For two weeks leading up to the inaugural intrastate Rhode Island All-Star game, the East side talked up the idea that no one was giving them a chance to defeat their opponent from the West.
But the East – which featured six players from Bishop Hendricken – knew a thing or two about winning games despite the underdog perception, as they beat heavily-favored La Salle in each of the last two Super Bowls.
They added to their resume on Saturday.
Behind electric performances from the Portsmouth High School duo of Matt Greenman and Bobby Chavous, and the steady play of the Hendricken contingent, the East earned a 21-14 victory.
The game wasn’t decided until West quarterback Anthony Francis’ last-second pass from the 13-yard-line fell harmlessly to the ground in the end zone, setting off a wild celebration on the East sideline.
“This isn’t the first time that I’ve been on this side, when we win and go, ‘Whoa, geez,’” said East head coach Mike Green, who is Hendricken’s defensive coordinator and had three Hendricken coaches on his East coaching staff. “They had so much talent on that side of the field. They were talented kids. We preached for two weeks, just stick together. It’s not individuals, it’s how we function as a team.”
Greenman took home game MVP honors after he scored two touchdowns, including a 77-yard reception on a pass from Chavous in which Greenman simply out-ran the West defense all the way to the end zone. That score – which came just 3:14 into the second half – proved to be the game-winner, as it provided the only points put on the board in the final two quarters.
Greenman was also named the East’s offensive MVP, while the team’s defensive MVP was Cumberland’s Mitch Baxter.
The West’s offensive MVP was Tolman running back Mory Keita, and its defensive MVP was Johnston’s Phillip Ndifon.
“Portsmouth killed Hendricken (during the fall),” Green said. “We couldn’t do a thing. Greenman to Chavous, Chavous to Greenman, they killed us. We know with those two guys on our squad, it was great. We felt really good about having those two guys.”
And they made the biggest play of the game.
With the East trailing 14-13, Cumberland’s Dan Stock intercepted a pass from Francis to halt a West drive. Then, on the first play of the East’s drive, Greenman ran a wheel route on the left side and Chavous hit him in stride. Greenman never slowed down, scoring to give the East its first lead of the night.
Chavous then hit North Kingstown’s Alex Madoian for the two-point conversion.
“They’ve got great players, don’t get me wrong,” Hendricken linebacker Marco DelVecchio said. “From Cranston East, Johnston, La Salle – powerhouses in Division I and II. But I think they’re a team of individuals. When we put together a team on the East side, there’s no stopping us.”
The West team showed off some its top talent early in the game, when Francis hit Tyneil Cooper, his teammate at La Salle, for a 27-yard touchdown pass following a lost East fumble. Stefano Marziale’s extra point made it 7-0.
But Greenman soon made his presence felt. With West punting towards the tail end of the quarter, Providence Country Day’s Marquis Harper fielded the ball and handed it off to Greenman sprinting to the right. The play fooled the West, and Greenman scampered 70 yards for a touchdown. Hendricken kicker Bobby Lineberger tied the score at seven with the extra point.
“A lot of these kids aren’t going to strap it up again,” Hendricken lineman Joe Vincent said. “The way we came together in two weeks, it shocked everyone. We were underdogs 10 to one in the eyes of the fans.”
The West came right back to take the lead again, as Keita broke off a 19-yard run with 33 seconds left in the first quarter, and Marziale booted the extra point to make it 14-7.
The West looked poised to go into the locker room with that lead, but the East got on the board one more time before the half. Chavous found Baxter for a 69-yard completion with just under two minutes to play, and two plays later he hit Baxter again for a 23-yard touchdown. Lineberger’s extra point was no good, and the West held a slim 14-13 lead at the break.
“I like being the underdogs,” Green said. “I feel better on that side of the field. I think a lot of the guys in that locker room can empathize with that feeling of being underdogs.”
Once the East took the lead on Greenman’s second touchdown of the game, it fought to hold on to it.
The West punted on its drive after the touchdown, then turned the ball over on downs before punting again on the first drive of the fourth quarter.
With 8:29 remaining, the West got the ball back on its own 40, but Francis promptly threw an interception to Rogers’ Quintan Jones on the first play of the drive.
“It was a great experience,” Hendricken lineman Tyler Joseph said. “To come together for two weeks and have this one final game and win it, this is an unforgettable moment.”
The East was having its own struggles. While it did convert a fourth-and-19 on a fake punt that DelVecchio ran for exactly 19 yards, it couldn’t pad its lead.
With just over three minutes left, the East lined up Lineberger for a 25-yard field goal, but Cranston West standout Anthony St. Laurent blocked the kick for the West, giving it one last chance.
Francis then went to work for the West from his own 10, and he hooked up with Mamour Samb – who lateraled the ball to his Tolman teammate Keita – for a big 27-yard pick-up early in the drive.
Francis then hit Cooper for a 12-yard completion on fourth-and-10, and later hit Mitch DaSilva with a 25-yard completion on a fourth-and-four.
“I kind of let nature take its course,” Vincent said. “We’ve been in this position in the past, with La Salle in the Super Bowl. They drove it the last two minutes of the game, drove it down the field, and we held them. I didn’t think twice about doing it again – I knew we were going to do it.”
With time ticking down, Francis scrambled for 12 yards to the East’s 13-yard line with time for two plays left. His first attempt was an incomplete pass, with Madoian batting it down.
Then, with three seconds, Francis just lofted one to the end zone and it was knocked down.
“Everyone thought that we were going to lose the game,” Lineberger said. “Our coaches at Hendricken know that when we’re the underdogs, we’re ready to play.”
The six Hendricken players, DelVecchio, Lineberger, Vincent, Joseph, Anthony Markey and Mike Criscione – who finished the game with two sacks – ended their high school careers with one more win.
And it was in the upset fashion that they perfected the past few years.
“The kids don’t always like to hear Hendricken stories, but that’s how we did it,” Green said. “That’s our formula. We don’t have any superstars, we just have guys who work well together, and we were able to do that. The coaches did an awesome job of getting the guys prepared.”
Pilgrim’s Taylor Stringfellow competed for the West side.