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Turkey Day Game in San Francisco: Lincoln powers past Balboa for section crown

Three pick 6s, two touchdown runs, big hits from Diego Cristerno lead Mustangs to a 44-7 victory; Phil Ferrigno wins historic ninth section crown

SAN FRANCISCO — It's nearly a century-old tradition in one of the world's most recognizable cities. 

The Turkey Day Game, a high school football contest deciding the San Francisco Section's champion, commenced for the 98th time Thursday and the Lincoln Mustangs celebrated with a 44-7 victory over the Balboa Buccaneers. 

Lincoln celebrates its third San Francisco Section title in four years and 11th overall. Photo: Ernie Abrea

Lincoln celebrates its third San Francisco Section title in four years and 11th overall. Photo: Ernie Abrea

Under bright, clear skies and close to 70 degree temperatures, three pick 6s — two by senior safety Xavier Solares of 53 and 75 yards — and one on the last play of the game by Jaylen Lopez keyed the decisive victory. 

It cemented Lincoln's 14th section title overall and third in four years. 

Middle linebacker and fullback Diego Cristerno also had a huge game with 11 tackles and two 15-yard touchdown runs. 

It was also the ninth title under Lincoln coach Phil Ferrigno, making him the winningest championship coach in San Francisco Section history. 

He broke a tie with Milt Axt, who led now defunct Polytechnic in the 1940s and 50s to eight titles. 

"It's all them," Ferrigno said, pointing to his players and assistant coaches. "(The coaching staff) prepared them well and the kids did a great job. They work hard, play for each other and have a love of the game. 

"They reap the rewards as they should. They earned it." 

But Ferrigno, in his 20th season, definitely has set the blue print with a tough, physical brand of football as they showed against an equally big and physical bunch from Balboa. 

Solares, whose brother Erick played four years in the program and who attended Thursday game, said Ferrigno sets the tone for it all. 

It's why in two decades the Mustangs have been to the section final 14 times. 

The Mustangs (9-3) advance to CIF State Regional Bowl play next week against an opponent to be named Sunday, while the Buccaneers finish 6-6. They defeated Lincoln in last year’s SFS title game 21-0 en route to a state 7-A title.

Lincoln won back-to-back state titles in 2018 and 2019. 

"It's all about discipline, dedication and desire, just like coach always says," Solares said. "He's a hell of a coach." 

Lincoln struck first following a long punt return and couple intermediate runs from Ricky Underwood, Michael Simmons snuck it home from 1-yard making it 7-0 with 5:48 left in the first quarter. 

Balboa responded immediately on a 4th-and-5, quarterback Edwin Togiai-Maiava floated a high spiral that Nick Wong snagged at the 20, dragged a couple defenders the final 5 yards in the end zone to complete a 30-yard touchdown. 

That tied the score at 7-7 with 1:08 left in the first quarter. 

The second quarter was spent between the 20s with a lot of hard-hitting action, until Togiai-Maiava, under heavy duress from freshman Latu Manumua, floated another pass that was intercepted by Solares. 

The senior defensive back had clear sailing and sprinted 53 yards untouched to give the Mustangs a 14-7 lead with 3:15 left in the half.

"The ball was in the air — it was kind of a duck," Solares said. "I just went and got it. No no one was in front of me and I just ran it in." 

The score remained that way until halftime. 

Xavier Solares with the first of his two pick 6s. Photo: Ernie Abrea

Xavier Solares with the first of his two pick 6s. Photo: Ernie Abrea

Cristerno put the Mustangs firmly in front on the first drive of the second half with his first 15-yard TD run, dragging several tacklers into the end zone. 

He came into the game with just three rushing touchdowns. The Mustangs didn't need their dynamic tandem of Underwood and Jamelle Newman, who had combined for 20 touchdowns. 

They had no touchdowns but combined for about 150 rushing yards. 

"Yeah I'm the guy who is supposed to just get those tough dirty yards," Cristerna said. "I'm just glad we got it done." 

After a 27-yard field goal by Andre Petrilli, Cristerna added a second TD run midway through the fourth. Then Solares and Lopez made it a complete rout with their pick 6s. It was Lopez' fourth touchdown of the year and put a cardinal and gold ribbon on a truly dominant victory and Academic Athletic Association season. 

"On the second one I baited the quarterback and caught it and I was off to the races," Solares said. "I knew they couldn't catch me."

It was the third straight year the two teams had met for the championship, having split the last two games. 

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Balboa won last season 21-0 en route to a CIF State 7-A championship. Lincoln won the previous two years also on its way to state crowns. 

All photos below from Ernie Abrea: 

Xavier Solares holds the championship trophy. Photo: Ernie Abrea

Xavier Solares holds the championship trophy. Photo: Ernie Abrea

Turkey Day Game Lincoln 44, Balboa 7 2022 SFS Section Ernie Abrea Nov 24 2022112320220607
Turkey Day Game Lincoln 44, Balboa 7 2022 SFS Section Ernie Abrea Nov 24 2022112320220606
Turkey Day Game Lincoln 44, Balboa 7 2022 SFS Section Ernie Abrea Nov 24 2022112320220605
Turkey Day Game Lincoln 44, Balboa 7 2022 SFS Section Ernie Abrea Nov 24 2022112320220604
Turkey Day Game Lincoln 44, Balboa 7 2022 SFS Section Ernie Abrea Nov 24 2022112320220603
Turkey Day Game Lincoln 44, Balboa 7 2022 SFS Section Ernie Abrea Nov 24 2022112320220602
Turkey Day Game Lincoln 44, Balboa 7 2022 SFS Section Ernie Abrea Nov 24 2022112320220601
Turkey Day Game Lincoln 44, Balboa 7 2022 SFS Section Ernie Abrea Nov 24 2022112320220600
Turkey Day Game Lincoln 44, Balboa 7 2022 SFS Section Ernie Abrea Nov 24 2022112320220599
Turkey Day Game Lincoln 44, Balboa 7 2022 SFS Section Ernie Abrea Nov 24 2022112320220598
Turkey Day Game Lincoln 44, Balboa 7 2022 SFS Section Ernie Abrea Nov 24 2022112320220597
Turkey Day Game Lincoln 44, Balboa 7 2022 SFS Section Ernie Abrea Nov 24 2022112320220596
Turkey Day Game Lincoln 44, Balboa 7 2022 SFS Section Ernie Abrea Nov 24 2022112320220595
Turkey Day Game Lincoln 44, Balboa 7 2022 SFS Section Ernie Abrea Nov 24 2022112320220594
Turkey Day Game Lincoln 44, Balboa 7 2022 SFS Section Ernie Abrea Nov 24 2022112320220593
Turkey Day Game Lincoln 44, Balboa 7 2022 SFS Section Ernie Abrea Nov 24 2022112320220592
Turkey Day Game Lincoln 44, Balboa 7 2022 SFS Section Ernie Abrea Nov 24 2022112320220591
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