Lincoln played all season with the mindset that the undefeated city championship it won last year did not belong to this team. Now this group of Railsplitters is one win away from a crown to call its own after a dominant victory over Grand Street on Nov. 29.
The Lincoln defense stifled the Wolves’ highly touted offense, and senior Luis Rodriguez scored three touchdowns to give the Railsplitters a 27–0 win in the Public School Athletic League City Conference football semifinals last Saturday in Coney Island.
The championship experience certainly paid off against a Grand Street team making its first semifinal appearance.
“We are use to big games like this,” said Rodriguez, who has seven touchdowns this postseason. “We came to the field house with the mindset that nobody can stop us.”
The second-seeded Railsplitters (10–2) face No. 1-seeded borough rival Erasmus Hall in the Dec. 9 final at Yankee Stadium.
It is the program’s fourth trip to the title game in the last five years, but Lincoln coach Shawn O’Connor preached since the preseason that this group needed to write its own chapter. He even yelled at the on-field disco jockey to turn off the song “We are the Champions” following the win, and it made the right impression on his players.
“We play like we haven’t won nothing, like we have something to prove,” Rodriguez said.
Lincoln, which beat Grand Street 21–18 in the regular season, set the tone early thanks to a 26-yard touchdown run from Rodriguez on the opening drive to make it 7–0. Senior Elijah Guadeloupe intercepted Grand Street’s Justin White on the Wolves’ first possession. The Railsplitters however managed only field goals of 28 and 34 yards from Axel Pembele to take a 13–0 lead into the break. That was more than enough for its defense to end Grand Street’s season.
“We didn’t play Grand Street football, but we will be back.” Wolves coach Bruce Eugene said
Lincoln pressured White all afternoon and ran Eugene Qualls and Rhamel Joseph down before they could break free. It limited White to just 74 yards in the air and receiver Taysir Mack to just one catch. Lincoln also stopped Grand Street (11–2) on fourth and goal from the four in the second quarter and three-yard line in the third.
“We wanted to pressure them a little bit more,” O’Connor said. “We sat back in zone the last time. We said, ‘you know what, we have athletes too, let’s not be afraid to play them, man.’ ”
Rodriguez continues to be the man for Lincoln. The hybrid receiver and running back tallied 197 yards of total offense. He took a screen pass from Paul Litvak 76 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. Litvak was 14 of 22 passing for 200 yards. Rodriguez added a 14-yard scoring run on the game’s final play.
“He’s a monster,” Guadeloupe said.
Lincoln couldn’t have been happier to hear that it would face the Dutchman for the championship. Erasmus ended the Railsplitters’ 17-game winning streak 18–16 in the regular season, so there’s a desire to return the favor in the year’s biggest game.
“I’d glad,” Rodriguez said. “I owe them one since last game. I’d glad to play them again.”