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Vital’s run, dominant defense lead Lincoln past dogged Campus Magnet

In Week 1, Andrew Vital ran for two touchdowns and compiled 168 total yards of offense. Sunday afternoon, he struggled somewhat, committing three turnovers and failing to break the century mark on the ground.

Yet, Lincoln coach Shawn O’Connor was even more pleased with his effort than the previous week.

“He had a better game as a leader,” the coach said, “because he could’ve crumbled the way he was playing.”

Instead, Vital shook off his previous mistakes and made the biggest play of the day, a 47-yard sprint to pay dirt with just 8:19 remaining. His third rushing TD of the year, in tandem with the Railsplitters’ dominant defense posting a donut, was the difference in No. 6 Lincoln’s 14-8 road victory over ninth-ranked Campus Magnet in Queens.

After each of his previous three turnovers — a first-quarter interception, second-quarter fumble that led to the Bulldogs’ only points of the afternoon, and fourth-quarter fumble deep in Campus Magnet territory — O’Connor pulled Vital aside. He didn’t rip his senior quarterback.

“I asked him to smile,” he said.

Vital made sure his teammates were happy later.

The intense and physical battle was even at 8 early in the fourth quarter when Vital took off from the Campus Magnet 47, sprinting into the secondary and past Bulldogs (1-1) defenders.

“Short-term memory,” said Vital, who also threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Ishaq Williams on Lincoln’s opening drive. “I had to make up for my [turnovers] with a touchdown.”

It was more than enough for the Railsplitters’ dominant defense, which has now allowed just seven points in two games against Campus Magnet and Port Richmond, playoff teams a year ago.

“Defense wins championships, so we’re gonna need that,” Williams said.

They shut down the Bulldogs’ ground attack and while quarterback Scott Gadsden completed 9-of-15 passes for 150 yards, he was kept out of the end zone. Three times the burgeoning Queens powerhouse drove into the red zone, but came away with no points.

Lincoln (2-0) took the opening drive 59 yards in 16 plays, capped when Vital hit Williams on a wheel route. Campus Magnet immediately responded, quickly moving to the Railsplitters 2-yard line. Three runs followed by a fumbled snap caused by defensive tackle Wayne Williams’ penetration was the first big stop for the defense.

The biggest one was the final drive of the afternoon, Lincoln clinging to a 14-8 lead. Gadsden methodically moved the Bulldogs down field, hitting running back Wavell Wint for seven yards, then 22 and then 30. On 4th-and-18 from the 36, he found Devonte Daniels on a wide receiver screen for 18 yards.

But the defense stood tall from there. Vital had press coverage on a long ball for Daniels and on the second fourth down of the series – what would be Campus Magnet’s last hope – both Williams’ got penetration, blowing up the play with less than a minute remaining.

“Our defense showed they can handle the pressure and not bend,” O’Connor said. “They showed they got a lot of character.”

Wayne Williams felt it was a statement performance for the unit, which he has championed as the best in the city. In the week leading up to the showdown, the dominant defensive tackle said he heard plenty about Campus Magnet’s defense, but not enough about his.

“I felt disrespected by people,” he said. “They are known for their defense, we are known for our defense. The question was who’s better? We showed it was us.”

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