Lincoln Prep squeaks past Pembroke Hill

By Toriano Porter PrepsKC Staff Writer
Posted: October 10, 2015 - 2:01 AM

Lincoln Prep’s Nate Simmons ran the route exactly the way the Blue Tigers’ coaching staff designed it.

It was a crossing route, but the execution was not like anything Simmons had experienced this season.

With his team down two points late in a non-league matchup with Pembroke Hill, Simmons corralled a tipped ball and outran the Raiders defense to the endzone for a 48-yard touchdown with 4 minutes left in the game.

From there, the teams traded turnovers before Lincoln Prep’s will nullified Pembroke’s want-to in a 34-30 win Friday at Interscholastic League Stadium.

“I just ran my route,” Simmons said after the Blue Tigers improved to 4-4 overall on the season. They are 2-0 in the IL with a winner-take-all league finale set for Thursday against Kansas City East (4-4, 4-0). “The ball went in the air and I looked it in. Once it got in my hands it was nothing but determination to get into the endzone. The game was on the line.”

The game was host Lincoln’s homecoming.

“It was a game we had to have,” Lincoln head coach Henry Newell said of a contest with district playoff ramifications. “We’re sitting there at third in district now; a loss here would have messed up the whole year. It was do or die and we knew that.”

Newell’s Blue Tigers have faced a gauntlet this season of out-of-league foes. Undefeated Hogan Prep (7-0) greeted Lincoln to open the season and Oak Grove, 6-2, followed two weeks later.

Undefeated Center (8-0), battle-tested Univesity Academy (3-4) and Kansas 5A power St. James - another unbeaten outfit at 6-0 - also dotted the slate.

That’s a combined 30-6 record, which Newell said equates to the third toughest in the state in Class 3.

“Our schedule has been rugged,” he said.

So when Pembroke strolled onto Joseph G. Bryan Field, Newell knew it would be another grinder, and another close game in a burgeoning rivalry with the Raiders.

Lincoln Prep had suffered four straight defeats at the hands of Pembroke before winning last season’s matchup. The Blue Tigers now have a two-game winning streak going against the Raiders.

“This game has been a great game for us over the years,” Pembroke Hill head coach Sam Knopik said. “The Lincoln-Pembroke game has been fun because of games like (tonight’s).”

The teams used contrasting styles to get into the endzone. Pembroke used the power running of  George Story and Hank Graves to contain Lincoln’s explosive offense, while Lincoln used a more balanced approch to find paydirt.

Story and Graves combined for four rushing touchdowns, with Story responsible for three of the scores.

“We try to go out and do the best that we can to help the team win,” Story said. “It was really a 1-2 punch all night. It was really fun playing with him.”

The outcome wouldn’t let Story enjoy his three-touchdown night.

“It was a dog fight from the beginning,” Story said. “It just didn’t go our way at the end.”

Lincoln Prep, a run-heavy team itself, got rushing touchdowns from Kalyn Davis and Phillipe Johnson in building an early 14-6 lead. Quarterback Harris Frazier threw three touchdown passes, including the game-winner to Simmons.

Frazier also connected with Isaac Smith on a 24-yard score that helped Lincoln extend its lead to a nine-point spread  (21-12) with 10:38 left in the third. Frazier’s 34-yard rifle to Duane Clayton pushed Lincoln’s lead to 27-20 with 4 minutes left in the third.

The extra point kick gave the Blue Tigers an eight-point lead.

Story’s final score, a 20-yard run with 8:30 left in the game closed the gap to 28-26. The Raiders tied it on Story’s bruising two-point conversion run.

Pembroke later forced a safety on fourth down to take a 30-28 lead with 7:10 remaining.

“It was a four-quarter ball game,” Knopik said. “They made mistakes, we made mistakes. They made big plays, we made big plays. Right down to the end, anything could have happened.

“It was a physical game on both side of the ball. We needed to play physical ball, so I'm proud of these kids. This sort of game is going to teach us all kinds of lessons.”

Lincoln free safety Zarin Jerrells led the Blue Tigers defensively with two interceptions including one on Pembroke’s last possession of the game.

“I was more proud of our defense,” Newell said. “They stepped up there at the end.”

As for Simmons’ miraculous catch and run, Newell said he was surprised that Simons scored.

“I knew he would catch  the ball, but I didn’t know he would go to the house,” he said.