Between the packed crowd that gathered for the home opener of Lincoln’s new turf field, the large alumni presence on hand that included members of the 1993 city championship team and the preseason hype, Shawn O’Connor was a mess hours before kickoff.
“I haven’t been this nervous since 2000 – my first game as coach,” he said.
By 10 p.m., he was as loose as a college freshman getting their first taste of freedom. His players made sure to keep O’Connor calm, handily beating Staten Island power Port Richmond, 28-7, Saturday night at Mondo Field in Coney Island.
The Railsplitters (1-0) did whatever they pleased, running for 240 yards and shutting out the explosive Red Raiders after halftime. The only way the performance could’ve been better, O’Connor later joked, is if it included a shutout. Highly recruited defensive end/tight end Ishaq Williams wanted more points, “but I’m proud of the win,” he said.
“It was the right way to come out,” said quarterback Andrew Vital, who ran for 119 yards and three touchdowns. “There was a lot of pressure for the first game and we responded real well.”
He was talking about the entire 44-man roster, but he could’ve been referring to himself. Entering the season, he was a question mark. The defense, led by Williams, New York State’s top prospect, was expected to be stellar, comparable to last year’s dominant Curtis unit. Could Vital consistently lead the offense to points?
He answered the query soundly, commanding the huddle, showing off his new over-the-top throwing motion, and finding pay dirt three times, including the dagger, a 38-yard sprint, the senior running past red jerseys like they weren’t there.
“I liked how he played today; he ran hard,” two-way lineman Wayne Williams said. “He plays like that, we’re playing 13 games.”
Vital was far from alone in the backfield. Junior Kareem Folkes made his first varsity start a memorable one, running for 127 yards on 27 carries and scoring the first touchdown at Mondo Field, a 13-yard burst over the left side. The two worked well together in Lincoln’s spread formation, Vital going to “Veer,” a play in which Folkes runs up the gut and Vital has the option of handing off to him or faking it and carrying it himself. Vital has developed such a sound fake the Red Raiders didn’t know who to tackle.
“It’s a double threat with those two guys,” O’Connor said.
The defense, big and fast, was as good as advertised, limiting the 2008 city champion Red Raiders (0-1) to 121 yards of total offense and forced two turnovers. The defensive line, anchored by Ishaq and Wayne Williams (no relation), was immovable in front of a group of sideline-to-sideline linebackers, led by Bertrand Jean (11 tackles, three for losses).
“They dominated us up front,” Port Richmond coach Lou Vesce said. As for comparisons to Curtis, Vesce saw similarities in the way the Railsplitters hit, a popping sound few teams can make, their athleticism and team speed.
“They have big guys and they are fast to the ball,” Vesce said.
Lincoln’s entire team was amped for the opener for several reasons. It was the school’s first night game. The stands were filled. Port Richmond, the team the Railsplitters go to camp with, was on the other side.
Plus, several alumni met with the team beforehand, including former star Nyan Boateng, who was recently cut by the Giants, and three members of the undefeated 1993 title team, including star running back Frank Sinclair, who went on to play at Kent State.
They talked about not just what it takes to be a champion and go undefeated, but also how special those memories are.
“I want them to think big,” O’Connor said.
Mission accomplished. Several players were already talking about a possible undefeated season after the impressive victory.
“History repeats itself,” Wayne Williams said, chuckling but somehow serious at the same time. “That’s our goal.”