The Bishop Hendricken freshman football team has won the last three Division I Super Bowls and the program will have a chance for its fourth this Saturday.
But the Hawks won’t be the favorites for the first time in a while. That honor goes to La Salle, which went unbeaten during the regular season and beat up on Hendricken back in September.
That’s okay with the Hawks, though, as they don’t mind the underdog status as they prepare for this weekend’s title game against the Rams. They only need to look at last season’s Division I varsity Super Bowl, where second-seeded Hendricken upset previously unbeaten, top-seeded La Salle 17-14 for the title, to know they have a chance.
Upsets happen, and the Hawks will be trying to create their own in the final game of the season.
“Nobody predicted Hendricken varsity last year,” Hendricken head coach Jonathan Stringfellow said. “Things bounced their way, they peaked at the right time. Maybe we can get the same kind of rise.”
This year’s freshman Rams are a formidable opponent, though, and the stats back up their season-long dominance.
La Salle went 8-0 during the season, outscoring their opponents 306 to 36 along the way. Both their points scored and points allowed were best in the division, and they followed up that performance with a 40-6 beat-down of Cranston West in the D-I semifinals last weekend.
The Hawks’ stats aren’t too shabby either, as they went 7-1 and outscored their opponents 181-78. All of those marks were the second-best in the division.
Their one loss, though, stands out. La Salle beat Hendricken 28-0 on Sept. 14, the second game of the season for both teams.
The Hawks trailed only 6-0 at halftime, but the Rams blew it open with a big second half. Twice Hendricken moved inside La Salle’s 20-yard line, but both times the Hawks came away empty.
“They really took it,” Stringfellow said. “They played hard. They’re a good football team, they fly to the ball. They have a lot of so-called ‘swag’ nowadays. They have a right to be. They’re not only talking the talk, but they’re backing it.”
But the Hendricken team that takes the field for the Super Bowl is much improved from the early days of September, as evidenced by its 35-0 victory over Cranston East this past weekend in the semifinals.
The Hawks had only beaten the ’Bolts 18-12 during the regular season. They went from a six-point margin to a 35-point victory in the span of two months.
“Everyone has improved from week to week because of how well we’ve been practicing,” Stringfellow said.
Hendricken’s improvement starts at the most important position, where quarterback Billy Mueller has developed a firmer grasp on the option – something that has become the Hawks’ bread-and-butter.
“He’s never played quarterback, so this is his first year,” Stringfellow said. “He’s a big, strong runner. He reads the option well and he’s getting better every week.”
Joining Mueller in the backfield are halfbacks Joseph Binda and Jake Derderian, and fullbacks David Mariano and Jimmy Sauro. Mariano and Sauro also switch back and forth at tight end.
On the outside, Joe Sousa and Dante Baldelli have been handling the duties at split end. On the line, Zach Lynch has been the anchor from the center position. The other spots have been filled by Brandon Ferrara, Matt Harkin, Cameron Smith, Ben Monti, Chris Storti and Corey Gardner.
“Between those guys, we’ve been rotating through,” Stringfellow said. “They’ve been doing a good job. They’ve been picking things up slowly and surely. The last few days we’ve really moved the ball and been successful. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
Defensively, there are a lot of the same faces.
Sauro and Mariano are the two defensive ends, and they’ve helped the defense form into a standout unit.
“The defensive ends are playing much better now than they did earlier in the season, which has helped us a lot,” Stringfellow said.
On the interior of the line, Monti, Mitchell Moore and Dylan DiLibero have shared the work. At outside linebacker, Derderian and Binda, as well as Shane Olson, are doing the job.
Inside, Storti and Gardner have excelled at the heart of the defense. In the secondary, Sousa and Justin Gist are playing corner, while Mueller plays safety.
“They work together as a unit,” Stringfellow said. “There’s not much in the idea of superstars, just consistent play. Compared to other years, we’ve had some real high profile kids. These kids have just been solid and they’re getting better.”
The last time the Hawks and Rams met in a freshman Super bowl was 2009, when current Cranston East running back E.J. Isom was the focal point of the offense. Current Hendricken varsity player Romario Rousseau had an interception at the end of the game to seal the deal over a talented La Salle team that featured current varsity standouts Josh Morris and Anthony Francis.
That was a big win against a formidable team. This year’s version will be looking to do the same.
“We have to have some things bounce our way,” Stringfellow said. “They’re obviously the favorites coming in. If some things bounce our way, you never know what happens. It’s the reason you play the football games. We’ll show up and play, do the best we can. Hopefully our experience of being there will help us out a little bit.”