Zebras’ season ends as a thriller in Loomis

Dramatic Del Oro win
By: Aaron Jackson for The News Messenger
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LOOMIS – The Lincoln High Fighting Zebras went up against Del Oro in Thursday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division II football match-up for the first round of playoffs. The Golden Eagles were the No. 7 seed and the Zebras were seeded 10th.

Heading into the contest, the Zebras were coming off a 49-20 loss at Placer and the Eagles came in with a 5-5 record, having defeated Woodcreek 49-14 in their regular-season finale. Even though Del Oro barely finished at .500 this year, Lincoln knew they were going to have to play great to beat the multiple state champions.

“It was tough coming off a loss, but these kids need to know they belong. This is going to be a good test of where our program is,” stated Zebras head coach Chris Bean before the game.

The defenses were solid for both teams early-on; the Zebras Dylan Quinn and Grady Manley helped lead the Lincoln defense.

Del Oro did reach Lincoln’s 31-yard line on their first possession, but the Zebras didn’t let them go any farther and the Golden Eagles turned the ball over on downs.

The next five possessions for both clubs all resulted in punts.

After gaining field position, Del Oro’s Ryan Whalley converted a 33-yard field goal to make the score 3-0 with two minutes left in the first quarter.

On the Zebras’ next drive, the Eagles intercepted a Tommy Turner pass and returned it to the Lincoln 6-yard line. One play later, Del Oro’s Brice Edwards broke the plane for a touchdown to put his club up 10-0 at the end of quarter one.

The Zebras started the second quarter cold, as Turner was once again intercepted. Starting at midfield, the Eagles drove deep into Lincoln territory. But Zebras’ linebacker Jack Boatman picked off a Carson Jarratt pass to kill the drive.

However, Lincoln was unable to sustain momentum and had to punt, giving Del Oro a short field at Lincoln’s 27-yard line. But the Zebras’ defense again held, compelling the Eagles to turn to Whalley once again for a 41-yard field goal.

Trailing 13-0, the Zebras’ offense finally found a rhythm and drove the ball down to the Golden Eagles’ red zone. But a controversial fumble called on Lincoln’s Harry Rounds gave Del Oro the ball back with two minutes left in the half.

The teams then traded possessions, including another interception by Del Oro, as the first half came to a close.

Although down at halftime, the Zebras were not ready to see their season come to an end. To begin the third quarter, Lincoln cornerback Rey Miguel picked off an Eagles’ pass to kill a lengthy Del Oro drive. That put the Zebras in business at their 33-yard line.

Running back Deven Coffer converted a huge pass to Rounds that put the Fighting Zebras at the Eagles’ 1-yard line. Turner rushed it in for the blue-and-gold’s first touchdown of the game, cutting Del Oro’s lead to 13-7 with a minute left in the third quarter.

The Loomis’ club responded by engineering another drive deep into Lincoln territory. But it stalled at the Zebras’ 13 forcing the Eagles’ to call on Whalley once again. However, the junior missed a 30-yard field goal to keep Lincoln within striking distance.

Taking advantage of Del Oro’s misfire, the Zebratown-11 put together their biggest drive of the year, capped by a 39-yard TD pass from Turner to Coffer. After Brett Woolley’s extra-point kick, Lincoln was up 14-13 with 90 seconds left in the game.

With time running out and their backs against the wall, Del Oro was able to reach the Zebras’ 35-yard line. The Eagles got a break when the clock stopped after Jarratt scrambled, but slid 5-yards short of a first down. That gave Del Oro enough time to spike the ball with 2.1 seconds remaining.

That set up a 52-yard desperation field-goal attempt. This time Whalley came through for one of the most dramatic finishes to a high school football game and a 16-14 Eagles’ victory.

Although a heartbreaking loss for Lincoln, Bean was pleased with his club’s effort and the resilience of Del Oro’s storied football program.

“My seniors set the bar this season for all others to follow,” Bean said. “I never thought I would lose a game on a 52-yard field goal, but being two seconds away from knocking off an amazing football team is something to be proud of.

“The future is bright for Lincoln football.”

Coffer made up his mind he would use losing to a state-champion program by such a close margin as an inspiration. After the game, the junior was already setting his sights on the 2018 season

“Next year starts tomorrow and that’s all I’m focused on right now,” Coffer said. “Give it all to the seniors; they stepped up and showed me what it means to be a Zebra.”

Senior James Sweet summed up his experience with one word, “Family.”

The Fighting Zebras played with extreme determination and heart. They showed that being down and in a bad situation does not mean being out.

Congratulations to the 2017 Lincoln Zebras for the best regular season the program has had in eight years.

Del Oro moves on to Round 2 visiting No. 2 Inderkum, 35-24 winners over No. 15 Vintage Thursday.

The Tigers may have been looking ahead, after losing to the Eagles’ in last year’s section championship.

_ Aaron Jackson is the sports information director for Lincoln High School.