CRANSTON — Woonsocket High head coach Carnell Henderson has been telling anyone who would listen that football season is a journey that often lasts from August until early December.
“Our kids came a long way from the first game we played Tolman back in September,” Henderson said on Sunday afternoon following the Villa Novans’ 28-14 victory over the Tigers in the Division II Super Bowl at Cranston Stadium. “We didn’t capitalize on some things in the first game (a 6-0 Tolman victory). But that was early in the season. We showed how far we have come today.”
The Villa Novans successfully defended their 2009 D-II championship by throwing the football on seven of their first 10 plays from scrimmage in the first quarter. Quarterback Kevin Reyes found Jesse Charette on a 25-yard TD hookup just 2:30 into the game and later he would find tight end Geo Heredia for an 18-yard touchdown pass that gave Woonsocket a 28-6 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Heredia, who caught two passes and intercepted two more while earning MVP honors, savored the victory as much as anyone.
“Coach told the team we would be passing the ball 10 or 15 times,” said the senior co-captain. “I didn’t play in the first game against Tolman. Coach said we could beat them in the passing game because they blitz all the time. And they were double-teaming Jesse. I knew I had to get open.”
Woonsocket intercepted Tolman quarterback Joselito Knapp three times and also recovered two fumbles. The Villa Novans’ vaunted defense blocked two punts and recovered a pair of fumbles.
“We fell behind and had to throw the ball,” Tolman coach Dave Caito said. “Everyone knows that the passing game is really not our forte.”
The Tigers, who relied almost exclusively on their running game while compiling a 7-0 record during the regular league season, couldn’t move the ball on the ground against a Woonsocket defense that dominated the line of scrimmage. The Villa Novans constantly gained penetration into Tolman’s backfield, using their superior size advantage inside to neutralize the Tigers’ blockers. Tackles Manny Heredia and Desmond Gray controlled the line of scrimmage, forcing Tolman to run sweeps and reverses to the outside, mostly to no avail.
Outside linebacker Oswald Torres, middle linebacker Kyle McKellick and defensive back Jarome Robinson created havoc, containing those outside runs by the dangerous Knapp and his main running back, Ousmane Samb, who gained only 12 yards on 15 carries.
Knapp was held to 59 yards on 23 carries as he frequently saw Robinson blitzing from the right corner position, or ran into the speedy Torres doing contain work on the left side of the defense. The trigger to Tolman’s offense had nowhere to run.
And without its running game to lean on, Tolman’s defense spent a long time on the field in the first half, trying to stop a Woonsocket offense that came out throwing the football.
Reyes opened the game by beating Tolman’s blitz and connecting with Charette for 18 yards. Then he completed a six-yard pass to Heredia, who fumbled as he went to the turf. Tolman’s Mamour Samb recovered.
The Tigers’ offense went backwards, incurring a five-yard penalty for early movement on the line, and then losing 10 yards when Samb stumbled as he tried to swing wide of Woonsocket’s aggressive pursuit from the corners. On third down, Knapp dropped the football while spinning around to make a handoff. Lineman Joell Sherrod recovered at Tolman’s 25-yard line.
Reyes wasted no time taking advantage of the turnover, hitting Charette down the right sideline for a 25-yard touchdown pass. John Poirier’s extra point made it 7-0.
Heredia followed with his first interception, leaping to catch the ball as Knapp tried to drop it over his head on a screen pass at the Tigers’ 32-yard line. Tolman had now turned the ball over twice in the first four minutes. Fortunately, the Tigers’ defense held its ground and got the ball back on downs.
The two opposing defenses took over, forcing a series of punts, before Woonsocket exposed another flaw in Tolman’s game. With five minutes left in the second quarter, Tolman punter Kevin Poirier got nailed for an 11-yard loss while trying to control a low snap from center. Woonsocket’s Edwin Jones made the tackle with McKellick and Jalen Evans in close pursuit.
Once again, Reyes made a big play on first down after a turnover, hitting Thomas on a quick slant pass that went for 31 yards down to Tolman’s four-yard line. Orlan Thomas covered those four yards in two plays, following the left side of his offensive line into the end zone for a 13-0 lead with 3:53 left in the half. John Poirier made it 14-0 with his second of four successful conversion kicks on the day.
Tolman had a chance to get on the scoreboard after Shayne Taylor returned the ensuing kickoff 40 yards. A 15-yard facemask penalty on Woonsocket moved the ball down to the Novans’ 25. It stayed there for three downs. On fourth down, Knapp overthrew an open receiver at the goal line.
Tolman’s punting game backfired again early in the third quarter when Evans blocked Poirier’s boot and Jarome Robinson, a major force all day on defense, recovered at the Tigers’ 32.
