The Academic Athletic Association football championship ultimately came down to 3 yards on Thursday at Kezar Stadium and Lincoln didn’t have its best player on the field.
After scoring with 23 seconds remaining to cut Mission’s lead to 21-20, Lincoln head coach Phil Ferrigno elected to go for a two-point conversion and the win.
With standout senior running back Demetrius Williams on the sideline – gassed from a 29-carry, 147 yard rushing performace – the Mustangs handed the ball to tailback Tyree Marzetta.
The junior, Williams’ backup all season, followed linemen Justin Lee, Kevin Lo and tight end Joshua Bonse-Davis into the end zone for the game-winning conversion to seal a 22-21 Lincoln win.
“Tyree told me, ‘I got you. I got some fresh legs and I’m going to get it. Don’t worry about it baby, just sit down,’” Williams said. “I prayed on the sideline, looked up and he was in there.”
Marzetta ran for 56 yards on 10 carries, but none were as important as the final conversion, and the moment was not lost on the junior. On his way back to the Lincoln sideline, tears of joy were streaming down his face.
“It means a lot to me,” Marzetta said. “Coach Ferrigno came to me in a tight spot and had faith in me to put it away. After I scored, I was just in shock. I didn’t think I would be a go-to guy like that. My emotions overwhelmed me.”
The conversion capped a last-gasp drive that started at the Mustangs’ 44-yard line after Mission (7-4) took a 21-14 lead with 3:21 left.
A negative-yardage rushing play and an incompletion had the Mustangs (11-1) facing third-and-13 on their own 41-yard line, when senior quarterback Derek Morrell hit junior wide receiver Joshua Burnoski for a 40-yard gain. Mission defensive back Ronald Murillo made a touchdown-saving tackle, but the Mustangs were in the red zone.
“It was torture, especially after we came back,” Mission head coach Joe Albano said of the final moments. “On third and long, I thought we had it. Then they get that pass.”
Three plays later, Williams earned a first down with a 9-yard run to the Mission 9-yard line, but the Bears’ defense stiffened. Williams was stopped short of the goal line on the next two rushes, then Marzetta was stopped at the 1-yard line to force a fourth-and-goal situation.
Without a timeout remaining, the Mustangs rushed to the line of scrimmage and Morrell snuck into the end zone.
“That was fourth down? I wasn’t even paying attention to that,” Morrell said. “I was just thinking about scoring.”
Ferrigno said he did not hesitate to go for the win rather than attempt an extra point that likely would have sent the game into overtime.
“I asked them and they all wanted to do it,” Ferrigno said. “I’m down with that . . . I didn’t want to see Porter again in overtime.”
Ferrigno had reason to worry, because Mission quarterback Antoine Porter owned the second half.
With the Mustangs leading 14-0 early in the third quarter and driving on the first possession of the second half, momentum swung abruptly in the Bears’ direction when Mission senior Armani McFarland intercepted Morrell with Lincoln on the Bears’ 11-yard line.
Porter then took the next snap in the shotgun, immediately broke forward, cut to the Mission sideline, broke a tackle and outran the rest of the Lincoln defense for a 86-yard score.
Lincoln again drove deep into Mission territory on the ensuing drive, but again was stopped by the Bears’ defense, this time on a turnover on downs at the Mission 17-yard line.
“We’re a good football team,” Albano said. “We just decided we wanted to be part of this game and not let them take the game like they did last time. We just sucked it up and played [defense].”
Porter then led the Bears on a 17-play scoring drive, but the touchdown came with a stroke of luck.
Porter gave the Bears a first down with a 3-yard run on fourth-and-1 from the Lincoln 4-yard line, but the Mustangs stuffed Mission on the first two downs from a yard out, then a fumbled snap pushed the Bears back to the 4-yard line. Visibly exhausted and battling cramps, Porter got the call on fourth down, but the Mustangs stopped him again at the 1-yard line – except this time, he fumbled into the end zone. Mission junior Dreon McElroy pounced on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown, and with 6:48 remaining, the Mustangs’ two-score halftime lead was erased.
“Once we scored that first touchdown, we just had momentum and we just believed,” Porter said.
The Bears continued to ride that momentum on the next Lincoln drive, forcing a fumble they recovered on the Mustangs’ 41-yard line.
Porter scampered 25 yards on the next play, then McFarland scored four plays later on a 3-yard run to give the Bears an improbable 21-14 lead.
Lincoln’s final score ended what would have been a storybook ending for the Bears and Porter’s magic ran out on Mission’s final drive, when receiver Alex Tico’s last-ditch lateral attempt hit the Kezar turf as time expired, after a 23-yard completion from Porter.
“It hurts more, because it’s just one point,” Porter said. “If it was seven points or a blowout or anything else – it was just so close. That’s what hurts the most – just one point.”
Porter finished with 164 yards on 14-of-23 passing and a game-high 156 yards rushing on 20 carries. He accounted for 320 of the Bears’ 363 yards of total offense and earned the respect of the Lincoln sideline.
“They fought, they came back and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Williams said. “I give them all the credit, especially [Porter]. He fought like a man. He didn’t put his head down. He fought.”
The Mustangs waited until the final moments to score their only second-half touchdown and were outgained in total yardage by the Bears, but only the final result mattered for Ferrigno.
“They started getting momentum, but all I can say is, hey, we won the game,” Ferrigno said. “It was a great football game. I can’t say anything more. They played hard, we played hard – back and forth. Two minutes left and we scored. What else can you ask for?”