Andrew Vital walked off the field, nearly in tears, thinking his fourth-quarter fumble could end his Yankee Stadium dreams. Wayne Williams was smiling, along with Lincoln’s other 10 defenders as they trotted back onto the field.
Leading Campus Magnet by eight points with 3:38 remaining, the Railsplitters fierce defense didn’t mind the turnover. In fact, they reveled in the moment.
“Thanks,” Vital said they told him. “I said, ‘Why?’ They said you’d put the game in our hands. They wanted to take over. They’re the No. 1 defense and they showed me why.”
Their confidence was well-warranted — the dominant unit held the fourth-seeded Bulldogs down, which paved the way to a thrilling 22-14 win in the PSAL City Championship division semifinals in Coney Island Saturday afternoon.
With the well-earned victory, top-seeded Lincoln returns to the title game for the first time in 17 years — when it went a perfect 13-0 — where it will meet No. 2 Fort Hamilton, 34-14 winners over third-seeded Tottenville, on Dec. 7 at 5 p.m. at the new Yankee Stadium. This group is now a win away from matching that magical ’93 season.
“It feels good to be [in the championship game], but we still have work to do,” said All-American defensive end Ishaq Williams, who had a sack, five tackles, a forced fumble and fumble recovery on defense. “We got to win that last game.”
The Brooklyn school has its seniors to thank, a group that mustered just a single victory two years ago. There was Vital — sans the fumble — running for two touchdowns and tossing another; Williiams catching that score and contributing on both sides of the line of scrimmage; and two-way lineman Wayne Williams (no relation) registering two sacks and adding an acrobatic interception.
“That’s something they’ve been doing all year,” Lincoln coach Shawn O’Connor said. “My seniors have been making big plays for us in key situations. I’m real proud of the way they’ve come on and what they’ve done and now we got one more game.”
“The seniors before us said don’t let what happened to us happen again,” Wayne Williams said. “We said we’re not gonna let it happen.”
Lincoln (12-0) dominated the first half, yet only led 8-6 when Campus Magnet (9-3) quarterback Scott Gadsden found Antoine Allen from 33 yards out with just a second remaining before halftime. The Bulldogs carried that momentum over to the second half, driving deep into Lincoln territory before the run-heavy drive stalled.
Vital wasted little time to turn the showdown’s tone, finding Ishaq Williams on a simple hitch route. The highly recruited senior, who holds 30 Division I scholarship offers, turned it into a 56-yard touchdown reception, toasting Campus Magnet all-city caliber safety Jhaleel Oswald.
“Better than an All-American play,” raved Vital, who ran for 54 yards and threw for 96 more. “That’s a college play.”
Wayne Williams — no relation to Ishaq — took over next, tipping a Gadsden screen pass for dynamic running back Wavell Wint (16 carries, 72 yards) with one hand and hauling it in with the other, an acrobatic play for the 6-foot-6, 275-pound defensive end more known for his power and size.
“Hell of a play,” Campus Magnet coach Eric Barnett said. “There was nothing but green grass.”
Vital kept it for a 6-yard touchdown on the very next play and when Armani Gordon recovered Andrew Justice’s fumble and ran it in for a two-point conversion, the lead grew to 22-6. Campus Magnet got it back to a one-possession game when Gadsden and Allen connected again, this time on a 57-yard middle screen to pay dirt on 4th-and-17 with 8:55 left. Lincoln was hardly rattled, picking up four first downs until Vital fumbled at the Campus Magnet 43.
The defense took care of the rest, keyed by Wayne Williams’ second sack on third down. Campus Magnet did get the ball back at the Lincoln 32-yard-line after a miscommunication between O’Connor and Vital, but the Hailmary attempt went through the back of the end zone.
“We all knew this was our last game on this field and we wanted to end it off the right way,” Vital said.
The Railsplitters hardly celebrated after the incomplete pass. Hugs and high-fives were exchanged, like a big regular-season victory was just notched. They were perhaps still in shock the Bulldogs had that one last chance.
Or maybe, Wayne Williams said, it was because the ultimate goal has yet to be reached. Next up is Fort Hamilton, which swept Lincoln last year — the two didn’t meet this season — including a quarterfinal ouster.
“It’s going to be revenge,” Wayne Williams promised. “They knocked us out of the playoffs last year; we’re going to knock them out now. We’re going to Yankee Stadium and we’re going to finish the job.”