In week one of the football season — or in any sport, for that matter — learning experiences abound.
After almost a full calendar year since the last game, area teams tend to open against non-league opponents in an effort to iron out the kinks before the “important” games show up on the schedule.
Friday morning was certainly a learning experience for the Lincoln Railsplitters, an ugly 13-7 defeat at the hands of Harry S Truman. After 48 minutes of football, Lincoln learned a lot, but that’s not to say it’s an experience head coach Ed McGettigan truly cared for.
“It is a learning experience, but it could also have been a learning experience had we won,” McGettigan said outside the Lincoln locker room after his third season began with a loss. “This is a starting point. Now, it’s up to us to take a step up. It definitely helps seeing a real game and being able to see what you’ve got. It’s certainly different than when you practice against yourself.”
The first half — and especially the first quarter — was a big-time bright spot for the Railsplitters. Playing at home in front of a sparse but vocal crowd, Lincoln came out and smacked Truman hard despite battling road-like conditions: the other team brought cheerleaders, a flag-waving squad and a marching band so large that its equipment truck could have been mistaken for Madonna’s road crew.
While the Lincoln offense pretty much sputtered all day (it managed just two first downs the entire contest), the defense came to play anytime Truman made the mistake of dropping back and throwing the ball.
On Lincoln’s first defensive stand, Truman started deep in its own territory and had to pass on a third-and-long, a pass that was gobbled up by defensive back/running back Durrell Dixon and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown to put Lincoln up 7-0. Then, on the subsequent possession, with Truman deep in Lincoln’s zone thanks to a 64-yard run, Dixon stepped up in the end zone and notched his second interception of the quarter.
“Durrell, he’s a senior, and he’s done a nice job for us on the field and in the classroom,” McGettigan said. “He plays both ways and can be a real leader for us. We’ll need him to run the ball a little more as the season goes on.”
The Railsplitters kept Truman off the board for the rest of the first half; problem was, Lincoln was kept out of the scoring column for the rest of the game. The second frame unequivocally went to Truman.
Truman’s offense was on the field seemingly the entire time, as first down after first down kept the clock moving and Lincoln’s exhausted defense on the field. On an extremely hot day, the Railsplitter defense stood firm, but third quarter touchdown runs of five and two yards gave Truman a 13-7 lead they would not relinquish. In fact, Lincoln ran just three offensive drives totaling just one first down.
“They ran right through us in the second half,” McGettigan said. “That’s what teams that run the option do, they want to stay on the field and keep defenses tired and out of sync. Chunks of yards here and there and critical first downs in the second half are why they won the game.”
The stat sheet for Lincoln left much to be desired. Senior quarterback Miguel Sanchez, the undisputed leader of the offense and one of four returning starters, completed just four of nine passes for 42 yards. His pocket presence is there, but as McGettigan noted, “He needs time to develop relationships with his receivers. He’s a big strong kid with a nice arm and he can run the ball, and I’d really love for him to be the center point of our offense.”
Elsewhere, Dixon ran just three times for two yards, while Sanchez carried seven times for 12 yards. Dixon, Khalil Walker, Joshua Pagan and Devon Tompkins each had a reception for Lincoln.
McGettigan hopes Lincoln got enough learning done on Friday, because this coming Friday night brings a familiar opponent in Northeast High School, another Public League team that endured a rough learning experience this past weekend in a 24-0 loss to suburban power Neshaminy. And although the teams play in different divisions within the Public League, thus making it a non-league contest, the Railsplitters will not be treating it like one.
“It’s definitely an important test,” McGettigan said. “They’re a good team, so we have to play mistake-free, or at least cause more mistakes than we make. I expect them to be a very tough opponent, and we’ll have to bring our A-game to be competitive.”
Either way, Lincoln knows it has a lot to work on as the season progresses. Learning experiences aren’t always positive ones, but at least McGettigan and company got to see where they need the most improvement, which clearly comes on the offensive side of the ball.
“I have to look at the film and see what we can build on,” he said. “They played hard and didn’t give up, we just have to get them in the right spots to succeed.
“We were expecting some growing pains,” he concluded. “We knew we had to play mistake-free ball, and we didn’t. We made more mistakes in the second half. Little stuff killed us, but as I said, it’s a starting point, and we all have to start somewhere.” ••EndFragment