“Our blocking on punts was atrocious,” Caito pointed out after the game.
On third-and-19, Charette took a snap from the Wildcat formation and sprinted to the left sideline, somehow kept his feet in-bounds while avoiding tacklers, and streaked into the end zone, covering 41 yards in a flash with a dazzling display of athletic talent.
“I was so close to the sidelines, I had to be an athlete and tip-toe for a few steps to stay in-bounds,” Charette said while wearing a big smile after the game.
That score made it 21-0. And while some may have thought the game was over, Tolman is not a team that ever gives up. The Tigers responded by moving 48 yards to paydirt on 9 plays. Juan Wilson gained 15 yards on first down and 11 more on his next carry. Knapp then showed his toughness by running for a first down. Woonsocket, which committed 10 penalties in the game, got tagged for a facemask tackle, setting the Tigers up at the 10. An offsides call cut the distance in half and then Knapp finally scored on fourth down from the two-yard line. Woonsocket’s defense grudgingly yielded the touchdown.
After missing the extra point, Tolman attempted an onsides kick. Mamour Samb squibbed the ball exactly 10 yards and Romario Tomas fell on it for Tolman as the Woonsocket players heid back, wrongly assuming the ball had to go 10 yards before they could touch it.
The Villa Novans’ defense again stood tall, forcing Tolman to punt. Woonsocket then moved 45 yards in six plays. Evans ran for 27 yards on three carries. On third-and-nine from the 18, Reyes lofted a pass down the right sideline that Heredia, who had eluded Knapp’s chuck at the line of scrimmage, easily handled for a 27-6 lead that Poirier expanded to 28-6 with his fourth true kick.
Woonsocket drew another 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct by Oswald Torres, who was ejected after playing a brilliant game at outside linebacker. The Tigers’ Mamour Samb ran the kickoff back 30 yards and Tolman set up shop at the Woonsocket 20. On third down, Woonsocket safety Rody Fernandez intercepted a Knapp prayer in the end zone with 10:37 left in the game.
The Tigers had one last scoring drive in them. Ousmane Samb broke 13 yards for his longest run of the day. Knapp hit Shayne Taylor with a 19-yard pass to Woonsocket’s one-yard line. After Edwin Jones tossed Ousmane Samb for a four-yard loss, Knapp found his senior halfback running alone at the goal line for a five-yard touchdown pass with 3:14 left in the game.
Tolman then recovered its second straight onsides kick but Heredia ended the Tigers’ last threat by leaping up to tip a short Knapp pass to himself, coming down with the ball and the MVP trophy in one fell swoop.
“I just want to enjoy this for awhile,” Carnell Henderson said after the game. “These kids came so far as a team. They became like family to each other. I am so proud of them.”
Caito gathered his Tolman team at one end of the field while Woonsocket celebrated at midfield. Tears were shed by players who were ending their careers without a state title to share with each other.
“I just told the kids it wasn’t our day,” Caito revealed while walking off the field with his wife and young daughter. “We had our day in September against Woonsocket and today was their day. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Woonsocket 7 – 7 – 7 – 7 – 28
Tolman 0 – 0 – 6 – 8 – 14
WOON – Jesse Charette 25 pass from Kevin Reyes (John Poirier kick)
WOON – Orlan Thomas 2 run (John Poirier kick)
WOON – Jesse Charette 41 run (John Poirier kick)
TOL – Joselito Knapp 2 run (kick failed)
WOON – Geo Heredia 18 pass from Kevin Reyes (John Poirier kick)
TOL – Ousmane Samb 5 pass from Joselito Knapp (Knapp run)
First downs 9 8
Rushes-yards 25-115 45-95
Passing 6-14-0 2-8-3
Sacks-yards lost 2-16 0-0
Net passing yards 87 24
Total offense 202 119
Penalties-yards 10-97 4-30
Fumbles-lost 2-2 4-2
Punts-avg. 5-27.0 3-29.0
Rushing – Woonsocket: Jalen Evans 14-55, Jesse Charette 2-37, Orlan Thomas 2-4, Edgar Jones 1-1, Kevin Reyes 5-12, Jarome Robinson 1-6. Tolman: Joselito Knapp 23-59, Ousmane Samb 15-12, Juan Wilson 5-38, Mory Keita 2-(-3), Kevin Poirier 1-(-11).
Passing: Woonsocket: Kevin Reyes 6-14-0-103. Tolman: Joselito Knapp: 2-8-3-24.
Receiving: Jesse Charette 2-43, Geo Heredia 2-24, Jarome Robinson 2-36. Tolman: Ousmane Samb 1-5, Shayne Taylor 1-19.