In the back row of an exhausted and exhilarated group of football players was Devon Thompkins.
Moments earlier, in Friday afternoon weather more fit for a weekend stroll on a South Jersey beach, the senior quarterback was one of many contributors to Lincoln High School’s 34-0 victory over visiting Edison.
Head coach Ed McGettigan lauded his troops on a job well done, especially considering the win came against a Public League Silver Division foe. Holding a football, he told the Railsplitters that choosing a recipient of a game ball was far from an easy task.
“This game ball goes to a guy who ran one in and threw for another,” he said, flipping the ball to Thompkins. “Way to go.”
Thompkins appeared as startled then as he was to the subsequent round of applause by his teammates.
A shy young man who stands 6 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 175 pounds, Thompkins has never sought the spotlight that comes with the territory of being a standout performer.
“Never been about stats,” Thompkins said. “If my numbers had me throwing two incomplete passes and we won, that’s all that would matter. If I threw for four touchdowns and we lost, it wouldn’t matter because we didn’t win.”
Against Edison, the Railsplitters (2-4 overall, 1-1 league) scored early and often. They might have tallied more if the officials had not engineered a running clock for more than half of the fourth quarter.
While citing teammates who stood out on both sides of the ball, Thompkins acknowledged that he enjoyed one of his best outings since being provided the quarterback reins at the conclusion of last fall.
His final line — 4-for-7 for 93 yards and one touchdown pass with nine carries for 42 yards and a rushing score — belied his overall governance. Thompkins was calm in the pocket, and he was efficient and smart — taking what Edison’s defense was giving down the field and not turning the ball over, save for one interception.
“He stepped up and did a great job,” McGettigan said. “He’s a steady player. He works hard, and that is paying off.”
Thompkins’ most impressive throw occurred in the third quarter. Lincoln was already leading 22-0 behind a 24-yard touchdown run by Hosea McClam, a nifty 65-yard punt return score by Travon Williams, a 14-yard TD gallop by Thompkins and two-point conversion runs by LeRon Strothers and Demarkus Jones.
Thompkins fired a perfectly spiraled, over-the-shoulder pass down the right side that was hauled in by Eddie Keitel.
As Keitel finished the 60-yard excursion to make it 28-0 (Lincoln would later cap the scoring on a 7-yard TD run by McClam), Thompkins gently but firmly pumped his fist thrice as he jogged toward his elated teammates on the sideline.
“That was the guy I wanted to score most,” said Thompkins, oblivious to having established a career-long touchdown completion. “I was really excited for him. All year long we’ve been trying to get him a touchdown. We’ve been getting yardage but hadn’t been able to get in the end zone.”
A former wide receiver who plays forward and center for Lincoln basketball during the winter, Thompkins is one of several team captains, a leadership responsibility he takes very seriously.
When he struggles on the field, he tries not to let it dampen his enthusiasm around his teammates.
“Playing quarterback makes things go to a whole different level,” Thompkins said. “You have to make good decisions. You have to stay level and not get too high or too low. There’s a lot more pressure to go out and make a big play.”
Thompkins extolled the efforts of Railsplitters such as guard Cody Kettyle, linebackers Taylor Gaines and Jessie Ajavon and the aforementioned Williams and Jones, for their work in both ground production and secondary coverage.
Lincoln amassed 200 yards rushing on 27 carries and surrendered only one completion in 10 attempts for 45 yards.
“Our receivers were getting open so it opened our run game,” Thompkins said. “As long as you’re able to move the ball, it doesn’t matter how you do it, just as long as you do it.”
Among those who were most vocally supportive in Thompkins receiving a game ball was Williams. Along with the punt return touchdown, Williams intercepted two passes and was constantly breaking up would-be completions.
Winning by shutout was especially important to the Lincoln defense.
“Last week (a 34-6 loss at Martin Luther King), we let up too many big plays,” said Williams, a transfer from Archbishop Ryan. “Today, we kept them off the scoreboard and let Devon and the offense do the rest.”
That turned out to be a recipe for success. ••