Only for a brief moment did the Mission High School Bears pose a threat to the onslaught by Lincoln High at Kezar Stadium last night.
Down 14-0 at the beginning of the second quarter of the city championship game, junior receiver Julian Milton took a kickoff 79 yards to the Mustangs’ nine. “Touchdown! Touchdown!” his teammates screamed, running on the sideline, as Milton sped and cut through the field, avoiding numerous tackles. But not so fast: Four unproductive downs later, a bad snap would rainbow over quarterback McKinley Oliver, and that would be the end of it. The Bears were never that close to scoring again.
So lopsided was the rest of the game that, after a hesitant opening possession, the Mustangs did not see themselves at fourth down until early in the final quarter, already playing with a bunch of subs. The final score was 53-0 for Lincoln, and the scoring barrage came in large part in the minutes after Milton’s illusory second-quarter run. Twenty-nine points later, the Bears were down 43 at halftime.
Then and there, in a corner of Kezar Stadium, coach Tobias Whitley could only remind them of the original plan — “focus, focus, focus” — while he began to focus on his underclassmen.
“I told them these championship games are the type of games won in the summer, that what we do then translates around this time of the season,” said Whitley later.
The ambitious Bears were diminished by their much bigger, stronger opposition. Tight on defense and methodical on offense, Lincoln started winning yards after sub-par punts by Mission. The Mustangs’ offensive line never gave the Bears an opportunity to rough up Lincoln’s skill position players, and so they moved largely unimpeded. The physical disadvantage was on full display when Lincoln’s 6-foot-3 receiver Jalen Williams ran practically unopposed for 79 yards to score yet another touchdown.
“Stop them, please! Stop them!” a Mission parent pleaded from the stands.
It was also a show of mistakes by the Bears that further enabled Lincoln’s domination of the game: fluffed punts, over-eager snaps, rushed passes, slips and fumbles. Out of three attempted long passes by McKinley Oliver, only one found the hands of receiver Demarr Simmons. The bleeding was somewhat contained during the second half, but never stopped.
The tears of frustration started soon after. “We’ll be back!” screamed junior Rasheed Loveless a few times, for good measure.
He may be, but there will not be another chance for 11 seniors, who may never play another competitive game again. This blowout could be it, so they will have to make peace with it. Coach Whitley — or TB, as he likes to be called — kickstarted the healing process in the huddle.
“This ain’t about winning on the field! I care about you winning in life!” he rallied.
With everyone taking a knee around him, the first-year coach called out players’ names, one by one, to stand up and take a brief homage.
Life comes fast for everyone, but he made a point to take a pause. The city’s runners-up then huddled for two final cries:
“1, 2, 3, Bears!!”
“4, 5, 6, family!!”