LINCOLN – Lincoln and Shea opened their respective 2011 seasons with a non-league tilt at Ferguson Field on Friday night, a game that validated why these team were once Thanksgiving Day rivals.
The Raiders erased a 14-point halftime deficit with a pair of rushing touchdowns and two-point conversions to edge the Lions, 22-20.
The teams played on Thanksgiving from 1968-2001, with the Lions holding a 17-16-1 advantage in those games. Shea rolled to a 29-14 victory over Lincoln in last year’s season opener, but this one was much more competitive.
The night did not begin favorably for the Lions. Senior quarterback Anthony Palombo’s pass intended for senior wide receiver Kyle Jackson was intercepted near the Shea end zone to conclude Lincoln’s first possession.
Palombo is taking over as Lincoln’s signal-caller following the graduation of all-state standout Ryan O’Dell. He worked primarily at running back last season, rushing for 348 yards and five touchdowns. He also spent some time under center, completing 7 of 21 passes for 98 yards and an interception.
Lincoln provided the only scoring of the first quarter, a 17-yard touchdown pass from Palombo to Jackson.
On third-and-11 from Shea’s 17-yard line, Palombo found Jackson open in the right side of the end zone. The ensuing extra point attempt failed, but the Lions had a 6-0 after one period.
Shea answered in the form of a five-yard quarterback sneak. On fourth-and-goal from the Lincoln 5-yard line, Shea’s signal-caller faked right and wheeled to his left before breaking into the end zone for the touchdown. A missed extra point try followed, keeping the game tied at 6.
The Lions untied the score on their very next possession. What appeared to be a lost play on second-and-9 from Shea’s 14 suddenly turned into gold for Lincoln, as Palombo eluded a pair of defenders in time to uncork a pass to Jackson. The receiver juggled the ball near the goal line but fought off a defender and secured it in the end zone for his second touchdown of the night. Again, Lincoln’s extra point attempt was off the mark.
A blocked punt ignited Lincoln’s next touchdown. After the Lions recovered the ball on Shea’s 5-yard line, junior running back Jamal Tavares burst through the Raiders’ defense for the score. Lincoln made up for its earlier missed extra points with a 2-point conversion, again courtesy of the Palombo-Jackson connection. Following a 5-yard penalty that pushed Lincoln back, Palombo hit his favorite target in the right side of the end zone to give Lincoln a 20-6 lead.
Jackson was a first-team all-state selection in 2010, when he led the Lions with 53 receptions, 850 receiving yards and four touchdown catches.
Shea threatened to trim the deficit just before halftime, but the Lions ended the Raiders’ nine-play drive by tackling a Shea receiver inside the 5-yard line as the final seconds ticked off. The defensive stand allowed Lincoln to maintain a 14-point advantage at the intermission.
A Lincoln turnover on the second play of the second half gave Shea the ball at the Lions’ 16. One play later, a Raiders running back scampered into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown. Shea then converted a 2-point conversion, pulling the Raiders within a 20-14 deficit.
Lincoln’s fortunes took a serious hit later in the third quarter, when Palombo left the game after suffering an apparent leg injury, one of many injuries sustained by the Lions on Friday. He was replaced by sophomore Jaren Sanchez.
Shea’s momentum, already building prior to Palombo’s exit, only seemed to gain steam after the Lincoln quarterback was sidelined. The only scoring of the third quarter belonged to the Raiders, as a Shea running back rumbled in for 15-yard touchdown that knotted the game at 20. The Raiders added a 2-point conversion for a 22-20 lead, their first of the night.
A botched punt by Shea gave the Lincoln the ball at the Raiders’ 29-yard line late in the fourth quarter, but Lincoln fumble’s on the second play of the drive gave the rock right back to Shea.
A hobbling Palombo returned for the Lions’ next possession, but Lincoln could not manage a first down. Shea took over on downs and ran out the clock from there.
Coach Dave Waycott’s Lions went 5-3 in Division III last year to earn a spot in the playoffs, where Moses Brown handed them a 21-0 loss in the semifinals. Lincoln defeated Moses Brown and eventual D-III Super Bowl champion Middletown during the regular season.
Coach Dino Campopiano’s Raiders posted a 3-4 record in Division II-A last season, failing to reach the playoffs for the third straight year.
Shea 0 6 8 8 – 22
Lincoln 6 14 0 0 – 20