Then Hoptown got hopping.
Stewart set the tone of the game on Hoptown's first drive, connecting on 4 of five passes, including a 25-yard scoring strike to Victor Moulden midway of the first quarter. Jim Adkins then booted through the first of his four point-after kicks to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead.
The Hoptown defense provided a break late in the first quarter when Nate Stewart popped Lincoln's Skyler Gilbert, who dropped the ball on his own 30 with 50 seconds left in the first quarter. A pass interference call against the Patriots then moved the ball to the 15.
It looked like the Tigers would have to settle for a 33-yard field goal by Adkins on the possession, but the Patriots were called for roughing the kicker, giving Hoptown a first down. Two plays later, Stewart hit Kirk Thomas for an 8-yard scoring toss.
The Hoptown lead was upped to 21-0 with 7:12 to play in the first half when Stewart crossed the goal line. The Tiger QB was caught behind the line of scrimmage when he found a gap in the Lincoln defense and took off, going 38 yards for the score.
"We responded well in the first quarter there," said Lincoln senior Chase Marcum. "We got a pretty decent drive going and felt like we could score, but we didn't, and then they came back on us and just kept scoring and then it's 21-0."
"We knew it wasn't going to be any cupcake game," he said. "We knew we'd have to play hard if we wanted to try and win one last time. And we came in with the attitude that we were going to go out and give it our all and go for the win. It just didn't happen that way."
The Patriot defense came through big to open the second half. A 47-yard pass reception by Perry Allen put Hoptown inside the Pat 15 and Joe Harris, who had seven carries for 72 yards, was headed for the end zone when he fumbled the ball at the 8 after being hit by Lincoln's Rob Conatser.
The defensive stop was only an interruption in the Tigers' scoring.
After driving 50 yards, Lincoln had to punt away the possession. Six plays later, Moulden, who had seven catches for 122 yards and two scores, grabbed his second TD pass, a 38-yard toss, to make it 28-0.
Defensively, Lincoln had a slightly better night against the run than Hoptown, with the Patriots allowing 195 yards while the Tigers gave up 222.
The biggest ground-gainer for the Patriots came with 3:00 to go in the third when Lincoln surprised the Tigers with a hook-and-ladder play. Julian Calhoun took the lateral from receiver Wes Camel and sprinted 75 yards to the end zone for the score.
"That was a play that had worked for us before and they ran it well," said Settles. "Julian just took the ball down the sideline and was really moving. They couldn't catch him."
Lincoln appeared ready to rally on the next Hoptown possession, with Austin Hinds intercepting Stewart deep in Patriot territory. But there was no rally, with Lincoln giving the ball back on downs.
Adkins capped off Hoptown's scoring with two field goals in the fourth quarter, one from 34 yards out and the second from 33 yards to put the Tigers on top 34-6.
The second Adkins' field goal came just minutes after a flip-flop possession by the two teams. Lincoln's Tanner Edgington had picked off backup quarterback John Cessna and was on the move when Hoptown's Perry Allen forced the fumble and claimed the loose ball to give the ball back to the Tigers.
"Unfortunately, that play kind of defines our season," Settles said. "We make good plays and then we don't get any breaks."
"I'm proud of the team tonight," he said. "They came out and played hard and made a lot of good plays that we didn't make earlier in the season."
Lincoln scored the final points of the game with Edwards running the ball in from the 13 with 18 ticks left on the clock. Skyler Gilbert added the conversion run for the 34-14 final.
Lincoln fell to 1-9 with the loss, a disappointing finish for the Patriots who had made it all the way to the state semifinals last season.
"This season, with all the injuries and setbacks, really tested the character of this team," Marcum said as he choked back tears. "We didn't win every game but we gave it 110% every time. Sometimes we made mistakes but we never let down in the game. We were always proud to wear the Lincoln jersey and always held our heads up high with the Lincoln "L" on the helmet."
Settles said he never expected anything less of the Patriot football team.
"They never quit," he said. "No matter how difficult it got at times, they played with a lot of pride. I'm proud of them and they should hold their heads up high."