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Shawn O’Connor made sure to applaud and pat each one of his players on the back. The Lincoln football coach saw their heads down and shoulders slumped.
Like the Railsplitters, he was frustrated with Saturday afternoon’s 29-8 setback to Fort Hamilton that was far closer than the final result would indicate. But he was proud of the performance against the Tigers, one of two undefeated teams remaining in the city.
“I want them to keep their heads up,” O’Connor said. “Our goal wasn’t to just beat Fort Hamilton. It was to make the playoffs and get our program back on the map.”
Lincoln (4-3) was the better team in the first half. The Coney Island squad just made mistakes that Fort Hamilton (7-0) capitalized upon.
Ishaq Williams dropped a sure touchdown pass that would’ve extended a one-point lead. Doug Butler failed to signal a fair catch on a punt he promptly fumbled.
The Tigers only led at the break because of two big plays: a 55-yard touchdown run by quarterback Frank Laino and his 56-yard scoring strike to Brandon Reddish, one play after Butler’s gaffe.
“That was a big momentum turn for Fort Hamilton,” O’Connor said. “We could’ve been up going into the half, we should’ve been up going into the half. It would’ve been a different story.”
The Railsplitters moved the ball against the Tigers, driving into Fort Hamilton territory five times. But quarterback Andrew Vital was picked off twice, once by middle linebacker Todd Lauchner, to quell a promising fourth-quarter drive in the red zone.
“We didn’t back down,” O’Connor said. “We just made too many mental errors.”
O’Connor has plenty of reasons to be optimistic. For one, Fort Hamilton doesn’t lose regular-season affairs. Last year’s runners-up, the Tigers have won 21 regular-season games in a row.
Lincoln won just once last year and three the season before that. O’Connor is still trying to reestablish the once-proud program. His club is filled with promising juniors, such as Ishaq and Wayne Williams on the defensive line and Vitale, a dual threat with his legs and right arm, under center.
Fort Hamilton coach Vinny Laino called the victory the toughest since the come-from-behind, 27-26 win over Sheepshead Bay to start the year.
“That’s a playoff team,” Laino said of Lincoln. “We could see them again.”
This was the third marquee matchup the Railsplitters have lost, the others being the season opener to Curtis and a visit to Susan Wagner, a semifinalist last fall. O’Connor hopes these experiences will pay off in November.
“Our statement will be making the playoffs and making noise there,” he said.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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