Jon Kitna told his players to go be with their families. Lincoln’s football team had just played its final game of the season following its 28-21 loss to visiting Eastside Catholic in the Class 3A state quarterfinals.
And Kitna, too, found his family as he embraced his son, Abes quarterback Jordan Kitna, who not minutes earlier had his final pass of the season fall incomplete as he was hurled to the ground on fourth-and-4 at the Eastside Catholic 9-yard line.
“I just told him that I failed him,” Jon Kitna said, “and that I didn’t do a good enough job and that I have to get better. And that I thought he played a heck of a football game. Played as hard as he could.”
The Abes made it as far as they ever have in the 3A state playoffs, falling one game shy of a state semifinal berth after losing to the second-ranked Crusaders.
Eastside Catholic is hoping to make the state championship game for the third consecutive year when it travels to Mt. Spokane next week; only six-time reigning champ Bellevue has beaten the Crusaders in the state playoffs each of the past four years.
But Kitna entered this program three years ago with a goal of making Lincoln relevant in the state within five years and relevant nationally within 10. He certainly made them relevant in the state this year, boasting an offense that scored more points than any 11-man team in the state and a junior quarterback who finished with 55 touchdown passes.
But Jon Kitna repeatedly took Saturday’s loss upon himself.
“I did a poor job coaching,” Kitna said. “Really, really poor job coaching. I didn’t make the right calls. It’s unfortunate. These guys gave me everything they had. I just wasn’t good enough today as their head coach.”
Lincoln (11-1) led 14-0 in the second quarter before Eastside Catholic (11-1) tied it at 14 in the third quarter on Devon Arbis-Jackson’s second of three touchdown catches from Harley Kirsch.
The Abes regained the lead when Kirsch tried a swing pass to University of Washington-bound running back Brandon Wellington. Marcus Johnson jumped the route and thought he had an interception before dropping it and jumping in brief disgust.
But the pass was behind the line of scrimmage, so Johnson quickly realized it was a live ball, picked it up and ran it in for a touchdown to put the Abes ahead 21-14.
That was the last time an opportunity worked in Lincoln’s favor.
The Abes went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Eastside Catholic 29, but Jusstis Warren was stopped for a 1-yard loss. Two plays later, Artis-Jackson caught a 19-yard pass for a touchdown to tie it at 21.
Another opportunity: Lincoln charged to the Eastside Catholic 11 on the ensuing drive, but Jordan Kitna’s pass into the end zone was picked off and returned to the Lincoln 37. Four plays later, Wellington ran for a seven-yard touchdown with 6:20 left.
The Abes took almost five minutes off the clock and charged to the Eastside Catholic 9. On fourth-and-4 with 1:56 left, Kitna was hit as he tried to step up in the pocket and his desperation throw before he hit the ground fell incomplete.
“We were looking for Dehonta (Hayes) on a slant,” said Lincoln wide receiver Jayson Williams, who finished with nine catches for 104 yards. “Our offensive line didn’t give Jordan any time. When he has time, he makes big plays. Sadly, we couldn’t make those plays.”
Said Jon Kitna: “We were trying to flood their zone. They dropped eight; we thought we could protect it long enough. Their guy made a heck of a play.”
Eastside Catholic ran out the clock from there.
“Some teams don’t know how to come back from a deficit,” Wellington said. “But we do. This group of seniors is something that I don’t believe has ever come through Eastside (Catholic). Just one great group of leaders.”
Hayes had a 74-yard rushing touchdown, a 32-yard receiving touchdown and a 58-yard kick return. Jordan Kitna was 22 of 34 for 190 yards and a touchdown to add to his state-best total. He also threw two interceptions as Lincoln was eliminated from the postseason by Eastside Catholic for the second consecutive season despite reaching the quarterfinals for only the second time in school history.
“We are going to look back and be proud of this,” Jon Kitna said. “But nobody feels it right now. The sense of loss is in the fact that we don’t get to be together anymore. … It’s unfortunate.”