Tacoma – The stage was set for it to be a magical night for the Lincoln Abes and their fans at Lincoln Bowl.
It was Lincoln’s home opener, alum and former NFL player Lawyer Milloy’s jersey was retired at halftime, and coach Jon Kitna was celebrating his 40th birthday.
But visiting North Thurston decided to crash the party.
The Rams rolled up 207 yards on the ground and got a commanding performance by their defense, eventually coasting to a 36-7 victory in a 3A Narrows League matchup, handing the Abes their first loss of the season and putting a damper on the festive atmosphere.
Halfback Mo Manning led the way for the Rams, rushing for 71 yards and a career-high four touchdowns on 18 carries.
“The strength of our team is our rushing game right now, and our kids inside did a really nice job blocking,” North Thurston coach Rocky Patchin said. “Our running backs ran hard and I thought we were very physical tonight.”
The Rams defense also shut down Lincoln’s ground game, holding the Abes to minus-8 yards rushing. North Thurston (4-0) took advantage of a failed fake-punt attempt early, needing four plays to score after the turnover on a 15-yard touchdown run from Manning.
“We came in with high emotions. … That’s the highest emotion I’ve ever had in my career,” Manning said. “Our O-line was great tonight and I just fell in behind my boys.”
The Abes got the ball back but were whistled for holding in the end zone after quarterback J’Maka Love was tackled on the 1-yard line, resulting in a safety for the Rams.
North Thurston added to its lead, as Manning scored on the ground again, this time from 2 yards out.
The Rams turned Lincoln away again, when Braden Rushton picked off Love in the end zone with 8 seconds left in the first quarter. It was a rough night for Love, who was sacked three times and threw two interceptions.
The Rams added to the lead with 54 seconds left in the half on a 4-yard Manning scamper.
Things didn’t get much better for the Lincoln (3-1) in the second half. The Abes turned the ball over on downs at the North Thurston 35 on their first possession. The Rams answered with a long drive, eventually scoring on Hayden Maliska’s 1-yard run with 3:48 left in the third quarter. North Thurston added another Manning TD run from 7 yards out with 9:15 left in the game.
“Our intensity didn’t match theirs, and that’s the biggest crime of it all for us,” Kitna said. “When your effort level doesn’t match your opponent’s, you better hope you’re really better than them, and we’re not.”
Lincoln’s lone score of the game came on Jonathan Hardnett’s 8-yard touchdown reception with 3:47 left.