The Open Division championship game featuring No. 1-seeded Carlsbad and No. 2-seeded Lincoln was the first high school football game played at Snapdragon Stadium. And the participants gave rave reviews to San Diego State’s new digs.
Before the players even walked onto the field they stepped into their locker rooms to a memorable scene. The players’ jerseys hung from the back of chairs with their pants resting on the seats.
“That was nice,” said Lincoln head coach David Dunn.
“Gives us a little preview of college,” said Lincoln quarterback KJ Chatham.
Carlsbad sophomore Carson Henkel missed the game because of a broken arm, but he wasn’t going to miss the experience.
“It’s crazy that we’re the first high school team to be playing here,” said Henkel. “I like how open it is. I like how much of an upgrade it is. I love all of it.”
When players and coaches stepped out of the tunnel and onto the field, many pulled open cellphones to take pictures and videos to capture the moment.
“I love it,” said Dunn. “Great atmosphere.” Visually scanning Snapdragon, Dunn added, “There’s not a bad seat in the house.”
Some thoughts from a high school football junkie who was seeing Snapdragon for the first time.
• The 35,000-seat stadium has a casual, comfortable, cozy feel. There are picnic benches and beach chairs in multiple locations for lounging. And nooks and crannies where spectators can relax and take in the action.
• There are wide walking areas on the east side of the concourse, making it easy to move about.
• Palm trees line the south end zone with plants and shrubs elsewhere about Snapdragon.
• Gotta wonder why there’s a grass parking lot next to the stadium.
• One funky feature: some seats are red, others dark gray, still others light gray, seemingly with no pattern.
Carlsbad offensive lineman Thor Stucki showed off his multiple skills before kickoff, singing the national anthem with the Lancers choir.
One of the most impressive athletes on the field before the game: 10-year-old Jaston Carter, the son of Lincoln co-head coach Jason Carter. Jaston was sprinting about on Lincoln’s side of the field, displaying excellent hands and throwing tight spirals while playing catch with injured Hornet Joshua Newbern.
“He’s an amazing kid,” said Newbern. “His hands are great. They’re strong and he’s able to catch everything.”
Said Jason Carter of his son, “He’s got the best hands in San Diego.”
Carlsbad junior quarterback Julian Sayin is bound for Alabama. Lincoln running back Roderick Robinson is headed to Georgia.
But the guy who stole the show early was Carlsbad running back Mason Walsh. On the first play from scrimmage, Walsh burst off left tackle and darted off on a 74-yard touchdown run.
And football is Walsh’s second best sport. He was a masters wrestling champion last spring.
Always a Lancer
Carlsbad head coach Thadd MacNeal graduated from the school in 1989 and was the Lancers’ starting quarterback as a junior and senior. He also played basketball and baseball and ran track, clocking 11.0 in the 100 meters, 51.5 in the 400.
His senior football season was cut short when he suffered a torn ACL, keeping the ball on an option.
“Option 134 keep,” said MacNeal, still remembering the name of the play. “I just cut. It wasn’t like I was hit. I just cut, planted on my left foot and it was done.”
MacNeal’s wife of 26 years, Kelly, graduated from Carlsbad in 1991. All eight groomsmen in their wedding are Lancer alums. He also owns a local restaurant, That Pizza Place.
“I feel very blessed to be at a great place I can call home,” he said.
Carlsbad, which normally suits up 65-70 players for a varsity game, dressed 100 for the championship game, the extras being sophomores and freshmen.
“We always do that for a championship,” said MacNeal. “Experience, the memory, the whole thing. Having them have a vision for themselves, where they want to be for their time.”
Lincoln planned to dress 54 players.
By the numbers
30: Lincoln cheerleaders
31: Carlsbad cheerleaders
56: Steps from the field to the concourse.
75-59: Score of El Camino’s 2019 Division II championship game win over Bishop’s, the most points ever scored in a San Diego Section game.
7-0: Score of Sweetwater’s 2013 Division IV championship win over Monte Vista, the fewest combined points ever scored in a title game.
2013: Last time an Open Division title game didn’t involve Cathedral Catholic or Helix.
Norcross is a freelance writer.