On the verge of its first two-game losing streak since 2008, the Bishop Hendricken football team needed to come up with something special late in the fourth quarter at La Salle on Friday night.
The Hawks knew just who to turn to.
Trailing by five with less than two minutes to play, Hendricken quarterback Patrick Gill threw a wide receiver screen pass to standout junior Lee Moses, and Moses did the rest, sprinting down the sidelines and through tackles for a 53-yard touchdown.
When La Salle advanced all the way to Hendricken’s 19-yard line on its next possession and looked poised to score and pull the upset, Moses was there again. He picked off Rams’ quarterback Jace Pena in the end zone with 19 seconds to play, sealing a 27-22 win for the Hawks.
“Lee Moses obviously came up huge multiple times tonight,” Hendricken head coach Keith Croft said. “It was a great game for him. I’m happy for him, because he’s been working hard all year. He may not have had the bounces that he’s wanted leading up to this game, but he’s a playmaker.”
Without Moses, the Hawks would have suffered consecutive Division I losses and would have dropped into a tie for second with 6-2 Portsmouth. As it turned out, Hendricken ended the regular season at 7-1 and as co-division champions with Barrington, which suffered its first loss of the season 7-6 to Portsmouth on Friday night.
The Hawks will be the No. 2 seed in the D-I playoffs and will host No. 3 Portsmouth in the semifinals on Dec. 3.
Hendricken’s seed and playoff match-up were already determined before the game, but the Hawks were still trying to get back on the right track after having a 10-game winning streak snapped by Barrington the week before.
“I think we were okay coming in, because it’s a big rivalry game,” Moses said. “Always a great team to play against. We just wanted to come in strong, and play to win the game.”
The Rams, needing victories and some help to qualify for the playoffs, were in desperation mode on Friday night, and they played like it. They took an early 13-0 lead, fell behind 21-19 and then re-took the lead at 22-21 after a 23-yard Douglas Harrison field goal with 8:01 remaining.
La Salle then got the ball back with 6:43 to play and attempted to bleed the clock, nearly doing so until a holding penalty on what would have been a crucial third-and-3 conversion forced it to punt the ball back to the Hawks with 2:05 left in the game.
Moses did the rest.
After Gill threw an incomplete pass on first down, Hendricken called the screen to Moses, who had just two catches for 45 yards in the game to that point. Gill took a quick drop and got the ball out to Moses in space, and he turned on the speed.
An All-State sprinter in both indoor and outdoor track, Moses took off along the sidelines, breaking numerous tackles and speeding into the end zone.
Just like that, Hendricken was back on top.
“Honestly, I didn’t even know where I was on the field,” Moses said. “I just caught it and my first thought was to just get the ball down the field, get as many yards as you can. That’s what I did.”
La Salle had one last chance, with 1:40 remaining. It took over on its own 36-yard line and would have been facing a fourth-and-9 a few plays later had Hendricken not been whistled for a personal foul, late-hit penalty, advancing the ball to the Hawks’ 48-yard line.
With the new life, Pena found teammate Keon Wilson for 9 yards, and then handed the ball to C.J. Waite for another first down. Two plays later, a pass interference call set the Rams up with first-and-10 at Hendricken’s 19-yard line.
On first down, Pena fired a ball up for Wilson in the left side of the end zone but Moses cut in front and intercepted the ball, coming down in the end zone for a touchback.
“Hell of a team, La Salle,” Moses said. “Those guys are a great team. Great team to battle against.”
The offense took over, Gill kneeled down three times, and the Hawks could breathe easy.
The victory was Hendricken’s third in its last four meetings with La Salle – which includes two Super Bowl wins – but it was the first time the Hawks were able to get the best of the Rams during the regular season since 2010.
It was far from easy.
La Salle came out on its opening drive and went right down the field, running 10 plays before Kyron Lopes scored from 27 yards out. The Rams, already playing without standout running back Don’Trae’ Odufunade, lost second-leading rusher Louis Varrichione on the opening drive, but seemed undeterred as Harrison’s extra point made it 7-0.
Hendricken tried to answer, but after converting a third-and-4, Moses fumbled the ball on the left sideline while fighting for extra yardage and Waite recovered for La Salle, setting them up with great field position.
The Rams took advantage, converting a fourth-and-1 and finding the end zone a play later on a 14-yard run by Waite. The extra point was no good, but La Salle led 13-0 just eight minutes into the game.
It didn’t get much better for Hendricken immediately afterwards, as it was forced to punt on its next possession and then turned the ball over on downs deep in La Salle territory the next time it touched the ball.
But the Hawks came up with a huge play to swing the momentum. Backed up at the La Salle 13-yard line, Pena tried to throw the ball to Wilson on an out route toward the right sideline, and Hendricken cornerback Matt Duffie stepped in front, made the interception and cruised untouched into the end zone for a 19-yard pick and score. Robert Campbell’s extra point pulled Hendricken within 13-7.
“I thought he played a great game defensively,” Croft said of Duffie.
After trading possessions, Hendricken got a long punt return form Mitch Lucci with 1:43 to play in the half, giving it first down on La Salle’s 30-yard line. On the first play of the drive, running back Remington Blue – who led the Hawks with 113 yards on the ground – burst through the line and fought his way in to the end zone from 30 yards out for a touchdown. Campbell’s extra point gave Hendricken a 14-13 lead at the break.
“We knew if we stayed the course and stayed composed, we’d get back into it,” Croft said. “And we did.”
The Hawks took a 21-13 lead in the third quarter on their best drive of the night, as they moved 73 yards in 11 plays, with Gill scoring a touchdown from 7 yards out. After Campbell converted the point after, Hendricken led 21-13.
The next time La Salle touched the ball, it got right back in the game. Starting from their own 6-yard line, the Rams put Wilson in a wildcat formation and on first down he broke through the right side of the line and went untouched up the right sideline for a 94-yard score. The two-point conversion was no good, but La Salle was within two at 21-19.
“I thought our defense played really good tonight, except for that big long run by Keon down the sidelines,” Croft said. “It’s going to happen – he’s an All-State caliber player. La Salle’s defense played phenomenal too. It was a great game back and forth.”
The Rams took the lead on their next possession with Harrison’s field goal before Moses helped Hendricken take it right back and hold onto it until the final whistle.
The Hawks totaled 231 total yards of offense, while La Sale finished with 272. Pena threw for only 25 yards, but Wilson ran for 121, while Lopes added 64. Hendricken got 103 yards passing from Gill, 98 of which went to Moses.
Both teams will have some time off before playing on Thanksgiving. Hendricken will travel to Division II Toll Gate for a 10 a.m. game, while La Salle will finish its D-I slate against East Providence.
The Rams need a win, plus a Cranston West victory over Cranston East on Thanksgiving just to have a shot at making the playoffs, and even then, a points allowed tiebreaker would decide things.
Hendricken, meanwhile, will get healthy, try to take care of business on Thanksgiving and also get ready for Portsmouth in an attempt to reach the Super Bowl for the fifth straight year.
“We needed to play against physical teams, play against tough teams so that we can be ready and get focused on the playoffs,” Moses said. “We wanted to see how teams were going to play us in the playoffs. I think these games actually helped us and prepared us more going into the playoffs.”