be looking to continue the dominance with many returning varsity players.
“We’re persistent,” Thibeaux said when asked to describe the season in one word. “We’re defenders, and people doubted us at times and we just wanted to play hard. Sometimes we were off but we still continued to fight.”
“You win some, you lose some,” Tico said. “But we came back and we gave them a game and it was fun … can’t complain.”