CENTRAL FALLS — It was only appropriate that Central Falls High head coach Mo Jackson, who had strolled these sidelines for the past 13 years, would leave with a wildly-entertaining, 8-7 upset triumph over Division IV foe North Smithfield on Tuesday night.
His Warriors, who trailed 7-0 after just 2:31 had elapsed in the contest, fought tooth-and-nail in the muck that was – and is – Macomber Stadium, and Jackson reveled in the moment.
This, after all, would be his final home tilt ever at the decades-old ballyard.
“This is good,” Jackson understated after shaking hands with Northmen mentor Wes Pennington, one of his former colleagues on these same sidelines. “It's been a long time since the seniors have won their last home game, and I'm ecstatic for them and all of the kids.
“It's nice for me, I guess, but I'm so happy for them. They deserved to win this, the way they battled,” he added. “The guys were going crazy, but I had to tell 'em – 'Hey, it's not over until Thanksgiving (eve). We've still got to play at Lincoln, you know!'”
In the end, after senior Cam Stone had missed a 26-yard field goal wide left on North Smithfield's opening drive of the third quarter – one that could have sealed the win, senior quarterback Brandon Canuto marched his troops 80 yards, ending on Canuto's 13-yard TD keeper off left guard.
With seven seconds left in the period, senior tri-captain Kenuel (“Kenny”) Lopez surged through the same hole for the two-point conversion to win it for the Warriors, who moved to 3-7 overall and 3-5 in league action.
“This feels great,” Canuto stated emotionally afterward. “It was a great game, and we wanted to win it for Coach Mo. We know he's meant so much to this team.”
When asked about the scoring play, Canuto chuckled, “It was supposed to be a '36 Blast,' but there was a mishap on the snap (which rolled to him on the ground). I just picked it up and started running, and then my fullback (Lopez) yelled at me to go straight, so I listened. I followed behind him, lowered my shoulder and drove in.”
The Northmen started in fine fashion, taking over its first possession at its own 48. It needed only six plays to maneuver the final 52 yards, as junior signal caller Mike Cicerone threw an off-balance, 17-yard scoring toss to classmate Peter Keenan with only 2:31 elapsed.
Stone nailed the extra point as North Smithfield went up, 7-0.
Jackson's Warriors immediately drove to the Northmen 39, but a holding penalty ended that threat.
NS (which fell to 6-3 overall and 4-3 in D-IV) responded with a solid possession of its own, as senior Paris Correia (who finished with 108 yards on 21 handles) led his club to the CF 38, though that was halted on an offsides infraction and a one-yard loss on a fourth-and-3.
It looked as if the Warriors would get on the scoreboard with a lengthy drive from their own 39 to the Northmen 11, but another holding call pushed it back to the 26. Two incompletions, a two-yard reverse by senior Odair Semedo and Canuto's 10-yard keeper couldn't overcome a fourth-and-23.
Three snaps later, NS led the turf with that 7-0 cushion.
After CF scored its lone TD, back-to-back eight-yard gains by Correia and senior tri-captain Daniel Jordan pushed the pigskin to the Warriors' 19. With a first down from that distance, the CF defense – led by seniors Raven Rocque, Mathew DePina and junior Alex Gonzalez – sacked Cicerone for a seven-yard loss.
Not even a 19-yard catch-and-run by Jordan could overcome the fourth-and-24.
The Warriors followed with a 10-play drive from its own 11 to the Northmen 42, but the visiting defense mustered a stellar stand of its own. With 1:40 left in regulation, NS started its possession with Correia's seven-yard rush to its own 31, but they moved only five yards further before two incomplete passes and a seven-yard sack closed the drive.
“It was a mud bowl out there; we just blew some opportunities,” offered Northmen mentor Wes Pennington. “We had that field-goal try, and (Stone) is more than capable of making it, but he pulled it a bit. Hey, it happens even in the big leagues. We played OK in spots, but you've got to hand it to CF. They played hard, and got that touchdown late in the third.
“I've known Mo a long time,” he continued. “I coached with him on the staff that went to the '05 Super Bowl and won it; I was his special teams coach. He's a great guy, and he loves the kids and coaching. He gives 110 percent to that program, and with everything he does, be it football or softball. He's had success in everything he's done.
“If he is leaving, and this is his last home game, I wish him well. He deserves it.”