NATIONAL CITY — For 23 minutes and 4 seconds, the Lincoln High School football team played awful.
Lincoln had three fumbles, two interceptions and four penalties--all at key moments--for 55 yards. It trailed, 21-0.
But in just 45 seconds, Lincoln changed the game.
It stopped what appeared to be a sure Sweetwater touchdown with 56seconds left in the half, and then drove 99 yards to score its first touchdown. Quarterback Freddie Stokes ran it in for a two-point conversion with 11 seconds left.
Although Lincoln trailed, 21-8, at halftime, the momentum of those last few seconds carried over. Lincoln (3-1), fifth-ranked in San Diego County, shut down the top-ranked Red Devils (3-1) in the second half and went on to win, 22-21, in front of about 6,000 at Sweetwater High.
Even in those key 45 seconds, luck salvaged what could have been a Lincoln interception and a fumble.
After Sweetwater's Scott Catlin picked off Stokes' pass and returned it 33 yards to the Lincoln 12-yard line with 2:40 left in the half, it looked as if Sweetwater was going to roll to an easy win.
But . . .
After Pierre Jones ran for a first down to the two, the Red Devils were stopped on three downs and decided to go for the score on fourth and one. Robert Price, a 5-foot, 10-inch, 200-pound fullback was stopped by a horde of Lincoln players for no gain when he tried to run up the middle.
Lincoln took possession with 56 seconds to play in the half and 99 yards to go.
After a Sweetwater five-yard penalty, Darrin Wagner ran twice for 27 yards to get the Hornets out of the hole.
Only 16 seconds to play: Stokes, who had completed one of five passes and had been intercepted twice at the time, dropped back on second down from the 34 to throw a desperation pass. The ball went about 40 yards in the air. A group of three Sweetwater defenders had a chance to intercept, but they bumped into each other and could only tip it. It flew about six more yards downfield . . . right into the hands of John McCartney, who ran in for the touchdown.
Lincoln set up to kick the extra point, but Stokes dropped the ball. He picked it up and ran around the left end for the two-point conversion.
"I just dropped it," Stokes said of the near fumble. "I knew that I better get out of there in a hurry because they were coming quick."
Lincoln came out in the second half and scored two quick touchdowns.
On the first series, Stokes pushed the team down the field quickly. With 8:39 to play, Stokes found McCartney wide open in the end zone. The seven-yard touchdown pass play and the ensuing kick made it 21-15.
What helped Lincoln most in the second half, however, was Wagner's improvement. After rushing for only 39 yards on 7 carries in the first half, Wagner had 134 yards on 10 carries in the second half.
Wagner broke a 40-yard run late in the third quarter. That kept a Lincoln drive alive and led to the go-ahead touchdown. Stokes broke three tackles and scored on a 35-yard run to put Lincoln ahead for good.
Sweetwater had a chance to win the game. With 5:05 to play, Rene Cavira set up to kick a 35-yard field goal, but he kicked it into his own lineman.
Lincoln stalled out the clock after that, with the help of Wagner who twice ran for first downs on fourth down.
Jones rushed for 106 yards and 2 touchdowns on 16 carries in the first half. But in the second half, Jones was limited to 37 yards on 6 carries.
Briefly--University of San Diego High 32, St. Augustine 12.