Lincoln head football coach Shawn O'Connor knew his team faced a formidable challenge last Friday night in Coney Island.
The defending Public School Athletic League Championship Division titleholders were preparing to host Staten Island powerhouse Tottenville in a Week 2 matchup dripping with December ramifications.
After leading the Railsplitters (1-1) to their first gridiron title since 1990 last winter, O'Connor was well aware of the bullseye on his team's back after a perfect 13-0 run through the PSAL a season ago, and an impressive 36-18 Opening Day victory over Clinton on Sept. 7.
"It’s hard to win [a championship], but it’s even harder to stay on top," O'Connor told the Eagle last week in the days leading up to what turned out to be a heartbreaking 29-28 loss to the visiting Pirates (2-0).
The defeat snapped Lincoln's 17-game home winning streak and also ended a run of 14 consecutive victories overall since their memorable 8-6 defeat to Fort Hamilton in the 2010 PSAL title game at Yankee Stadium. Making matters a bit more excruciating was the manner in which the normally machine-like Railsplitters fell from the top of the early season LCD rankings.
Buoyed by an incredible 14-for-15, 181-yard, two-touchdown performance by quarterback by junior quarterback Javon Moore and 119 rushing yards from third-year back Antoine Holloman Jr., the 'Splitters ran out to a seemingly comfortable 22-6 lead in the second half. But coach Jim Munson's Pirates from across the Verrazano, fresh off a 32-0 Week 1 drubbing of Fort Hamilton in Bay Ridge, refused to go away gently.
Senior running back Augustus Edwards scored three touchdowns, including what proved to be the game-winner in OT, as Tottenville usurped Lincoln's spot atop the power rankings and took a major step toward being the favorite to wind up at Yankee Stadium three short months from now.
Augustus, who is headed to Syracuse University this coming fall, wound up with 188 rushing yards against a normally stout Lincoln defense.
Thankfully, the LCD is not the soon-to-be-defunct BCS (Bowl Championship Series). Otherwise, the 'Splitters might have some concern regarding their shot at back-to-back titles. Despite the hard-to-swallow loss on their home turf, O'Connor's squad, which dropped to an unseemly 10th in the LCD rankings, is still on course for a trip to the Bronx in December if it can rebound quickly against unbeaten Curtis (2-0) this Friday at Abraham Lincoln Field.
“This is a character builder for us,” O’Connor told MSG Varsity after the loss. “We didn’t prepare to win Week 2. This is certainly going to help us in Week 13 hopefully if we can get there. We faced a good team, it came down to one play. We had them on the ropes, but we have to learn how to finish things and the way to do that is by being disciplined.”
With only 12 seniors at his disposal, O'Connor will have to rely on the likes of third-year stars like Moore and Holloman Jr. going forward.
“It’s a whole new group of guys," he told the Eagle of this year's team. "We have a group of juniors that were a part of that [championship] experience. So far, with the scrimmages and first game, the team responded well. One thing I really like about this group is that they’ve really responded well.”
The new-look 'Splitters will have to respond in a hurry against the Warriors, who handed Fort Hamilton its second straight loss to start the season, 32-18, in Staten Island last Saturday. Junior Kevin Austin rumbled for 120 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries for Curtis, which rebounded nicely from a Week One loss to LCD co-leader Erasmus.
The Dutchmen (2-0) tied Tottenville atop the rankings (both teams have 172 power points) with a 34-6 rout of Clinton at Brooklyn's Sid Luckman Field on Saturday.
Last year's PSAL runner-ups will try to make it three in a row since their 20-12 loss to Lincoln at Yankee Stadium last December when they visit Campus Magnet (2-0) on Saturday morning.
Not to be overlooked this season, the Kangaroos (2-0) of Boys and Girls High School, which is coming off its third consecutive PSAL basketball crown, blanked borough rival Sheepshead Bay, 14-0, on Saturday. Senior Najee Champagne scored both TDs for the 'Roos, who will visit Flushing High School this weekend hoping to climb up the rankings after coming in at No. 3 this week.
Spearheaded by one of the top high school players in the nation, the Orange Wave (2-0) of Jefferson got past Canarsie (1-1), 26-18, last Saturday on Rockaway Parkway. Senior lineman Ebenezer Ogundeko, who is featured on the cover of this month's MSG Varsity Magazine, along with Fontbonne Hall soccer star Cindy Henderson, racked up 10 tackles, including four for loss, and three sacks, as Jefferson staked its claim as a contender for the city crown.
Ogundeko showed off his versatility on the offensive side, playing tight end and catching what proved to be the game-winning touchdown with just over a minute remaining in regulation.
The loss was the first for the Chiefs, who beat Lehman in Week One in their first game without long-time coach MIke Camardese.
The Utes (2-0) of New Utrecht continued their strong start with a 34-14 win at Truman last Saturday as senior quarterback Ryan Witherspoon completed 20-of-29 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns. New Utrecht will host Grand Street and Lincoln the next two weekends.
In other local LCD action, Midwood (1-1) lost to John Adams, 20-14 and Brooklyn Tech (0-2) dropped a 14-13 decision to JFK.
Poly Prep (1-1) rebounded from a season-opening loss at Iona Prep with a home-opening 20-6 win over the Peddie School last Friday. The Blue Devils visit the Hun School Saturday.
Xaverian (1-1) also bounced back nicely from a Week 1 defeat to Newburgh Free Academy by beating Catholic School rival Archbishop Stepinac, 31-18, last Saturday afternoon. The Clippers will host their home opener at Aviator Sports Complex Friday night against St. Joseph by the Sea.
In other local high school sports news, the girls' freshmen cross-country track team from Bishop Kearney captured runner-up honors at the 10th annual Villa Bear Invitational meet Saturday as Therese (Tessy) Gallagher, Jacqueline (Jackie) Gallagher, Kailey O'Grady, Annaliese Tucci and Kaitlin Monahan grabbed the second-place trophy at the event, which featured runners from CHSAA, public and private schools.