Two weeks ago, the Lincoln High School football team had just suffered a tough 34-14 setback to Hoboken, a game that sent the Lions reeling.
The Lions had to recover in a hurry, facing an upstart Hudson Catholic team that had already won three games this season.
“It was a big game,” said Lincoln interim head coach John Fannan. “We had to see what the team was made of. We didn’t play well against Hoboken. This Hudson Catholic game was going to measure the team’s character and see how resilient they were. It was going to be a good measuring stick.”
It meant that the Lions’ senior leader, quarterback Isiah Roberts, had to step up and be heard from.
“The loss against Hoboken was upsetting,” Roberts said. “We didn’t play well and I knew I didn’t play my best. After the game, I talked to the team and told them that we had to bounce back. We used that loss to Hoboken as motivation. It was both for the team and myself, because I know I didn’t play well and didn’t play up to my expectations.”
During the first series against Hudson Catholic, Roberts threw an incomplete pass and the Lions were forced to punt.
“He was bad,” Fannan said. “I put him on the headphones and before I could say a word, Isiah said, `Don’t worry, Coach. I got you. I got you.’ I felt reassured. I knew he was going to make the adjustments and be fine. I knew he was ready to take over.”
“I definitely felt after that series that I was ready,” Roberts said. “I told the offensive line, ‘Let’s take control of the game.’ I definitely felt like we were ready.”
Roberts was more than ready. From that point on, he threw only one more incomplete pass.
“He’s a very cerebral, a very bright kid,” Fannan said. “He knows that in football, you have to have a very short memory. You have to move on to the next play, the next game, the next opponent. That’s what football is. Isiah understands that.”
Roberts finished the Hudson Catholic game completing 10-of-12 passes for 173 yards and three touchdown passes. He also ran for a score, leading the Lions to a big 52-7 victory over the Hawks, pushing the Lions’ record to 5-1.
More importantly, it enabled the Lions to control their own destiny in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II state playoffs. The Lions are currently eighth in the bracket and need wins over St. Anthony and Pascack Valley in the next two weeks to secure another trip to the state playoffs after missing last year by a single point.
For his efforts, Roberts has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Roberts knows how big the win over Hudson Catholic was.
“I think the win gives the team a lot of confidence,” Roberts said. “It showed that we were back on track offensively. It’s always better to hold your own destiny when it comes to the playoffs. We missed last year and it was very hard. The pressure was on us, especially on me. There were a lot of expectations on me.”
Roberts knew that he took on a huge role when he became the Lincoln quarterback, following in the footsteps of solid Lion quarterbacks like Jamal McKnight and Ronald Butler, both of whom made Hudson Reporter All-Area during their play days.
In fact, Butler had such an impact on Roberts that he chose to wear No. 11 in honor of Butler, who donned the number before Roberts.
“I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Ronald Butler,” Roberts said. “I looked up to him. I wanted to be like him. He was the ideal spread quarterback. It was an honor for me to wear that number with pride and fall right in line with the rest.”
“He said he wanted to be like Butler,” Fannan said. “He wanted to wear the number, so he got it. We put that No. 11 in the wash and gave it to Isiah. He sees himself as the next in line and that’s good. I wish we had 20 more like him. He’s a good student and he’s very mature and cerebral. He likes competing and likes being a leader. He’s very composed. I trust him a lot.”
Roberts, who attends University Charter School and plays football for Lincoln, is an excellent student. He’s being recruited by Fordham and Temple.
“I look forward to the experience of playing on the next level, wherever that may be. I know without good grades, I can’t go anywhere. I learned my lesson well.”
Roberts has now passed for 810 yards and 11 touchdowns, while rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns.
“I think that a lot of people look for that kind of leadership in a quarterback,” Roberts said. “I guess that leadership showed last week.”
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.