Lincoln rolls in opening round of football playoffs - tops Livingston 49-15

By: Galen Kusic Special to the News-Messenger
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The undefeated and now 11-0 Lincoln High Zebras proved why they are a No. 1 seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section, Division IV playoffs, routing the Livingston Wolves at home 49-15 Friday night at Edward Alexander Gray Sports Complex in Lincoln. "I was excited for the season, but 11-0 is pretty amazing," said Lincoln head coach Ken Lowe of his team's stellar season. "It's great for the kids and great for the town, we just want to keep on going." The sound victory marks this Zebra team as the winningest in Lincoln history – as the undefeated team in 1975 lost in the first round of the playoffs. Lincoln’s only other playoff victory was in 2000. "We just want to win that championship," Lincoln senior running back Alex Cowden said. "That's all we have on our minds right now." After driving down the field on the first possession, the Zebras turned the ball over on downs after going for it on fourth and 13 at the Livingston 15. The Wolves drove down the field with an effective rushing combination of Charles Brown and Roberto Garcia, powering up the middle before Lincoln senior cornerback Bo Avery broke up a pass on third down. In turn it forced a 42-yard field goal attempt from Jesus Gonzalez that was blocked by a group of Zebras. There was no looking back from there as the Zebras scored 42 unanswered points. After the Zebras took over, they drove down the field to the Livingston 36. Senior running back Moses Stanley took it on a sweep for a touchdown, but the play was called back on a holding penalty to the Livingston 48. It took only two more plays for the Zebras to reach paydirt, as Cowden carried for 19 yards down the right side, and Stanley scored from 29 yards out on the same play that was called back to give the Zebras a 6-0 advantage with 5:33 left to play in the first quarter. "I think we play better at home because we have all our supporters here," Stanley said. "Every week we've got something to improve on, we watch film and find something to get better on." On Livingston's next possession, Bo Avery came through again, picking off Rudy Lopez' pass near midfield, and returning it past midfield. After a Tim Bevins and Stanley run, quarterback Alex Stewart found Stanley again in the flat for a 30-yard touchdown. Stewart found senior tight end JJ Castillo in the end zone to convert the two-point conversion and give the Zebras a 14-0 lead with 3:37 to play in the first quarter. "We knew if we got this game, we'd be the No. 1 team in school history," Castillo said. “We came out and got the job done. It feels great to be home, our community has our backs - that's a big push for us." It took only two plays on Lincoln's next possession for the Zebras to score. Cowden started with a 25-yard run up the gut, followed by a 40-yard scamper by Stanley - breaking six tackles before dragging the final Wolves defender into the end zone to put the Zebras up 21-0 with 1:20 to play in the quarter. With 7:23 left to go in the half, Lincoln drove down the field after a short Livingston punt. Stewart linked up with Castillo again in the flat, where he followed his blockers patiently down the sideline for a 21-yard touchdown to give the Zebras a 28-0 advantage. "Every week we come together as a team," Stewart said. "We play for each other, and now we're playing for the town of Lincoln." After forcing Livingston to turn it over on downs, on the ensuing snap - senior fullback Tim Bevins broke through the middle of the line for a 32-yard scamper to the house to put the Zebras on top 35-0 with 5:31 left to play in the half. With backup quarterback Christian Perkins in, the Zebras drove down the field again, this time scoring on a pass from Perkins to Stanley from 23 yards out, to increase the Zebra lead to 42-0 with 14 seconds to go in the half. "The kids have been practicing hard," Lowe said. "With how hard the (Pioneer Valley League) is on the road, it helped us prepare well for our first playoff game." After Lincoln fumbled to open up the half at their own 20, Livingston's Garcia scored from three yards out to put the Wolves on the board, trailing 42-8 after a two point conversion by Brown. After a three-and-out, Lincoln continued to push Livingston back until Dylan Croisant picked off Garcia and took it back five yards to the end zone, reaching for the goal line as he was tackled to increase the Zebra lead to 49-8. Cowden rushed seven times for 103 yards. Bevins carried seven times for 74 yards and Stanley rushed six times for 101 yards. The Zebras balanced rushing attack has been the key to their success all season. The Wolves scored once more on a 49-yard touchdown run by Brown with 1:38 to go in the contest to make the final 49-15 Lincoln. The Zebras will face Sonora at home at 7 p.m. next Friday in the second round of the playoffs. "We had some dips earlier in the season, now we're really starting to mesh," Lowe said. "We talk about getting better every week - that's our main focus, finding another level. Sonora has a great program, so we have another mountain to climb and we're going to do our best." "It's going to be about getting in, studying film and executing," Stewart said.