JOHNSTON â St. Raphael Academy put together its best defensive effort of the season Wednesday night, resulting in a 10-0 blanking of host Johnston.
The Saints showed contender-level defense for a night, riding a pair of timely interceptions and two second-half sacks that all but killed any hope the host Panthers had in finding the end zone. The end result was a sweet victory for Mike Sassiâs crew, which ends the season with six wins against four defeats.
âIâm really proud of the kids. This was a great team effort,â remarked the SRA head coach. âIt took us a while to shake off the Westerly loss [a 36-22 defeat sustained in the Division II quarterfinals]. That first week, I really had to shake some guys up because things werenât looking good. Then I just sat them all down and said âThis is the last chance you have to play together.â
Banding together as one, the Saints got after the Panthers and quarterback McKenzie Robbins, who had to contend with senior Davon Robertson disturbing his sight lines. Robertson was able to apply tremendous pressure, which in turn resulted in Robbins throwing a pair of underthrown balls that resulted in picks.
The first interception came just as the first half concluded and allowed the Saints to maintain a 7-0 advantage. Looking over the middle, Robbins unleashed a pass that James Berry had lined up perfectly. The SRA junior jumped in front of Steven Simone, who was the intended target.
The Saintsâ second interception came with 1:42 remaining with Zach Mays doing the honors. Mays also recorded the gameâs lone touchdown, a 33-yard burst-of-lightning in the first quarter that saw the senior excel through the hole the right side of the offensive line opened up,
The Saints' 'D' made sure to make Maysâ score and a 27-yard field goal by Julian Diaz â set up by a 30-yard completion to Robertson â stand up. The second half saw SRA come up with two sacks when Johnston was looking at third-and-short. The first time the Panthers opted to punt the ball away on fourth down. The second time was a different story, as Robbins tossed an incomplete pass with 4:30 remaining.
Sensing that his team was in need of a pickup, Sassi had Robertson, who normally mans the tight end spot, line up at fullback. The fresh wrinkle paid off in the second quarter as Robertson cleared a path for fellow senior Patrick Miranda, the play covering 30 yards.
âWe gave them something new to do,â Sassi said.
In a fitting tribute, Sassi called upon senior John Tougas to put an exclamation point on the holiday victory. Tougas, who has overcome two significant injuries in each of the past two seasons, ran the ball on three consecutive plays, prompting the SRA bench to scream with delight.
âHe broke one ankle his junior year and broke the other ankle in a preseason game this year. He just came back a few weeks ago,â noted Sassi about Tougas. âIt was great to see him get a few carries at the end.â
The Thanksgiving series between SRA and Johnston is now tied at one win apiece.