Several Lincoln High School football players took a knee at the 50-yard line. Then a few more knelt down. And a few more after that, until the entire team had gathered.
Many were in tears, some staring at the turf on Friday night at Seattle Memorial Stadium, after the Abes lost to top-ranked O’Dea, 28-20, eliminating them in the Class 3A state quarterfinals.
But, Masaki Matsumoto wanted their eyes up.
“The great thing is, this program isn’t about championships,” the Lincoln coach said to his players. “We’ve said that since Day 1. It’s more than football.
“You will go on, and you’re going to make your community, or wherever you end up, a better place because of the things you’ve learned from your parents, and this program.”
There was applause and some cheering from Lincoln supporters as Matsumoto continued.
“Some kids have stayed in school because of football,” he said. “A lot of you guys, your parents are coming to us saying, ‘He has changed,’ because of football. It is a successful season.”
One that ended just short of the program’s first trip to the state semifinals. Trailing by eight, the Abes forced O’Dea to punt with just under four minutes to play.
Quarterback Joey Sinclair connected with Tristian Kwon to set the Abes up at the O’Dea 31, but four straight incompletions blunted the drive. The Irish took over, picked up two first downs, and ran out the clock.
“We just missed it,” Matsumoto said. “They’re a good team. Our kids executed and gave themselves a chance, and that’s all you can ask. I’m proud of them.”
It was a better fight than their first meeting 11 weeks ago, Matsumoto said, when the Abes lost to the Irish, 31-14, in the season opener.
“I think, over time, we wanted it more,” Sinclair said. “We had a great week of practice, we watched film. Everybody was all in, and we played as hard as we could today.”
The Abes lingered within striking distance for the duration, but never took the lead. They drove to the O’Dea 5 on the game’s opening drive, but fumbled.
Hunter Franco broke loose for a 36-yard touchdown run little more than two minutes later to give the Irish a 7-0 edge.
Lincoln evened it on Kwon’s 8-yard score midway through the second, but the Irish, again, converted on a turnover to regain the lead by halftime.
O’Dea’s Ben Beale — playing in his first game since Week 2, after he replaced Warren King (hip) in the second quarter — hit Sam Sanchez for a 13-yard touchdown to make it 14-7 at the break.
“Football comes down to two, three plays, and we wish we could have two, three plays back,” Matsumoto said.
Jamyn Patu — who carried the ball on 22 of the 23 rushing plays O’Dea attempted in the second half — opened the second half with a 14-yard score straight through Lincoln’s defense.
Patu added another 18-yard dash in the fourth to seal the win, and finished with 31 carries for 255 yards and the two touchdowns.
Lincoln twice brought game within one score in the second half, but couldn’t quite catch up. LJ Lovelace’s 2-yard plunge in the fourth made it 21-14.
Then, Sinclair — who completed 13 of 27 passes for 217 yards — capped a quick drive with a 29-yard pass to Kavon Holden to make it 28-20 with 5:40 to play.
The Abes got the ball back after forcing O’Dea to punt, but that’s when Sinclair’s four passes fell incomplete, ending Lincoln’s threat.
But, as Matsumoto stressed to his players after time expired, it was their response to the program is what made this football season a successful one.
“Football, at the end of the day, is just a game,” Sinclair said. “I love football, but there’s a life you have to prepare for. You have to get ready so you can be successful. Without these guys, I don’t know how far I would have made it.
“We created a brotherhood that cannot be broken.”