Lincoln will face Erasmus Hall at Yankee Stadium to defend city football title
The Lincoln Railsplitters are headed back to Yankee Stadium to defend their Public School Athletic League (PSAL) title after they beat the Grand Street Campus Wolves 27-0 in a semifinals match at Coney Island on Saturday.
“I’m really proud of my kids,” head coach Shawn O’Connor said afterward. “They really badly wanted this win on their home field. There was a lot of tradition here today with guys back from the first championship team and last year’s team showing love for these kids.”
Lincoln and Grand Street previously played each other during the fourth week of the regular season, when Lincoln barely came out on top (21-18) after it trailed with just two minutes to play. The game wasn’t nearly that close this time around, as the Railsplitters defense completely shut down the Wolves, and Luis Rodriguez took care of the rest on offense.
“Last time we saw them was our first time seeing them, so we didn’t know what to expect,” said Rodriguez, who scored all three of Lincoln’s touchdowns. “This time we watched film. Every day, film, film, film, so we knew their tendencies, we knew what they’re going to bring.”
Lincoln’s defense set the tone early and did not let up at all in the first half, as Grand Street quarterback Justin White was constantly under pressure and running backs Rahmel Ashby and Eugene Qualls — nicknamed “Lightning” and “Thunder,” respectively — were unable to get any rhythm.
Grand Street was forced three-and-out on its first drive, leading to a 27-yard touchdown run by Rodriguez, to put Lincoln up 7-0. White then threw an interception to Elijah Guadeloupe that turned into a 27-yard field goal by Axel Pembele. Later, Pembele made it 13-0 after he nailed a 30-yard field goal following a turnover on downs by Grand Street at the offensive 12-yard line.
Rodriguez took over for Lincoln in the second half, when he brought the score up to 20-0 on a 76-yard touchdown catch in the third. He then put the finishing touches on the win with a 14-yard touchdown run with two minutes to play.
“He’s from Coney Island, so I said to him [before the game], ‘You could cement your legacy as one of the all-time great Coney Island football players’ — and he’s doing that,” O’Connor said of Rodriguez, who entered the game with 17 touchdowns and 1,311 yards of total offense on the season.
After the game, Grand Street head coach Bruce Eugene admitted that his team did not play with its typical swagger, but vowed that they would be back.
“We didn’t come out and play Grand Street football today. I don’t know where we were today. As a coach, it falls on my shoulders,” Eugene said. “I’m proud of my guys finishing 11-2 on the season. That’s a dream season for some people. We’ll be back.”
The Railsplitters will head to Yankee Stadium next, where the team will play in its fourth final in the last five years. The Railsplitters won two of the last four championship games there, including last season’s 28-27 win over Tottenville and a 20-12 victory over Erasmus Hall in 2011.
Lincoln will face Erasmus Hall in the Bronx, as the Dutchmen beat Curtis High School 39-22 in Brooklyn on Saturday during another semifinal matchup. Erasmus Hall may not have the experience that Lincoln has, but the team comes close, as it won the 2012 PSAL title against Tottenville, and, of course, lost to Lincoln in 2011.
The two teams are familiar with each other after Erasmus Hall beat Lincoln 18-16 during the fifth week of this season. That loss broke up a 17-game winning streak for the Railsplitters, but many of their players said that game was the turning point in the year, and that they are using that game as motivation in the finals.
“We’re playing like we haven’t won anything,” Rodriguez said. “We feel like we still have a lot to prove. We don’t play like we won the championship game last year. We expect to win every game now, but we still know that we have something to prove.”
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