The Bishop Hendricken football team scored four times in the third quarter, including three times within a two-minute span, to break open a one-score game at halftime en route to a 56-32 victory over Cranston East in the Division I semifinals on Friday.
After a strong start for the Hawks, East quarterback Justin Neary connected with wideout Robenson Antoine for a 21-yard touchdown on the final play of the first half to trim Hendricken’s lead to just 21-14 going into the break. But, after the two teams traded scores early in the third quarter, the Hawks were able to make their lead insurmountable with touchdowns from quarterback Tom Comella, Angel Sanchez and Israel Emmanuel within a span of exactly two minutes late in the third quarter. Those three scores pushed Hendricken’s lead out to 29.
“It was one of the calmest halftimes we’ve had this year,” Hendricken head coach Keith Croft said of the halftime message to his team prior to the big third quarter. “We felt good about where we were at and knew that the first drive to start the second half was going to be huge.”
Although East ultimately put up 32 points, the Hawks were able to hold the high-powered ’Bolts under 40 points for the first time all season.
“I was,” Croft answered when asked if he was pleased with the defensive effort. “Obviously you would like to get a few more stops, but with an offense like theirs that has scored as many points as they have this year, I thought we did a good job. You can look at the score and say we let up 32 points, but that offense has been averaging a lot of points.”
After Hendricken forced East into a quick three-and-out to start the game, the Hawks took the ball and scored on their first possession, with the drive culminating in a Comella 4-yard keeper for a touchdown to make it 7-0.
And, after another quick defensive stop for Hendricken, its offense got the ball back and speedily produced another score when Sanchez sprinted by everyone for a 61-yard touchdown to give Hendricken a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
It wasn’t until late in the second quarter that East was able to get its offense going. The ’Bolts’ defense gave their offense good field position after recovering a fumble near midfield.
A 31-yard pass from Neary to Antoine then set up the ’Bolts inside the Hawks’ 10-yard line, and running back Rayven DeOliveira eventually powered in from three yards out to cut East’s deficit to 14-7.
Hendricken promptly responded when senior running back Devin Rivet scored on a 3-yard touchdown run to give the Hawks a 14-point lead once again.
But, East’s offense marched down the field in the waning minutes of the first half, looking for its second score of the game. With only a couple seconds left, Neary snapped the ball from Hendricken’s 21 and fired a pass over the middle to Antoine, who dashed towards the end zone and reached the ball over the goal line to make it 21-14 in favor of Hendricken going into the break.
The Hawks got the ball to start the second half and took less than three minutes to score. After marching deep into East territory, Comella rushed up the middle for a 7-yard touchdown to push the Hawks back ahead by 14.
East responded when Neary completed an 8-yard touchdown pass to Alex Martinez on a fourth down play to keep East within one score, 28-20. However, that margin would only grow larger as the half wore on.
Less than a minute and a half later, Comella rushed for his third touchdown of the game, this time covering 33 yards, to give the Hawks a 35-20 lead. And, on the ensuing East possession, Sanchez intercepted Neary for the second time in the game, taking it all the way to pay dirt to up the advantage to 42-20.
“For a sophomore, he’s been huge,” Croft said of Sanchez’s contributions both offensively and defensively. “It seems like he gets better every week. I think the whole team feeds off him a little bit. Every time he touches the ball, it seems like something good happens.”
Another turnover allowed the Hawks to score again just 45 seconds after Sanchez’s pick six, with Emmanuel recording his lone score of the game on a 1-yard touchdown plunge to make it 49-20.
East continued to fight as Neary found Isaiah Hinds for a 10-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter, and DeOliveira added his second touchdown of the game less than two minutes later, cutting East’s deficit to 49-32.
But, with 6:43 to play, Evan Rinaldi posted a 49-yard touchdown run to put the game away, giving the Hawks a 56-32 lead.
“I think the physicality took a toll on us,” East head coach Tom Centore said. “Playing a lot of the same guys on both sides of the ball really hurt us a lot. You could really see it in that third quarter, we got worn out. We battled and never gave up, but [Hendricken] just did a good job up front physically on both sides of the ball.”
Hendricken will now advance to play La Salle in the Super Bowl for the fourth straight year and for the sixth time in the last seven years.
The Hawks will be looking to secure their eighth consecutive state title when the two teams meet at Cranston Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 2 at noon.
Hendricken defeated La Salle handily in the first game of the season, but with that result aside, Croft is expecting a typical Hendricken/La Salle battle.
“I’m expecting to see a typical Hendricken/La Salle Super Bowl,” Croft said. “It’s going to be a physical game with a big crowd. It’s what we look forward to. There’s no bigger rivalry in the state.”
Despite the loss, East earned a berth in the Division I Super Bowl by virtue of making it to the semifinals. The ’Bolts will play after the Hawks/Rams on Dec. 2 at Cranston Stadium against Portsmouth.
Centore was obviously disappointed that his team couldn’t get past Hendricken, but is pleased that his team will have a chance to play for a championship in a battle between the top two public school teams in Rhode Island.
“That Division I Super Bowl is really important to us because it will be I think the two best public schools playing,” Centore said. “It’s exciting for us. Right now, it doesn’t seem that way, but I think it’ll be exciting for the state because it will be the two best public schools over the past four years or so.”
East and West to meet on Thanksgiving
The Cranston East and Cranston West football teams are set to meet for their annual Thanksgiving Day football game on Thursday at 10 a.m. at Cranston Stadium.
Ever since 1973, the ’Bolts and Falcons have taken to the gridiron every Thanksgiving to put Cranston bragging rights on the line. East has gotten the better of the matchup as of late, winning the last five Thanksgiving Day games. Furthermore, East leads the overall Thanksgiving series, 24-20.
West will undoubtedly be ready to go after being eliminated by East in the Division I quarterfinals two weeks ago. That playoff tilt was the only game played between the two teams this season, and East ultimately prevailed, 49-28.
The Falcons will enter the game fully-rested and prepared after not playing a game last week, while East will enter banged up from its semifinal game against Hendricken.
But, both teams will definitely be ready to go come game time in front of a packed crowd at Cranston Stadium.
“Thanksgiving Day, we’ll have to figure out how we’re going to handle it because we’re a little beat up right now,” Centore said after the Hendricken game. “And, we’ll have a short week to get ready. But, we’ll get ready and put a team on the field Thanksgiving Day.”