By Jeremy Balan
While the Lincoln High School football team’s resounding 42-14 regular-season win over Mission makes the Mustangs considerable favorites in the Academic Athletic Association championship game on Thanksgiving Day, recent history is not on their side.
The last three regular-season AAA champions have all fallen short of winning Turkey Day titles, but Lincoln was the last team to do it, when it won its fourth straight championship in 2008.
Mission has been on both sides of the trend in the last two seasons.
In 2010, Mission had its undefeated regular season spoiled by fourth-seeded Balboa in the league semifinals, but last season, the Bears knocked off league-undefeated Washington to win their first AAA title since 1954.
Lincoln head coach Phil Ferrigno shrugs off the favorite label, but is more than happy to be back in the Thanksgiving Day tradition for the first time since 2009.
“Everybody wants to play this week,” Ferrigno said. “We’re fortunate to be there and we are just trying to play that perfect game.”
The Mustangs were pretty close to perfect in their convincing win over Mission on Nov. 3.
Lincoln forced five Mission turnovers, ran for 394 yards in their triple-option offense, shut down the Bears’ running game and limited the impact of Mission standout senior quarterback Antoine Porter.
“It’s the one game we lost in the regular season, but I don’t know if it was the super low point [of the season],” said Mission head coach Joe Albano. “I was a little surprised at the outcome, but that’s what is going to happen when you turn the ball over five times and take penalties like that.”
Porter, who has accounted for 2,489 yards of total offense and 38 touchdowns, and Lincoln senior running back Demetrius Williams, who has totaled a AAA-high 1,177 yards and 22 touchdowns rushing, have garnered most of the attention this season, but the regular-season meeting between the two teams was won in the trenches.
The Lincoln offensive and defensive lines, anchored by senior Wesley Chew, have been dominant in AAA play, and against Mission, drove the Bears off the ball on offense, and punished Porter and the rest of the Mission ball carriers on defense.
“They’re not under the radar. I know how good they are,” Ferrigno said of the Lincoln linemen. “It’s pretty apparent they’re having a great year on both sides of the ball.”
For Mission to pull off an upset, composure will be a must, especially if the Bears fall behind early. Against Lincoln in their first meeting, the Bears lost composure, specifically with a pair of senior leaders, which got into an animated argument on the field during a timeout.
“Once the kids get down, it seems to keep rolling that way, and once they get up, it keeps rolling that way too,” Albano said. “A key for us will be, if we go down in the game, are we going to keep our heads in the game? Are we going to stick with it or lay down? Things aren’t always going to go our way.”