The first quarter hit so quickly and so decisively that the Lincoln High football team had a simple choice to make: Fight back, or get embarrassed.
The Trojans fought back, and pushed national power Fort Lauderdale-St. Thomas Aquinas to the fourth quarter before finally falling in a 41-25 loss Friday night.
The Trojans (12-2) left Orlando without the Class 7A state championship they so desperately wanted to claim. But they also left with their heads held high — and with a healthy respect for St. Thomas Aquinas.
“That’s a college team size-wise, basically,” Lincoln coach Yusuf Shakir said. “Our kids played hard and they played tough. That’s all you can ask for. They just made more plays than we did.”
The Raiders made plenty of those big plays in the first quarter after falling behind 6-0 when Lincoln receiver John Burt returned the opening kickoff for a 95-yard touchdown.
After that, St. Thomas Aquinas scored on three straight possessions — on a 51-yard run, an 80-yard pass and a 71-yard pass.
“We didn’t execute,” Lincoln defensive back Kendall Randolph said. “In order to win this game, we knew we would have to do the little things. Every time we didn’t execute, they took advantage of it.”
Lincoln defensive back Jamerson Blount said the Trojans got away from their game plan in that disastrous opening quarter.
“We tried to do too much,” Blount said. “We made too many mental mistakes. In the second quarter, we settled down and started making plays.”
After falling behind 21-6, the Trojans rallied back with touchdowns from quarterback Cameron Joseph (1-yard run) and receiver Taj Williams (50-yard reception). A failed two-point conversion kept Lincoln from tying the game with 1:16 left in the first half.
The Raiders kicked a 23-yard field goal to close the half and take a 24-19 lead, but the Trojans held their own in the third quarter and into the fourth.
The teams combined for a scoreless third quarter, leaving Lincoln one score away from victory heading into the fourth.
“We just started talking and settled down and played our game,” Lincoln linebacker Carson Combs said. “We just had to calm down.”
But disaster struck again in the fourth when St. Thomas Aquinas scored 17 points to put the game away. Again, the Trojans said they lost their focus.
“It’s a life lesson,” Shakir said. “When you get opportunities, you have to make sure you are prepared for them and take advantage of them. We didn’t do that tonight.”