Story by Justin Gimse – Photos by Rocky Ross
There are very few things that can compete with the child-like excitement of an upcoming birthday, or Christmas morning. However, when it comes to sports fans, the opening weekend of football is right up there with the greatest life moments that happen throughout a given year. If one throws in the lack of an NBA team around here, and the “Jeckyl and Hyde” personality of the Seattle Mariners, the time between the Super Bowl and the season kickoff seven months later can often feel like some ridiculous sort of torture.
Well, the pain and suffering has finally ended. Football has returned and it just about feels like the best thing that has ever happened.
The opening weekend of high school football often features some interesting, non-league matchups. After going over the week one list, there was nothing around these parts that could touch the state quarterfinal rematch between the Lincoln Abes and the O’Dea Fighting Irish at Husky Stadium.
When the Associated Press came out with its first top-10 rankings, the voters had O’Dea sitting at second, while the Abes were nestled in at fourth. On paper, it looked like a fair take on a couple of state powerhouse football programs. Both teams would be ushering in new quarterbacks, while still fielding some incredibly talented and dangerous players on both sides of the football.
Before getting into how the game went down, we need to point out something incredible. Between Husky Stadium and Centurylink Field, are there two better stadiums in such close proximity to each other, in the United States? I don’t think there is. Centurylink Field is obviously an awe-inspiring place to take in a football or soccer game, but I think the newly-renovated Husky Stadium has topped it. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s truly majestic. What a place to kickoff the high school football season.
It’s not often that you get to see a game in week one and wind up feeling like you’ll probably see these two teams go at it again a few months from now in the state tournament. When the dust settled on this game, I think it’s fair to say that all those in attendance wouldn’t mind seeing Lincoln and O’Dea face each other again on the big stage. It was the sort of smash mouth football game that longtime football fans crave. Big hits were followed by big plays, and the game would go down to the final minute, before the Fighting Irish were able to run out the clock for a hard-fought 23-21 victory over Lincoln.
It was a hot day at Husky Stadium, and the sun was shining hot on the Lincoln sidelines. Many folks wondered how it was going to affect them in the second half. While it was very warm up in the stands, the temperature was at least 10 degrees hotter on the turf, if not more.
Lincoln took the opening kickoff and put together an impressive 77-yard drive down the field, mixing together runs by senior running back Tristian Kwon and short passes by sophomore quarterback Caden Filer. Facing second and goal from the three-yard line, Filer took the snap, tucked the ball away and punched the football across the goal-line. Lincoln led 7-0 with 8:38 remaining in the first half.
On the next possession, Lincoln’s defense stiffened at midfield and forced O’Dea to punt the ball away. Lincoln had to start their series from the shadow of their own end-zone, as the drive began on the three-yard line. After passing midfield, the Abes’ offense stalled, and Lincoln turned the ball over on downs. O’Dea would then answer with a drive that resulted in a 37-yard field goal, closing the Lincoln lead to 7-3, with 10:58 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The rest of the second quarter saw both teams give each other their best shots, but the defenses weren’t giving up anything in the way of scoring. By the time the scoreboard clock hit zero, Lincoln still held the 7-3 advantage going into the locker rooms. One of the first-half highlights for the Abes was their discipline. Over recent years, the Abes have often shot themselves in the foot by committing ill-timed penalties. In the first half against O’Dea, the Abes had committed just one infraction, and didn’t turn the ball over a single time.
If one wants to find a solid reason as to why O’Dea came back in the second half to take the victory, an easy finger could be pointed at penalties and turnovers. By the middle of the third quarter, Lincoln had been flagged four times, with the fourth breathing new life into an O’Dea drive that was now on fourth down. The drive began following an interception of Filer at midfield. The possession would lead to a touchdown reception by Cole Daninger and O’Dea would take a 10-7 lead with 2:21 left in the third quarter.
O’Dea would extend their lead to 17-7 on a quarterback scramble by Emonte Scott with 8:46 left in the game. Lincoln would answer immediately. Kwon returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards to the O’Dea 17-yard line. Four plays later, senior running back Austin Moeung dove across the line for a Lincoln touchdown. O’Dea’s lead was now just 17-14 with 6:39 left in the game.
The Fighting Irish would punch right back, as senior running back Jamyn Patu broke free for a 51-yard run down to the Lincoln 10-yard line. Three plays later, Patu leaped over the right side of the line and into the end-zone. O’Dea now led 23-14 with just 5:32 left in the game.
Lincoln’s next possession would be cut short after just four plays. Filer lofted a ball down the field that came up short and was intercepted. With its running game clicking, it looked as though O’Dea had a good shot at running out much of the remaining clock. However, there was still life in the Abes and footballs have a tendency to bounce funny. After crashing into the right side of the line, Scott coughed up the football and it was immediately scooped up by Lincoln senior Samaad Turner, who rumbled 50 yards into the end-zone. The O’Dea lead was now just 23-21 with 1:54 remaining in the game.
The Abes were just an onside kick away from having a shot at the win, but O’Dea was able to come away with the squib-kick at midfield. For a moment, it looked as though the Abes had recovered the ball, but the officials didn’t agree. After gaining a first down, the Fighting Irish were able to run out the rest of the clock for the win.
Lincoln now heads to Auburn Mountainview on Friday, Sept. 8, for a 7 p.m. kickoff. Like the opener, this will also pit two 2016 state tournament teams against each other in a non-league affair.