Lincoln wins football thriller over Nevada Union

Zebras prevail 23-22
By: Kirby Desha and Jim Linsdau/The News Messenger
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GRASS VALLEY – The Lincoln High football team improved to 2-1 on the season after spoiling the Nevada Union Miners’ home-opener 23-22 Friday.

The Miners put on an impressive opening ceremony. It featured a display of the local fire and emergency departments, along with a helicopter fly-over by the Search and Rescue team.

The game that followed was hard fought and at times testy. It was a gridiron battle that had six lead changes and 20 penalties called. In fact, Lincoln had three penalties on their first possession, alone. The Fighting Zebras racked up a total of 12 penalties for minus-80 yards.

After receiving the opening kickoff, the Zebras faced a long third-and-18, due, in part, to the penalties. In spite of it, Lincoln quarterback Tommy Turner connected with James Sweet for a 45-yard touchdown. A missed extra-point made the game 6-0 for the Zebras.

Nevada Union quickly evened the score by taking the ensuing kickoff to the house for a touchdown. The Miners also missed the extra point, tying the score at 6-6.

In the second quarter, Lincoln worked their way into the red zone with a first-and-goal opportunity. But the Zebras failed to score.

The Miners came back to score on their next possession and added a 2-point conversion to go up 14-6.

“(The Miners) were physical; they were athletic; they were fast. They had skill positions on offense that were some of the best that we’ll see all year,” Lincoln head coach Chris Bean said. “Defensively they were tough, physical kids; so every bit as tough as last year.”

Then, with just over three minute left in the half, Lincoln was faced with a third-and-20. Undaunted Turner again found Sweet on the end of his pass for a 40-yard gain. As the clock ticked down to 26 seconds remaining, Turner found Pete Murillo with an aerial and Murillo pounded the ball into the end zone.

The kicked extra point was good to make the score 14-13 at the half.

At the start of the second half, neither team was able to generate much offense.

On the Zebras’ third possession, a Turner pass was picked off by an NU defender. But a stout Lincoln defense kept the Miners from capitalizing on the error by holding them to three-and-out.

On the next Lincoln possession, Turner was again intercepted and this time the Miners were able to turn their good fortune into six points two plays later. A successful 2-point conversion put Nevada Union up 22-13.

Things looked rough for the Zebras, until Sweet ripped off a 45-yard run down to the Miners’ 5-yard line. Seth Sampson then punched the ball in for a TD and a kicked point-after cut the margin to 22-20.

An odd onside kick didn’t do much to help the visitors, as the third quarter expired.

Again the Lincoln defense held the Miners to no gain and forced a punt. The Zebras took over the ball on their own 5-yard line and put together the most impressive drive of the game.

Running the ball, Lincoln racked up one first down after another, while eating up the clock along the way. With six minutes left in the game, the Zebras’ drive stalled at the Miners’ 3-yard line, but a successful field goal by Brett Woolley put them back in the lead 23-22.

“(Woolley) was funny on that one,” Bean said. “Woolley was standing behind me, and we had 500 yards and scored only (20) points so we’re frustrated, and I’m about to go for it because that’s what I do. And Brett Woolley is behind me and says ‘Coach, let me kick it; I’ve got this.’ That was pretty cool, a pretty cool moment right there.”

Lincoln’s defense again held and forced a short punt that ended up at the Zebras’ 36-yard line. The offense moved the ball down to the Miners’ 29-yard line, where they were able to take a knee for the victory.

In spite of the score, Lincoln dominated Nevada Union. The Zebras had 524 total yards of offense, NU 141; Lincoln picked up 31 first downs, the Miners seven.

“Are we where we want to be? I think we are with our level of accountability and commitment and understanding, but there are still too many mistakes happening for us to be really satisfied,” said Bean, who added he wasn’t sure he could ever be satisfied. “We can’t get our offense and defense to be completely in synch and our offensive line and running backs to be completely in synch.

“It’s up to us coaches.”

Turner was 21-for-42 passing for 270 yards. Sweet caught 10 of Turner’s throws for 176 yards; he rushed for 95 yards to total 271 on the night.

Murillo broke through for 101 yards (46 rushing, 55 receiving) and Deven Coffer totaled 91 yards (66, 25).

On defense, Jack Boatman had nine tackles, Antonio Nevarez and Dylan Quinn seven each, and Carlo Rodriguez brought down six Nevada Union ball carriers. Nevarez, Quinn and Anthony Tingler each had a quarterback sack, totaling 25 lost yards for the Miners.

Woolley was 2-3 in PAT kicks and was 1-2 in field goal attempts, accounting for a total of five points.

This week, Lincoln travels up Highway 65 to take on Wheatland in the Pirate Cove. The Pirates are 0-3 so far this season. Their strong suit is rushing, led by Xavier Sanchez’s 152 yards on 39 carries.

The Highway 65 rivalry will be suspended next season and Whitney High will be added to the Fighting Zebras’ preseason schedule.