LINCOLN --- Lincoln High handled the must-win pressure quite well.
Needing to claim its Division III regular-season finale with mighty Middletown High in order to keep their postseason hopes alive, the Lions rose to the challenge and put forth one of their best performances of the year in front of a large Homecoming Night crowd by posting a 29-16 triumph at Ferguson Field.
The victory gives the Lions a 5-3 mark and tiebreakers over two of the other three teams fighting for the last three playoff spots in the division – Moses Brown and the Islanders.
The Quakers, who are 4-2, have a pair of easy games left on its schedule against winless Classical and East Greenwich (2-4), Burrillville (4-2) plays one-win Tiverton today, and Middletown (now 4-3) hosts the Broncos next Friday night.
If the Broncos, as expected, roll past the Tigers and then come away with a win over the Isles, they and the Lions are in the postseason. But if the Broncos fall to the Islanders, that would create a three-way tie between them and the Lions.
The way it looks, if that scenario happened, each club would be 1-1 in their head-to-head tiebreakers, and according to the RIIL rules, the next tiebreaker would be ‘quality points’ – points for each game won by the teams they have defeated.
That means the Lions would most likely bump into the playoffs because they beat a team (Moses Brown) that neither the Broncos nor Islanders were able to do. The winner of the Burrillville-Middletown game would then be the other seed because of the quality points they received from that victory.
Lincoln head coach Dave Waycott admitted that he was unsure of the tiebreakers during his post-game remarks, but he was more than sure on how he felt about his team’s strong performance.
“I’m really proud of these boys,” he added. “They really played well. They cut down on their penalties and mistakes, but most of all, they came out tonight and played as a team and it was great to see. I couldn’t be happier.”
Waycott was also happy with the way his Lions played defensively against a very potent offense that not only was averaging over 26 points and close to 300 rushing yards per game, but also had arguably the best running back in the division in Rico McCray, who was 95 yards away from his third straight 1,000-yard season.
Against the Lions, the Islanders managed just 107 yards on the ground and McCray was limited to just 65 on 21 carries, his second-lowest output of the season.
“He’s a very good running back,” Waycott said of McCray. “He’s a beast. I was worried about him, but our guys worked hard this week and stepped it up tonight.”
On the other side of the ball, Lincoln worked out of the Single-wing offense and managed to pile up over 200 yards of real estate, with quarterback Ryan O’Dell picking up 118 of the yards on the ground and 65 through the air on 8-for-12 passing.
“We ran the Single-wing last year and we thought it would give us another option,” said Waycott. “We’ve been running the no-huddle and the spread (offense) this season, but this was just something else that we wanted to put in that we thought would work and we actually chewed up a lot of clock with it today.”
While their offense and defense stood out, it was the Lions’ special teams that produced the first points of the game, when 2:13 into the second quarter, Osel-lie Saine blocked a punt in the Islanders’ end zone and Brendan Dyer recovered it for the touchdown.
With 19.1 seconds to play in the half, the Lions made it a 15-0 game on a 2-yard keeper by the middle by O’Dell and a two-point conversion run by Anthony Palombo, but the Islanders would not go away quietly.
In the closing seconds of the third quarter, they made it a one-possession game on a 32-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dylan Gracia to McCray, who fielded it at the Lions’ 25 and raced around a block at the 13 and toward the end zone. He also raced in the two-point conversion run.
But when the Lions got the ball back, they managed to up their lead to 23-8 and absorb some time in doing so. O’Dell scored on a 1-yard keeper that capped a drive that took 4 ½ minutes off the clock and also saw him throw a two-point conversion pass to Dyer.
After Saine recovered a fumble more than a minute later at the Islanders’ 23 (one of four turnovers by the visitors), the Lions boosted their lead to 29-8 with 4:33 to play on a 10-yard TD pass from O’Dell to Dyer.
The Islanders scored their other eight points on a hook-and-ladder play that saw McCray take a pitch from Mike Lane and turn it into a 68-yard score with 28.4 seconds to play.
“We didn’t play well in the first half,” said Middletown coach Andrew Leys. “For some reason, we came out and played poorly. It was disappointing, but Lincoln played a great game. They were the better team tonight, and that’s what I told my guys.