The turning point was a jump shot.
Jaylen Antoine and Caden Filer met on the sideline after a drive and both struck a basketball jump shot pose, celebrating with each other after a touchdown drive against Mount Tahoma.
The Lincoln High School football team’s offensive coordinator couldn’t have been more proud.
“It was just so good to see, so reassuring,” Shalls Jacome said. “Because it wasn’t forced. That was just them doing their thing.”
“I just knew, man, it had been rough for them. And our fans and our community had really wanted to see just one guy playing quarterback.”
But that moment proved something – maybe Lincoln could be just fine playing with two quarterbacks.
And now, here they are, winners of nine consecutive games with a 3A Pierce County League title in tow entering their fourth consecutive trip to the 3A state playoffs. It faces Garfield in a 1 p.m. loser-out game Saturday at Lincoln Bowl.
And the Abes have done this with Antoine and Filer rotating every possession at quarterback, no matter what happened the drive before.
It works. The Abes average 47.5 points per game – scoring more points than any 3A team in the state.
“They weren’t close or anything like that,” Lincoln coach Masaki Matsumoto said. “But then you start to see them high-fiving each other. I don’t know if they’ll ever become best friends or anything, but they function together so much better now.”
And that speaks to Lincoln’s team chemistry – that’s the only way this would work.
Antoine, a right-handed senior, landed at Lincoln after starting the year prior at Lakes High School. And Filer, a left-handed sophomore, was the expected heir apparent to since-graduated Joey Sinclair.
Jacome spent time in the offseason at Corona Centennial High School in California, learning from Matt Logan. He remembered when Centennial made two quarterbacks work in 2014, with both throwing for more than 1,800 yards. And the school won its league title.
“I went there to find out how he ran practice with two quarterbacks and how he ran his system so well with both of them,” Jacome said. “He told me you have to keep it even. Keep it fair. You can’t favor one.
“So then, naturally, the next question is what happens when one has the hot hand and the other is cold? And so he said you just can’t worry about that. You have to keep it even, and do that in practice, too.”
So how about that first Lincoln practice?
Antoine said he came in expecting to be the starter, because he had already been a starter.
“Once I got on the field and I saw Caden leading the team and Caden knew what to do and how practices went, I was like, ‘Hey, this guy is going to challenge me and I got to pick it up as soon as I can,’ ” Antoine said. “There was definitely a lot more competition than I was expecting.”
They competed, but didn’t talk. And the rest of the team could tell.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Filer said. “I was like, ‘Well, he’s a senior and it will be just like last year where they start the senior.’ But I like competition. So I was like, ‘All right, let’s go – that’s what I love.’ ”
Antoine vividly remembered one drill when an argument broke out.
“We were in a running drill and Caden and I were arguing over who was going to lead the drill first, and I was like, ‘I’m the senior,’” Antoine said.
“But after that moment, I was like, ‘I don’t want to have that anymore. We can’t have situations go down like that anymore.’ And Caden had the same mindset.”
“It was pretty heated at first,” said Lincoln’s junior offensive and defensive lineman Giovonni White. “You could tell they were bitter back and forth. But now I feel like they trust each other. They’ve come along and started getting along with each other.”
The both had off games in a Week 4 win over Lakes, and Jacome sat them down. Antoine said it was after that meeting that he knew – either he and Filer were both going to be successful, or they were both going to struggle. There would never be one playing well and the other poorly.
So they worked on their communication. No more stonewalling.
The next game against Wilson – Antoine completed 11 of 15 passes for 144 yards and 2 TDs and Filer was 8-for-17 for 142 yards and 3 TDs.
And it kept rolling. The next week against Mount Tahoma, Antoine was 7-for-9 for 113 yards and 2 TDs and Filer was 7-for-8 for 125 yards and a TD.
And then, the celebration that caught the coaches’ eyes.
“I honestly couldn’t choose who to pick, either,” said junior lineman Jayden Simon. “They both have showed us that they can both get the job done. I love them both and I don’t feel differently blocking for one or the other because they know I got both of their backs.”
“And I feel like if Caden was starting, we’re wasting talent with Jaylen,” White said. “And if Jaylen was starting, we’re wasting talent with Caden. And we’ve proved we can do this.”
Jacome still doesn’t know who will be the opening drive starter against O’Dea. They both bring such different qualities – Filer with his powerful arm, understanding of the offense and ability to stretch defenses deep; and Antoine with his exceptional intermediate game, tight spiral and high football IQ.
And they are different off the field, too. Filer has long braids and his teammates call him Malibu’s Most Wanted.
“And who’s that rapper?” Matsumoto asked Jacome.
“Oh, Post Malone!” Jacome said. “He’s like Post Malone!”
Teammates have compared Antoine to the toy collector from “Toy Story 2.”
Jacome allows each of them just two reps in practice before they have to switch, to simulate playing one drive and sitting the next come game day. When referencing the position in team meetings, he says, ‘the quarterback,’ instead of referencing either Antoine or Filer by name.
“We’re not one of those duos that try to outdo each other,” Antoine said. “But we always try to make sure whoever goes out there first, what did you see from the defense? We’re not those guys who don’t talk to each other on the sideline. When one guy is slacking, we treat it as both quarterbacks are slacking. One guys is not better than the other. We’re both winning or both losing – it can’t be a divide.”
“Everything here is family,” Filer said. “We all support each other. We’re all teammates, we’re all one family.”
Matsumoto said the only way this could work is if the entire team was on board.
“There were a couple of coaches who didn’t agree with it,” Matsumoto said. “But at the end of the day, I just said it’s the offensive coordinator’s decision. Actually, it the head coach’s decision, but I’m going to trust Shalls. No one really separated themselves and we’re scoring 48 points a game and our offense is flowing.
“It’s working. And I think that speaks to what we’re doing overall.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677