The Bishop Hendricken football team has played cleaner games than the one it played on Friday night against Cranston East, but the end result was the same as usual.
The two-time defending Super Bowl champion Hawks overcame 14 penalties and three turnovers against the ’Bolts, riding a typical dominating defensive effort and a game-winning touchdown plunge from Patrick Gill with 2:02 left in the game to outlast East 21-14 in a match-up of two of Division I’s three unbeaten teams.
Heralded as one of the biggest games of the season around the state thus far, it was Hendricken that made a statement and emerged victorious once again. It was the Hawks’ 28th win in their last 30 games – including the postseason – and they proved that they can still win a game in which they don’t play their best, even against a Super Bowl contender like East.
“We went out there, stuck together, never let down,” Hendricken senior captain Jarrid Witherspoon said. “We always stayed positive, went out there and did our job.”
The Hawks improved to 6-0 overall and they maintained their spot atop Division I at 5-0. La Salle is the only other unbeaten team, as they remained at 4-0 after playing a non-league game over the weekend.
East fell to 5-1 overall and 3-1 in D-I. In contention for the first time since moving up to D-I two years ago, the ’Bolts didn’t look overmatched against the Hawks, but failed to make big plays when they counted most.
They committed four turnovers of their own, including three in Hendricken territory that halted drives and sealed their fate.
“We made some mistakes,” East head coach Tom Centore said.
One mistake, in particular, swung the momentum and – potentially – the game in the fourth quarter.
With the score knotted at 14 apiece and 11:09 remaining in the game, the ’Bolts began a drive at their own 30 and marched down to Hendricken’s 22. A 37-yard pass down the right sideline from Alex Corvese to Marven Beavauis did most of the damage, and East looked primed to take the lead.
But on first down from the 22, Corvese threw a fade for running back Marquem Monroe in the left side of the end zone. Monroe went up for it, but Hendricken sophomore cornerback Matt Duffie came down with the ball for a game-changing interception.
“One of the biggest plays in the season to date,” Hendricken head coach Keith Croft said of Duffie. “He’s been rock solid for us all year.”
For East, it was the match-up they wanted, but it didn’t work out as planned.
“We took a shot,” Centore said. “We’ll take Marquem one-on-one with anybody. It was a great ball. The kid made a great play. You look back and maybe you run the ball a little more there, but we take our shots. If we think there’s a mismatch, we’re going to take it.”
Though Hendricken didn’t score on its next possession – it punted after a slew of penalties forced it into a fourth-and-38 situation – it had avoided falling behind.
East then got the ball back in good field position, but Mario McClain had a big sack of Corvese on third down to force a three-and-out as the ’Bolts punted the ball back to the Hawks.
With 3:52 left, Hendricken took over on its own 47-yard line and went on the biggest drive of its season, to date.
The Hawks ran the ball five straight times with a combination of Power Kanga, Gill, Witherspoon and Gary Gibbs. Gibbs had the longest run of the drive – a 32-yarder that set the Hawks up with first-and-goal on the 1-yard line.
On the very next play, Gill spun his way into the end zone and Bobby Lineberger’s extra point gave the Hawks a 21-14 lead with just over two minutes to play.
“East has a lot of athletes, so they’re going to be tough to pass on,” Croft said. “You’ve got to be able to run the ball and our offensive line had to take over. I think at times they were effective.”
East still had a chance, but Hendricken’s top-ranked defense finished the job.
Deep in their own territory, the ’Bolts were forced to pass and the Hawks’ Michael Crisione sacked Corvese on second down. Two players later, East turned it over on downs.
Hendricken could have finished the game right there, but Witherspoon fumbled on a first down carry, giving East one last shot from its own 23-yard line with 54 seconds to play.
On second down, though, Corvese was intercepted by sophomore Lee Moses – Corvese’s third pick of the game – to seal the deal.
One kneel down from Gill set off the celebration.
“It was a messy game, but I think you saw two defenses that just came to play tonight,” Croft said. “I think our defense and their defense kind of changed what the offenses wanted to do. When this weather starts getting cool, that’s what’s going to happen. Defense, running games, all that stuff is going to get you to the next level.”
The ’Bolts actually struck first in the game, as they started with the ball and scored on a 51-yard pass from Corvese to Beauvais just 2:42 into the game. Logan McConaghy’s extra point made it 7-0.
That would be the height of East’s passing game. Corvese had thrown 11 touchdowns in the previous three weeks, but he threw for just the one against Hendricken. He completed only 7-of-23 passes for 145 yards and three interceptions.
To make matters worse for the ’Bolts, The Hawks had seven sacks on the day. Witherspoon led the way with 2.5, while McClain had two. Corvese rarely looked comfortable.
“We blitzed a couple times, stunted a little bit,” Witherspoon said. “We wanted to get those sacks, force a fumble or an interception.”
Trailing by seven, Hendricken came right back on its first possession. On its third play from scrimmage, Gill found Witherspoon streaking through the middle and hit him for a 77-yard score. Lineberger missed the extra point, however, and East led 7-6.
From there, a slew of mistakes on both sides kept the game close. East had moved the ball down to Hendricken’s 34-yard line two drives later before E.J. Isom was hit and fumbled the ball away to Hendricken’s Mitch Lucci.
“We had some missed opportunities – E.J.’s fumble when we were walking down to score, Marquem was one tackle away from an 80-yard punt return,” Centore said. “It was a lot of little things that hurt us tonight.”
The Hawks, meanwhile, racked up penalty after penalty, halting otherwise promising drives.
But their defense kept East’s vaunted offense at bay. To go with the turnovers and sacks, Hendricken limited the ’Bolts to just 40 yards rushing. East’s leading rusher on the season – Monroe – had just 11 yards on the ground, while Isom was held to 78. East had a total of just 185 yards of offense.
“I was proud of them,” Croft said. “They showed a lot of heart. There were multiple instances in that game when East had the ball in our territory and had momentum. The defense has been pretty huge for us for going on two years now. When their backs are against the wall, they’re just more focused, more intense.”
Hendricken scored its second touchdown of the game with 4:14 to play in the second quarter when it drove down to the East 36-yard line before Gill hit Marco DelVecchio for a wide-open touchdown pass. On the point after, the Hawks ran a fake and Lineberger threw to DelVecchio for the conversion, making it a 14-7 game.
East had a chance to score at the end of the first half, but Moses intercepted Corvese’s Hail Mary pass to the end zone on the final play of the half.
In the third quarter East tied the score when it recovered a Remmington Blue fumble deep in Hendricken territory, and then drove 27 yards for a touchdown. Isom plowed in from two yards out, and McConaghy’s extra point made it 14-14.
That’s the way it remained until Gill’s late-game winner.
For the Hawks, big wins like this one have become commonplace over the past three seasons.
“I talked to all the underclassmen, my teammates,” Witherspoon said. “‘Don’t get down. How bad do you want it. Do you really want it?’ We stayed positive and got it done.”
Blue led Hendricken on the ground with 86 yards rushing, while Gibbs added 49. Gill threw for 113 yards, although he attempted just one pass in the second half.
The Hawks are the verge of clinching a playoff spot already, but their schedule doesn’t get much easier. This Friday, they’ll travel to 3-1 Portsmouth for a 7 p.m. game. The Pats’ only loss on the season is to La Salle.
East will have a bye before traveling to Portsmouth the following week.