LINCOLN – Fans flocked to Lincoln High's Ferguson Field on Thursday afternoon/evening to catch a glimpse of what their varsity grid teams may offer this season in the Rhode Island Interscholastic League's four divisions.
Perhaps the most tense tilt for the crowds attending this R.I. Injury Fund quadruple-header came in the form of Shea's 7-0 victory over Woonsocket, that a battle of usual Division II mainstays. The most entertaining contest, however, was the third, a free-for-all between D-I's East Providence and D-II's St. Raphael Academy.
The Saints clinched a 12-7 triumph in the scrimmage, one comprised of just two 12-minute quarters, and designed to get all squads' full-contact action before moving on to their regular-season slates.
Trailing 7-6 at the start of the second period, SRA manufactured an 11-play, 49-yard drive culminating on Kaleel Harley's pretty, 31-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Emmanuel Leake with 6:49 remaining.
The Townies' defense thwarted the two-point conversion attempt by Josh Alves, but seemed poised to take the lead when EP drove to the Saints' 18.
On a fourth-and-one situation, however, junior signal caller Tristan Casey was dropped for a three-yard loss and fumbled. Head coach Mike Sassi's offense immediately faltered, and the Townies took over at the SRA 43 with under three minutes to play.
On a second-and-15 from the Saints' 48, Casey looked to receiver Josiah Hatch deep down the left hashmark, but Leake pulled down a magnificent interception with just over a minute to play to seal the triumph.
“We're very green and very young, but I love this team's attitude,” Sassi stated. “I thought we played well overall, and we grew as a team. We'll need this because things don't get any easier for us.”
SRA travels to Hendricken for a non-league game at 7 p.m., Friday.
EP had jumped out to a 7-0 cushion when – after Hatch had gained 18 yards on a run off right tackle – Casey hustled 21 yards for the score. Cory Resendes booted the extra point just 3:28 into the scrimmage.
It didn't take long for the Saints to answer. Junior speedster James Kelly took the ensuing kickoff 90 yards down the left sideline for the TD, though Leake's fumble of the two-point conversion left the score 7-6.
The two teams battled the rest of the way, until the hookup between Harley and Leake gave SRA the win.
“I thought our defense played great,” stated long-time EP mentor Sandy Gorham of defensive stalwarts Austin Baptista, Hartch and Jaevon Milhouse, to name just a few. “This is a big improvement. We didn't have any contact at all because of asbestos removal at the high school, and we scrimmaged Barrington with just one day of contact.
“Overall, I'm very pleased.”
Noted Sassi: “Obviously, from a coaching standpoint, our first series from scrimmage looked like we had never taken a snap. We gave them the early lead, but we fought some adversity and I thought we got better as the game went on.
“When it comes to James' speed, you can't teach that,” he added. “With Alfred Dorbor and Josh Alves in the backfield, they can pound the ball.”
In the initial tilt between the Raiders and Woonsocket, senior quarterback Lee McCarty found junior Evan Mathias open in the right portion of the end zone for a two-yard scoring toss that sealed the 7-0 win.
Leandro DeBrito kicked the PAT with 2:52 remaining in the second quarter.
Actually, a Villa Novan fumble gave the Raiders a first-and-10 situation at their foe's 36, and they eventually moved it to the nine, but junior Abdoulay Ceesay sacked McCarty for a 13-yard loss on a fourth-and-21. Naturally, Shea was forced to punt.
On the positive side, junior running back Jaston Robinson rushed for 103 yards on just four handles to move the Woonsocket offense.
“He'll get better, mentioned head coach Carnell Henderson after the loss. “He needs more wind, more conditioning; he just ran out of gas. He has been nursing a couple of minor injuries, , so he wasn't at the top of his game.
“I was pleased with how the defense flew around; we had a lot of young guys who needed to make plays and did,” he continued. “Still, we've got to get better up front offensively. We allowed too many sacks (of senior quarterback Miguel Raymond).”
As for Central Falls, it looked superb in its opening drive against the Tigers, which sailed to a 34-0 decision. Thanks to a pair of completions from quarterback Malik Velasquez to senior tight end Julian Soares, those garnering 37 yards, the Warriors moved 43 yards to the Tolman 19, though the possession stalled.
On the Tigers' initial offensive play, junior Prince Johnson raced 82 yards down the right sideline for the TD. The PAT failed, but the floodgates had opened.
Tolman closed a seven-snap, 65-yard drive when senior Corey Hughes threw a seven-yard TD aerial to junior Isaiah Diaz, and Hughes' sneak made it 14-0 with 2:43 left in the initial period.
After a Tolman pick, the Tigers needed just 48 ticks to get back on the board; sophomore signal caller Tyreal Whitaker strolled into the end zone on a four-yard sweep, and Hughes drilled the PAT for the 21-0 cushion on the final play of the first quarter.
The Pawtucketers scored twice after that, the first on senior Cody Bizier's one-yard misdirection plunge (though the kick was blocked), and the last on Whitaker's 12-yard aerial to junior Manny Almanzar in the final 90 seconds.
All told, Johnson – another speedster – hustled for 103 yards on four carries.
“He's tough; he's a real hard-nosed kid,” Tolman coach Dave Caito said later. “We've got a nice stable of running backs, and I thought Corey Hughes directed the offense well … When Central Falls had the ball on their first series, we were getting beaten in the flats and our pass defense was breaking down. They had the jitters, but I'm pleased with how we responded afterwards.
“I nevertheless was pleased with the attitude of (new CF head coach) Jeff Lapierre's kids,” he added. “They came after us on that first drive and got us back on our heels. I wish Jeff the best of luck in his (D-IV) season. He's a great guy and a great coach.”
The Warriors, on the other hand, seemed to get worse after that solid initial possession. They closed with four muffs of kickoffs/punts and a few more turnovers; in fact, Tolman senior outside linebacker
Keanu Perry picked off Velasquez and his back-up twice.
“That one hurt,” Lapierre grinned of Johnson's scamper down the right side. “We started great, moved the ball and looked good doing it. We also got a great kickoff return from (junior) Jared Ferreira, but – then again – we had a lot of practice (on Thursday).
“The positives coming out of this scrimmage was Malik Velasquez running the offense; he knew exactly what he was doing, putting players in the right spots (to initiate a play), but our inexperience really showed right through. We're young, and a lot of these kids have no experience playing on the varsity level.
“I think we'll improve, I really do.”
In the finale, defending Division II Super Bowl champion Cumberland eked out a 7-6 win over natural rival Lincoln. It did so on junior Jared Talbot's 70-yard punt return early in the second period. Classmate Tyler Calabro booted the extra point to provide the margin of victory.
Dave Waycott's Lions stunned the Clippers early on, taking their opening drive the distance.
“We were a little disappointed with our overall play, but we won, and we'll take it,” offered defensive coordinator Frank Salisbury. “We're a young team, and we were a little sloppy, but we're hoping to progress each and every game. We lost about seven returning starters from our championship team, so we've got some work to do.”
Cumberland will open its season against non-league foe Cranston West at 2 p.m., next Saturday at Bryant University.