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‘D’ spurs a ‘W’ for Saints

October 9, 2011

St. Raphael Academy running back Charles Correa (7) sidesteps two West Warwick defenders as he moves for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 21-12 win. Photo by ERNEST A. BROWN

WEST WARWICK — If St. Raphael’s defensive players had a vote, they would like to see their offensive mates grind out one of those keep-the-chains-moving, wind-sapping, 80-yard drives that encompass 15 plays and takes six or seven minutes off the game clock.
Dreamers can keep on dreaming because SRA’s offense is defined by big plays and quick strikes that can happen from any spot on the field. Such firepower is akin to attaching a turbo-charged engine to a Harley Davidson motorcycle.
It could be argued that such high-octane efficiency can be both good and bad — good in the sense that SRA is tapping into it’s big-play potential; bad in the sense that the defense figures to give off an aura of susceptibility in addition to gasping for air by game’s end.
Time and time again, St. Raphael’s defense was put through the wringer Saturday afternoon against an undefeated West Warwick squad. Time and time again, head coach Mike Sassi saw his unit bend but not break, the ability to stop short just before hitting the floor a major reason why the Saints waltzed out of Maznicki Field with a hard-fought and most-satisfying 21-12 win.
Plenty was asked of SRA’s defense, mainly because West Warwick’s offense also served as the Wizards’ best defense. West Warwick registered 60 offensive snaps, a hearty sum that offers some glimpse of the home team’s game plan (for comparison’s sake St. Raphael ran 35 plays).
Realizing that they probably couldn’t match score for score with the field-stretching Saints, the Wizards figured their best option was to pound away with the running game, consume lots of time and hope that by the fourth quarter, all that drubbing would render the Saints sluggish and ripe for the picking.
There was just one problem with West Warwick’s scheme, which to break it down even further encompassed five drives of eight or more plays. It didn’t take into account St. Raphael’s ability to dig deep and muster enough strength to finish this four-quarter job. The Saints wound up with two takeaways in the final quarter and also forced the Wizards to turn the ball over on downs.
The belt-tightening began when junior Charles Correa, whose two touchdown runs covered 52 and 48 yards, single-handily snuffed out a West Warwick drive with nine minutes remaining and SRA holding on to a 14-12 lead. In the blink of an eye, Correa ripped the ball out of the arms of Wizards ball carrier Ross Coffua, the turnover a most welcome sign for an overworked St. Raphael defense, which had been at work for 21 of the previous 28 snaps.
Such imbalance stemmed from the Wizards recovering an onside kick at 3:47 of the third quarter. West Warwick had just scored to cap off a 10-play, 58-yard drive that spanned five minutes, eight seconds. With momentum clearly on their side, the Wizards strived for more and at the same time aimed to further deflate the Saints.
West Warwick (3-1 II-B) took the recovered kick and penetrated as deep as St. Raphael’s 18-yard line before Tom Hurley decided enough is enough. The SRA senior chased down quarterback Ryan Kelly, knocking him back for a 17-yard loss on third down. Hurley then bottled up Kelly on fourth down, a stand that (mercifully) lowered the curtain on 18 consecutive offensive snaps by the Wizards.
“After they recovered the onside kick, I wondered if we were ever going to see the ball again,” said Sassi following St. Raphael’s third consecutive league victory.
A Julian Diaz interception, coming in the end zone with 3:40 left, thrust SRA’s defense back in the limelight once again. West Warwick was able to get out of the shadow of its own goal line thanks to a 35-yard pass play, but that proved to be the last big play the Wizards would accrue.
On third-and-two from the SRA 45, Kelly opted to call his own number. The QB draw was something that had caught St. Raphael off guard earlier in this Division II contest, but with the outcome hanging in the balance, the Saints contained Kelly. Senior linebacker Pat Miranda took Kelly down for a three-yard loss, which was followed by an incomplete pass on fourth down in which Kelly was flushed out of the pocket and forced to throw on the run.
“Pat gutted it out on a sprained ankle,” noted Sassi. “To not have him at full go, that hurt us off-tackle.”
The defensive stand came with 1:11 and touched off an understandable mini-celebration on St. Raphael’s sideline. Since allowing 22 points to Tolman in its league opener, St. Raphael has given up a paltry sum of 20 points the next three times out.
In Sassi’s eyes, Saturday’s contest was one of those gut-check games that also served as a reality check for his Saints.
“What I was impressed with was that we looked dead in the third quarter, and to step up and make some plays defensively … those are the kind of plays you need to make if you want to go places,” the coach said.
Like the one Davon Robertson made with 30.8 seconds remaining and the Saints (3-1 II-B) ahead by nine points. In what seemed like the only time the mountainous St. Raphael senior was able to get a free shot at the quarterback, Robertson burst off the left end, tracked down Kelly on the opposite end and collected a sack.
By and large Robertson’s impact was neutralized by the Wizards, whose decision to direct their running attack away from his left-end spot on the defensive line illustrates just how much respect he has gained from opposing coaches. Still, Robertson never once expressed disappointment, nor did he ask for a breather.
“The thing about Davon is that he doesn’t get frustrated,” said Sassi. “He just keeps playing football.”
While there were numerous highlight-reel-worthy plays on the offensive side of the ledger for the Saints – Zach Mays scored on a 28-yard run while Diaz found Correa for a 35-yard catch-and-run that pulled the team out of a third down hole just as the third quarter expired – Saturday was a chance for the club’s defense to show that it too has big-play capability.
Whether it was Correa striping the ball away or coming up with an interception in a 1-on-1 situation – taking place at 8:37 of the second quarter – the Saints served notice that they are more than an offensive juggernaut.
Surely this is something the rest of Division II wants to hear.

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