PROVIDENCE – Even in defeat, the signs of victory were everywhere.
The Shea High football team dropped Saturday’s season-finale to one of the state’s premier powers in the sport. What the final score – a 34-12 setback to La Salle Academy at Cimimi Stadium – doesn’t tell you is how a young team grew up over the course of a four-quarter affair that at times became testy.
It’s an outcome that head coach Dino Campopiano hopes will serve as plenty of motivation for his players during the offseason. The next time the Raiders will come together as a unit is sometime in early August. By then, Campopiano hopes to see tangible proof that major lessons were learned during this “Fall II” season.
“Our young team played well. I saw a lot of good things. I’m very proud of them,” said Campopiano. “It’s a great day, but it doesn’t end. We need to get in the weight room and build on this.”
If you went in thinking that Saturday’s game against a Power Four school would end up being a total mismatch, the Raiders went to major lengths to prove you wrong for doubting them in the first place. For much of the afternoon, they stood toe-to-toe with the undefeated Rams. It wasn’t until the closing stages when La Salle pulled away for good.
The outcome may have been different had the Raiders not surrendered two touchdowns on punt returns. Both scores were courtesy of La Salle junior Dimetri Iafrate. The first TD covered 65 yards and went in the books as the lone score of the first half. The second time that Iafrate found the end zone, he covered 92 yards to help the Rams grab a 21-6 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“We had a kid [Shea junior Anilton Semedo] booting the ball deep and we don’t get down there,” said Campopiano. “I told them before the game that special teams can’t hurt us. They did.”
Shea trailed 7-0 when sophomore Zion Duarte came up with a third-quarter interception that came close to being returned for a score. Durate was knocked out inside the five-yard line but the Raiders still found the end zone when another member of the team’s promising young core – sophomore Jaydiel Diaz – powered his way in from three yards out.
La Salle held a 7-6 lead with less than nine minutes remaining in the third. It remained a one-point contest until the 3:31 mark of the same quarter when La Salle’s Mike Grenier got in from one yard out. Then came the second Iafrate punt return that made it even more of an uphill climb for the upset-minded Raiders.
One play after the Rams were whistled for a personal foul, the Raiders punched it in behind a 13-yard connection between sophomore quarterback Cam Seaver and senior Kenny Silva, who used every inch of his frame to fight off a La Salle defender. It was back to being game on with La Salle leading 21-12 with 10:38 remaining.
The Rams were on the verge of another score but coughed up the ball at the one-yard line. Semedo was credited with the fumble recovery as the Raiders faced the task of needing to go 96 yards with 8:16 left.
After losing three yards on the first play, the Raiders on the ensuing play turned it over via interception. La Salle needed only one play after taking over at the Shea 10-yard line. Jacob Gibbons covered the remaining yardage needed for a touchdown to make it 27-12 with 7:08 remaining.
Semedo came up with another fumble recovery with Shea taking over at the La Salle 39-yard line with 6:08 left. A face-mask penalty helped the Raiders advance the ball to the 15-yard line before a holding penalty sent Shea back to the 31. The visitors ultimately turned the ball over on downs.
There was still a glimmer of hope after Shea’s defense forced La Salle into a three-and-out, yet the final straw came on the Raiders’ second turnover of the final quarter. La Salle’s Parker Rush covered 70 yards on an interception with 50 seconds left.
Keeping the spotlight on defense, Shea’s unit held La Salle to just one offensive score. What that stat doesn’t tell you is that the Rams needed just 10 yards to achieve six points. Campopiano noted that defensive coordinator Damon Scarduzio deserves all the credit for coming up with the game plan.
For the Raiders, it’s a season that began with a nonleague win over crosstown rival Tolman and was followed by back-to-back shutout losses to Division I-A opponents Cumberland (15-0) and Burrillville (19-0). A victory over Hendricken’s JV team helped fuel a strong push to the finish line with the Raiders downing East Providence (21-6) for their lone league win before standing toe-to-toe for the majority of Saturday’s game against a state title contender.
“Overall, I’m pleased with the season. I think we’re one of the few teams in the state that played every game this year. That’s awesome for our kids,” said Campopiano, whose squad ended up 3-3 overall. “We learned a lot and definitely grew in a lot of ways.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03