Yankee Stadium is the home of 27 World Series champions, but on Tuesday the best high school football team in the city will be crowned as undefeated Abraham Lincoln meets Erasmus Hall in a game live on MSGVarsity.com.
It is the Railsplitters second trip to the big ballpark in The Bronx. A year ago, Shawn O’Connor’s undefeated season was spoiled by Fort Hamilton, which pulled out an 8-6 victory.
Lincoln (12-0) graduated 26 players from that team, including All-American Ishaq Williams (Notre Dame) and quarterback Andrew Vital (C.W. Post).
And yet, the Railsplitters are back on the big stage. Last year’s scout team has led the way.
Offensively, it’s been a breakout season for quarterback Jessel Jones, who has thrown for 1,063 yards and 11 touchdowns, while running for 770 yards and 14 more scores.
“I think Jessel epitomizes what this whole team is about,” O’Connor said. “They’re all coming out of nowhere. They heard more about who was on the team last year than who was coming back.”
One of the few known commodities coming into the season for Lincoln, ranked No. 10 in the Tri-State by MSG Varsity, was Kareem Folkes and the senior running back has lived up to expectations. The senior rushed for 1,668 yards and 27 touchdowns for the highest-scoring offense in the city.
“Get your popcorn ready because it’s going to be a show,” Folkes said of Tuesday’s final.
That’s just half of Lincoln’s story, though. The underrated defense has let up the least amount of points during the season and the Railsplitters are led in that department by Robert Kitching, the lone returning defensive starter. The senior defensive lineman has 40 tackles and 10 sacks this season.
“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him,” O’Connor said of the 6-foot-2, 310-pound Kitching. “When we played Jefferson, they had the ball at the 2-yard line, first and goal and he made three of the four stops in the beginning of the game and we only won by two.”
While Lincoln has been the most consistent team during the season, Erasmus (9-3), ranked No. 20 in the Tri-State, has been the polar opposite. There’s been big wins, two victories against Tottenville and a victory against Fort Hamilton, which proved to be the Dutchmen’s turning point.
And there’s been tough losses – Week 1 to Campus Magnet, Week 3 to DeWitt Clinton and Week 6 to Thomas Jefferson. While the Dutchmen’s play during the season has been erratic, their drive never wavered.
“When we lost those games everyone was saying we were a rollercoaster team, but I know my team was always focused, our eyes were on the prize the whole time and now we’re here,” Erasmus All-American Wayne Morgan said. “We just have to get it done.”
A starter since his freshman year, Morgan, who has drawn interest from Rutgers, UConn and Syracuse, finished his storied high school career on the biggest stage Tuesday.
“My eyes lit up like I saw SpongeBob when I was a baby,” he said of stepping onto the field at Yankee Stadium. “It was just great. I’ve been wanting for this day to come since forever.”
It wasn’t just a special feeling for the Erasmus players.
“It was awesome,” Dutchmen coach Danny Landberg said. “The Yankees are a first-class organization and they treated us like superstars and I was very appreciative of that. Being on the field was a special feeling, being on the dais felt really special. It’s a day we’ll never forget.”
Morgan was far from a one-man show for the Dutchmen offense. Shaquell Jackson rushed for 1,239 yards and 13 touchdowns, but suffered a knee injury early in the second half of an overtime win against Tottenville in the semifinals.
The hero of that win was sophomore Khalil Lewin, who rushed for 109 yards, including a miraculous game-winning touchdown in overtime.
Defensively, E-Hall is guided by hard-hitting linebacker Luder Jean Louis and Rujel Henry on the line. Of course, there’s Cyrus Greene and “Lights Out” Morgan in the secondary.
Will Lincoln cap an undefeated season and win its first PSAL title since 1993 or will Erasmus be the best public school team in the city for the first time since 1950? Find out Tuesday at 5 p.m. live on MSGVarsity.com.