Shane McGovern and the Father Judge Crusaders aren’t used to being tested by the Abraham Lincoln Railsplitters on Thanksgiving.
“By halftime, we’re usually up three scores,” said McGovern, a senior safety/wide receiver.
This year was different, as there was no scoring by halftime. Lincoln opened the third quarter by scoring, with quarterback Luis Nazario running for a 1-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion failed.
Lincoln kept that six-point lead and was looking to hold on when Judge took possession on its 49-yard line with 4:09 to play.
McGovern, who played quarterback this season after injuries to starter Aidan Dooley and backup Mike Van Horn, was put in the backfield to take snaps on the do-or-die drive.
Runs by McGovern, Van Horn and Damier Johnson moved the ball deep into Lincoln territory.
“We were moving the ball. I knew we would dig deep and get in the end zone,” McGovern said.
McGovern was right, as he ran for an 8-yard touchdown with 33 seconds to go to tie the score and give his team a chance to take the lead.
“I was worried about the extra point,” he said.
No worry. Jack Isdell made the extra point, and Judge held on for a 7-6 victory.
Judge coach Frank McArdle credited Chris McArdle, his brother and the team’s offensive coordinator, with keeping the offense’s focus before the big drive. Putting McGovern in at quarterback paid off.
“We tried to get a spark on offense,” Frank McArdle said. “We had plenty of time. We didn’t want to panic. We had four minutes and all three timeouts. The offensive line took the game over on the last drive.”
Judge, which finished 3-9, won for the 30th time in a row on Thanksgiving and leads the overall series, 42-3-1. Lincoln last won in 1989.
The winning streak is so long that the Crusaders are under some pressure every year to not lose to Lincoln.
“You don’t want to be known as that team,” McGovern said.
McGovern was named his team’s Most Valuable Player.
Safety/wide receiver Kevin Kelly won Judge’s sportsmanship award, named in memory of McArdle’s grandfather, also named Frank. Kelly is glad the Crusaders escaped with a victory in his final game.
“I was worried when it got to the fourth quarter, but when we made them punt and got the ball with, like, four minutes left, I knew we would score,” he said.
McGovern and Kelly are among 13 seniors on the team. While they will be missed, McArdle is looking forward to see what the underclassmen can do.
“The future is bright here. We played a ton of young guys,” he said. “Judge football is on the way up.”
Lincoln football appears to be on the way up, too. The Railsplitters finished 9-3.
Sophomore Daniel Gardee, who had an interception and played a good all-around game, was Lincoln’s MVP. Leonard Brooks earned the sportsmanship award.
Nazario, a junior, and sophomore Nasir “Patch” Johnson did well alternating at quarterback.
Twelve seniors will depart.
“We were led by some great, great seniors,” said Lincoln coach Hakeem Cooper, who handed out appreciation plaques to each senior after the game.
Cooper, who received an appreciation plaque from his assistants, is a 2010 Lincoln graduate who was a captain and All-Public League star. He lost four times on Thanksgiving as a player. A first-year coach, losing last week hurt.
“It’s very tough. We were leading all game and lost by one. But wins and losses come with the game,” he said.
Cooper enjoyed the season, starting with work in the weight room and continuing with team-bonding events and all the hard work put in by the players.
“We were so close as a family,” he said. ••