By Zach Braziller
For all Eric Barnett has accomplished since taking over the Campus Magnet football program five years ago, the Bulldogs are best known for failing to pick up a marquee victory.
They have compiled a close to .600 winning percentage, reached the playoffs four consecutive seasons, and become a citywide contender under Barnett, but for as many positives as there are, there are just as many unsightly losses.
Sunday’s 14-8 heartbreaker to Lincoln, ranked sixth in the city by the New York Post, was the latest in a long line of them. No. 9 Campus Magnet outplayed the favored Railsplitters, but Devonte Daniels and Antoine Allen dropped touchdown passes, Allen also lost a fumble at the Lincoln 15-yard line, one of two Bulldogs (1-1) turnovers, and they failed to find points after having a first-and-goal at the Lincoln 2.
“We beat ourselves — again,” quarterback Scott Gadsden said. “We had the game in the bag.”
It was a frustrating afternoon, particular for the high-powered offense, which failed to score a touchdown for the first time in 18 games. Campus Magnet’s lone score came when Marlan Sabb drilled Lincoln quarterback Andrew Vital in the end zone and Donavon Abreu recovered.
Gadsden was solid, if unspectacular, connecting on 9-of-15 passes for 150 yards.
Twice, he appeared to have connected on touchdowns, but his receivers were unable to squeeze the long passes. The mistakes came back to haunt the Queens school, as the drives would stall.
Raeshawn Lewis took a simple wide receiver screen on the Bulldogs’ first offensive play from scrimmage and went 53 yards to set up the Bulldogs at the Lincoln 2, but three runs and a botched snap later, Campus Magnet turned the ball over on downs. The next possession, Gadsden hit Allen on a short slant, but he coughed it up at the Railsplitters 15.
“Their players made plays, my playmakers didn’t,” Barnett fumed. “My team played with no heart, they played with heart; that’s the ballgame.”
There were positives to take — Gadsden’s sharp performance against arguably the best defense in the city and the Bulldogs’ own defense limiting Lincoln (2-0) to just 14 points — but Barnett said his players shouldn’t be accepting moral victories any more. They talked city championship in preseason but have yet to prove worthy of such boasts.
“It’s like we have to take a loss to realize what we have, but there’s no reason for that,” Gadsden said.
This isn’t a new issue, failing to beat the big teams. Two years ago, for instance, the Bulldogs blew a late lead against Boys & Girls in the opening round of the playoffs. Last year, they coughed up an 18-6 lead against Erasmus Hall, fell to longtime Brooklyn power Canarsie, and nearly upset runner-up Tottenville in the City Championship division quarterfinals, three lost fumbles their undoing.
“We have a good team, we just can’t find a way yet,” said safety Jhaleel Oswald, who intercepted Vital once and recovered a fumble. “We got to look inside of us and find our heart.”
Barnett didn’t shy away from the label that is starting to attach itself to his team: not being able to win the big one.
“If it looks like a dog, barks like a dog, it’s a dog,” he said, finally cracking a smile, albeit short-lived. “I’m gonna keep trying until I win that big game.”