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Sports editor emeritus
PAWTUCKET â€” The wide-open Division II-B playoff race got a bit more interesting on Saturday afternoon when St. Raphael Academy beat high-scoring North Kingstown at its own game.
The Saints raced to a 54-34 victory over the Skippers, who came in averaging 30 points per league game with their hurry-up offense. This was a football game that turned into a track meet in the third quarter when the two teams combined for 48 points.
â€śOur kids kept hearing all week about North Kingstown having the best offense in the league,â€ť Saints coach Mike Sassi said after his team ran up 473 yards in total offense, created four turnovers on defense and forced the Skippers to turn the ball over on downs twice, including on the Saintsâ€™ one-yard line early in the game.
â€śWe wanted to prove we have a good offense, too,â€ť Sassi said. â€śToday we came out in more of a spread. We may have caught them off-guard. Their linebackers tend to play outside. They sometimes have six defenders outside the box. We tried to run inside on them.â€ť
The game began in telling fashion as the Skippers ran off 10 plays before fumbling near midfield. John Michalczyk fell on the football and the Saints quickly went 56 yards in five plays for a 7-0 lead. QB Emmanuel Leake scored the TD from five yards out.
In perhaps the key series of this game, the Skippers then ran off 13 plays covering 63 yards, finally facing fourth-and-goal from the Saintsâ€™ two-yard line. QB Matt Deignan was stopped inches short of the goal with linebacker Jacob Roy making the initial hit before two other Saints finished off the play.
After the Saints punted back to midfield, Deignan had a 51-yard TD run called back due to holding. Saintsâ€™ defensive back James Kelly then intercepted a pass and returned it to NKâ€™s 37. Running the ball on eight consecutive plays, the Saints soon took a 14-0 lead on Alfred Dorborâ€™s two-yard run. Dorbor would rush for 116 yards on the day.
N.K. quickly answered with a 58-yard pass completion on first down and a TD run by Deignan with 5:42 left in the half. A run for two points went nowhere.
The scoreboard tally stood at 14-6 at halftime. By gameâ€™s end, bulbs would be flickering and weird sounds emanated from the scoreboard, apparently due to overuse. Five touchdowns were scored in the first five minutes of the third quarter.
The Saints made a statement on their first carry of the second half. Fullback Josh Alves (16 rushes, 110 yards) went 55 yards through the middle of N.K.â€™s defense, finally going down at the six-yard line. Kelly went in two plays later for a 20-7 lead.
SRAâ€™s defense then forced its third turnover as Alves recovered a fumble on the Skippersâ€™ first play from scrimmage. But the ensuing drive blew up when Leake got sacked in the backfield. The ball came loose as he was going down and Nick Chevalier returned it 26 yards for a touchdown.
Clinging now to a 20-12 lead, the Saints showed their explosiveness by scoring in just two plays. Kelly took a squib kick and ran it 25 yards to N.K.â€™s 43. Leake (8 carries, 69 yards) then went straight up the middle for 43 yards and a touchdown.
â€śTheir offensive line has a couple big kids,â€ť Skippers coach Joe Gilmartin said after the game. â€śWeâ€™re kind of small on defense. They (SRA) did a good job of blocking us, especially at the second level.â€ť
The Skippers stayed in the game by returning the next kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown. Tristan Loghlin did the honors. A two-point conversion made it 27-20 with 7:45 left in the third quarter.
Hardly distressed, Leake ran for three yards on first down and then hit Kelly in full stride 30 yards down the left sideline. Kelly, the fastest man on the field almost every week, made a fingertip catch in tight coverage and raced into the end zone for a 62-yard touchdown hookup that silenced the North Kingstown fans.
Leake finished 5-for-8 passing, good for 137 yards.
The Skippers then tried to get fancy with a double reverse. The final ball-handler fumbled into the arms of Jacob Roy without being hit. This time, it took the Saints six plays to score. On third-and-seven, Leake found Dorbor with a short pass in the right flat that the hard-running halfback turned into a 30-yard gain. Leakeâ€™s 16-yard run up the vacant middle of N.K.â€™s defense on third-and-six made the score 41-20.
North Kingstown is probably the only team in the league that can overcome a 21-point deficit. The Skippers got back in this game on a deflected pass that went for a touchdown as the third quarter came to a close with the Saints on top, 41-27.
When the Saints were forced to punt for only the second time all game, Michalczyk deftly aimed a coffin-corner boot of 27 yards that went out at the six-yard line. N.K. got two first downs before the Saints defense forced four straight incomplete passes, the final one from the Skippersâ€™ own 35 with 8:39 left.
Taking advantage, the Saints needed just six plays, all runs, to score with Kelly going in from the eight for his third TD. The Saints had a 20-point lead again but that only lasted one play as Deignan went 59 yards for a touchdown on the first play following the kickoff. It was now 47-34 with 4:40 left in the game. Nobody in the Homecoming crowd was leaving this game early.
N.K. tried an on-sides kick but the Saintsâ€™ Benjamin Roy recovered at midfield and his teammates were soon off on another scoring drive, Kelly culminating this one with a three-yard run to paydirt in the final minute.
Afterwards, Mike Sassi talked about the Division II-B playoff race.
â€śWe could still have a five-way tie at 5-2,â€ť the coach said. â€śI donâ€™t know how that would work out.â€ť
The logjam could happen if West Warwick knocks off first-place Cumberland and the other three contenders all win this weekend. A Cumberland win would set the four-team playoff field.
The Saints, now 4-2 in II-B, visit winless Pilgrim on Friday to close out their league schedule. North Kingstown, also 4-2, hosts Shea, 2-4 and still dangerous.