One year ago, the Bishop Hendricken football team did what just about everybody thought was impossible. The Hawks knocked off La Salle 17-14 in the Super Bowl, pulling off perhaps the biggest upset in Rhode Island high school football history.
On Sunday, Hendricken will try to do the same exact thing. This time, though, an upset might be an even greater challenge.
The No. 2 seeded Hawks, winners of the last two Super Bowls, knocked off No. 3 Cranston East 35-21 on Wednesday night in the Division I semifinals, advancing to the Super Bowl for the fourth consecutive season. On the other side of the bracket, top-seeded La Salle beat No. 4 Portsmouth 42-14 to lock up its place in the state championship.
It’s Hendricken-La Salle again, just like last season. And just like last season, the Hawks will enter the game as heavy underdogs.
The Rams finished this season 8-0, and torched just about every team in their path. They had one semi-hiccup, as they out-lasted Cranston West 28-17 in their closest game of the year. Other than that, they didn’t play any games in Rhode Island that they won by fewer than 17 points.
“Let’s be honest – I don’t think there’s any question that La Salle’s the best team,” Hendricken head coach Keith Croft said. “We have to play a near perfect game to beat them. But our kids have a little momentum, they believe in themselves and we’ll see what happens.”
The Rams’ dominance includes a game against Hendricken, on Nov. 9, in which La Salle used a huge first half to run away with a 28-7 victory.
The Hawks know they’ll have to be better this time around.
“La Salle is a great team,” lineman Joe Vincent said. “They definitely have more athletes than us, but we only have to be better than them for one game.”
There is certainly reason for hope. Last year, the Rams beat Hendricken 39-14 during the season, on their way to an 8-0 season. The Hawks, meanwhile, finished 6-2 – just like this season – earned the No. 2 seed, then played their best game of the season in the Super Bowl.
The similarities are there. Then again, so are some differences.
Hendricken is playing a largely different group than last year, as it graduated starters all over the field. La Salle’s group, on the other hand, has many of the same key players, only they’re a year older now and year more experienced.
All-State quarterback Anthony Francis leads the way along with reigning Gatorade Player of the Year Josh Morris at running back. On the outside, receivers Keon Wilson and Tyneil Cooper are huge threats, as is Mitch DaSilva, a senior who has taken on a bigger role this season.
“We’ll definitely talk about [last year], but I think this team that we have is different from last year,” Croft said. “I think the La Salle team is totally different. They’re a senior team now, their best players are seniors.”
Both teams have a lot of stake, historically. Hendricken, making its sixth Super Bowl appearance in seven years, is trying to win its third straight Super bowl, something no team has done since the Hawks’ own three in a row from 1994-96.
La Salle, on the other hand, is trying to break a tie with East Providence for the most D-I titles.
“This is the type of game that these kids come to Hendricken for,” Croft said. “We talk about playing in big games and capitalizing. This was the biggest one of the season, and La Salle is going to be bigger.”