Lynbrook football touches down on another season

In+a+season+like+no+other%2C+the+Lynbrook+football+team+has+played+the+game+they+love+despite+facing+setbacks.+Here%2C+they+celebrate+their+win+against+Cupertino+high+school.

Photo used with permission of Matthew Heydinger, Graphic illustration by Anwen Huang

In a season like no other, the Lynbrook football team has played the game they love despite facing setbacks. Here, they celebrate their win against Cupertino high school.

Anwen Huang

Under the glaring stadium lights and setting sun, the Lynbrook football team gears up for a game. Since summer, the team of 30 players and 8 coaches has practiced rigorously in anticipation for the 2021 season. In the past two months, they’ve competed against teams from across the Bay Area. They have faced both triumphs and setbacks, but, most importantly, have continued to play the game they love.

Although sports were still tentative, the team began preseason conditioning in June. The coaches sat down and discussed their vision for the team’s core strategy — to stick with and perfect basic, traditional football — and players began practicing in cohorts of ten. To follow COVID-19 precautions, footballs were not used and the team learned the fundamentals of the game without physical contact until December, when some restrictions were loosened.

Following the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League’s tier-based schedule, in which sports were divided into the four tiers of California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, football games were set to begin once the county entered the Orange tier, the third out of four in decreasing severity.

However, on March 4, a group of lawyers representing high school athletes in San Diego won a lawsuit against California, which overruled the tier system and allowed outdoor sports to begin once a county reached a COVID-19 case rate of less than 14% per 100,000 people. Santa Clara County hit this mark in late February and cleared outdoor sports to begin starting Feb. 26. For the team, the uncertainty and frequent changes regarding the future of the season were draining, so finally starting games was a relief for all.

The team practiced from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. every Monday through Thursday with both padded and non-padded exercises. On Saturdays, they logged onto Zoom to review and analyze footage of other teams in the league, taking note of their strengths and weaknesses. Through this, the team gained a deeper understanding of the game, and the change was immediately visible.

“Just like any sport, football is like a language,” head coach RJ Davis said. “And the kids were actually starting to talk football to us coaches during practices, which was a huge highlight.”

On March 20, Lynbrook defeated Cupertino High School 13-7 in the opening game of the season. The team had spent the previous two weeks preparing for the game, which was played at Cupertino. After Cupertino scored in the opening quarter, junior Jalen Lakstigala returned a 30-yard interception for a touchdown in the second quarter. However, failing the extra point attempt still put Lynbrook down 6-7 heading into the second half. Both teams held strong in the third quarter and much of the fourth, with no scores on either side. As the game ticked down to the final two minutes, Cupertino had used up all their timeouts, and the ball was on Lynbrook’s side. In a flurry of first-downs and key penalties, the team swiftly moved the ball across the field. 

They decided to run a handoff play to the right with the running back, but after seeing a clog of defenders in the running lane, quarterback Lucas Liang decided to “pull,” or keep, the ball.  Quickly reading the defensive coverage, he sprinted left and took a cutback lane with the end zone in sight. Leaping over Cupertino’s defensive back, Liang scored the game-winning touchdown for Lynbrook with just 38 seconds remaining. Running out of time and void of timeouts, Cupertino was unable to turn the tide.

The win was the first win for Lynbrook within the El Camino League in five years, and emotions ran high afterward. For both players and coaches, it was a decisive milestone that reminded them of their progress. 

“It showed growth within our program and I felt very excited about that, especially for the kids who’ve been a part of it for so long,” Davis said. “For them to start making these strides in changing what Lynbrook football is going to be in the future is really exciting.”

The team playing against Monta Vista on their April 7 home game. (Photo used with permission of Matthew Heydinger)

In the following games against Fremont and Monta Vista, the team lost 7-34 and 14-16, respectively. Already missing players due to injuries, the team made several mental errors that caused them to fall short against Fremont. But the game also included one of the most exciting moments of the season, when junior Tetsuo Eng scored a field-crossing touchdown off of a kick return.

“Once I caught the ball, I just ran,” Eng said. “I remember making the read, seeing open grass and just taking off. My only thought was to run like my life was on the line and not get caught.”

Against Monta Vista, the team maintained a strong defense and tallied their best offensive performance of the year with 178 yards passing. With a close score, pressure mounted as the time trickled down, causing several errors that led to turnovers and penalties at critical moments. 

To the team, these mental mistakes cost them games they otherwise played extremely hard in. Another factor that proved difficult to overcome was the shortage of players and increased use of substitutes, who had not been given sufficient preparation time due to COVID-19 practice restrictions.

After competing against Lynbrook, the Monta Vista team had a COVID-19 scare that caused worry in the football community. Although the Lynbrook team was not required to cancel its games, many players felt uncomfortable returning to the playing field. As a result, the season ended short with only three games played out of the original five. 

Lynbrook finished ranking seventh out of the eight teams in the El Camino Football League with a 1-2 record. Despite the setbacks, the team has learned a lot this year. 

“Some things I’ll take away from this season, and football in general, are the importance of teamwork and collaboration,” Liang said. “A quarterback can’t win without an offensive line blocking, receivers catching and the defense backing him up. We really only rise when we are together as one.”

As they pack up and place the footballs back into storage, the team looks ahead to rising up to next year’s journey.