After a successful first season at the helm, most coaches would not want to be greeted by the top-ranked team in the state in their first playoff game. But Lincoln coach Jon Kitna embraced the opportunity. While a 45-0 loss at Bellevue on Nov. 2 was certainly not a favorable outcome, Kitna called it a good experience for a program on the rise. “We’re a building program,” Kitna said. “The greatest thing for us is to have to play this kind of team this year. I’m so thankful to have to play this football team…because it gives (our players) a point of reference of what greatness looks like at this level.” Running back John Nguyen was the catalyst for the Bellevue offense, getting them on the board with a five-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter and finishing with 11 carries for 197 yards and three scores.
The Abes looked like they would respond quickly, powered by a 26-yard run by Jonathan Hardnett and a 14-yard scamper by quarterback J’Maka Love, but the drive stalled and Lincoln was forced to punt. Ben King recovered a fumble by Bellevue quarterback Jack Meggs two plays later, but the Wolverines’ Budda Baker hauled in an interception on a double pass to get the ball back for Bellevue. Max Richmond then took a handoff and sprinted 66 yards almost untouched down the left sideline to give Bellevue a 14-0 lead. Nguyen added a 23-yard touchdown run and Alexander Kruse hit a 22-yard field goal shortly before the half to give the Wolverines a 24-0 lead. “The game plan coming in was to try to slow the game down a little bit,” Kitna said. “They’re an explosive team. I thought in the first half, defensively we did some good things. They had a couple big runs. They are a well-oiled machine that takes advantage of every mistake. We had too many in the first half.” The Abes defense continued to fight, as Ike Castro recovered another fumble on the Wolverines’ first possession of the second half, but the Bellevue defense stood firm behind UCLA commit Myles Jack and University of Washington commit Sean Constantine. Nguyen tacked on his third touchdown midway through the third quarter to put the game out of reach. Yofiel Wile and Sam Richmond added on short touchdown runs to complete the scoring. The Abes had one more good scoring chance after Love connected with Joshua Eckwood for 17 yards and Kashawn Johnson for 31 more late in the fourth quarter, but the drive again stalled and Bellevue ran out the clock. The Abes finish with a 5-5 overall record, having advanced to the playoffs for the second straight year.
By Jeremy Helling