By Bonta Hill
For the first 33 minutes, it looked as though Lincoln High School would make it five straight years in which an upset occurred in the Academic Athletic Association semifinals.
But spurred by two second half turnovers by the visiting Mustangs, defending champion Washington overcame a 10-7 halftime deficit and advanced to their second-consecutive AAA championship with a 21-10 victory on Thursday.
“I tell the guys all the time that nothing is going to be easy, and I told them at halftime we didn’t really need to fix anything other than to just play harder,” said Washington head coach Karl Finley. “We’re going back to another Turkey Day and it’s kind of surreal.”
Washington’s (9-2) big-play running game was held in check most of the day and was limited to 228 yards of total offense, but got the first of two huge breaks with three minutes left in the third quarter.
The Mustangs (4-7) were forced to punt from their own 30-yard line, but punter Collin Luu couldn’t handle a low snap and the ball rolled all the way back to the Lincoln 2-yard line, where Washington recovered.
Two plays later, Washington senior running back Jamie McHenry scored on a 6-yard toss to put Washington up 14-10.
Lincoln wasn’t done, as the Mustangs drove inside the Washington 20-yard line behind the legs of junior running back Demetrius Williams, who rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown in the game.
But early in the fourth quarter, with Lincoln threatening at the Washington 17-yard line, free safety Charles Murray forced Williams to fumble with a hit at the line of scrimmage. The Eagles recovered the fumble and never looked back.
Washington took the ensuing drive 81 yards for a score, capped by an 11-yard touchdown run from senior Lajarie Mabrey.
“I’m not worried about it. Our kids played their asses off,” said Lincoln head coach Phil Ferrigno. “The punt and the fumble, things like that happened all year long for us, but hats off to Washington for a well-played game.”
Ferrigno hugged his players after the game for the effort they put forth on the year, as they were a game away from the championship game after a winless 2010 season.
“[I’m] really happy with the commitment the kids made [this year], but I feel bad for our seniors, because it would have been great for them to go to Turkey Day,” Ferrigno said. “We’ll keep growing and keep getting after it next season.”
Th Washington defense held Lincoln to 178 yards of offense and will take on Mission in the championship. The Eagles beat the Bears 28-7 in their only regular-season meeting.
“It was a lot of obstacles to overcome this year, but we’ve been finishing strong,” Finley said. “This is our fourth Turkey Day appearance in five years. Hopefully we can finish this season just as strong.”
W: 3:14 — Lajarie Mabrey 15-yard run (Adam Badi kick good)
L: 5:20 — Demetrius Williams 1-yard run (Williams run on conversion)
L: 5:18 — Safety
W: 2:13 — Jamie McHenry 6-yard run (Badi kick good)
W: 4:43 — Mabrey 11-yard run (Badi kick good)