In consecutive weeks, the Cranston West football team faced the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the Rhode Island Sports Media High School Football Poll. The first time, the Falcons put a scare into No. 1 La Salle, leading by 10 at halftime and by three in the fourth quarter before the Rams ultimately prevailed.
On Friday, No. 2 Bishop Hendricken didn’t let the Falcons get even close to an upset. Whether they were attacking through the air or capitalizing on turnovers, the Hawks took what West gave them all night and cruised to a 36-0 victory and a 4-0 record in Division I play.
It was a different path to victory for the Hawks, who didn’t have a ton of success running the ball but also didn’t throw it a single time in the second half because of a consistently short field.
Whatever the method, the result was just fine.
“This game was more about what West was doing to us than what we weren’t doing,” said Hendricken head coach Keith Croft. “West put a lot of guys in the box and I think they went with a gameplan of stopping our running game. I think they were fairly effective with it at points. We were able to throw the ball pretty well, and we took advantage of some things.”
Junior quarterback Patrick Gill rushed for three touchdowns and threw for another to lead the charge, and the Hawks took advantage of three West turnovers on three consecutive offensive plays early in the second half to put the game on ice.
“We knew they were good,” said West head coach Steve Stoehr. “They’re faster than they were on film. They can beat you so many ways.”
In the first half, the air attack was the best way. With negative yardage from sacks factored in, the Hawks rushed for only 25 yards in the first two quarters. But they still went to the break leading 15-0 because of a solid passing game.
After forcing a punt on West’s first drive, the Hawks took over at midfield and needed just five plays to find the end zone. Gill hit Mitch Lucci for 13 yards to convert a third down. Then on first down from the West 18, Gill found Lucci again, and the junior made a tough catch in traffic for the score.
The Hawks then went for two out of an extra point formation. Kicker Bobby Lineberger took a direct snap and threw to Marco DelVecchio for the two and an 8-0 lead.
West’s next drive was even shorter than its first. On the third play, Power Kanga intercepted quarterback Damien Andrus, who was starting for the injured Jeremy King. The Hawks took over at the West 38 and methodically moved down the field. Gill hit Michael Scarcella for 7 yards on a third-and-10, and West jumped offsides on the fourth down play to give Hendricken first-and-goal. The Hawks found the end zone on another pass from Gill to Lucci, but the play was waved off because of an ineligible receiver downfield. Undeterred, the Hawks picked up 11 yards on a Gill pass to Scarcella, setting up a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line. On the final play of the first quarter, Gill rumbled in on a quarterback sneak and Lineberger hit the extra point, giving the Hawks a 15-0 lead.
“We had a good passing game, and Gill had a big game,” Croft said. “At halftime, it was a little deceiving. We felt like we weren’t running the ball that effectively, but Gill had quite a few yards himself. He gives us a little bit of a threat back there.”
The Hawks only had two other drives before halftime and came up empty on both. Lineberger had a field goal blocked and the Falcons sacked Gill twice to stop Hendricken’s last drive.
But the defense continued to flex its muscles. The Hawks sacked Andrus four times in the first half and held standout running back Joe Ceraldi to 31 yards on nine carries.
“We were aggressive,” Croft said. “It’s something we’ve been working on a lot in practice. Our D-Line and linebackers have got to lead the way with our defense. We rotated a lot of guys in and out and they all played well tonight.”
The Falcons were still within striking distance at the start of the second half and looked like they might be in business when they stuffed two running plays on Hendricken’s first possession and got a sack of Gill by Anthony St. Laurent on third down. The Hawks punted.
Then the Falcons fell apart.
A pass deflection by Mario McClain led to an interception by Brandon Kenyon. On the third play of the ensuing drive, Gill ran for a 9-yard touchdown and Lineberger’s extra point made it 22-0.
After the kickoff, West took over at its 22-yard line and fumbled the first snap. Jarrid Witherspoon pounced on it for the Hawks, who took over at the 19. Once again, on the third play, Gill got loose on an option to the left and scored from 5 yards out. The extra point pushed the lead to 29-0.
To add insult to injury for the Falcons, the whole sequence played out one more time. West fumbled on the first play of its next drive and Hendricken recovered. A 26-yard run by Remmington Blue set up first-and-goal at the 10-yard line, and Gill ran left again for 9 yards. Erik Olson then punched it in from the 1-yard line for another score. Lineberger’s extra point made it 36-0 with 3:55 left in the third quarter.
“We work on it a lot in practice – being opportunistic,” Croft said. “We got a couple of breaks and we took advantage.”
The Hawks eased into cruise control from there, and the defense continued to control the Falcons. After the turnovers, West held onto the ball but ran only 10 more plays and didn’t pick up a first down. Each of its drives ended in punts, and the Hawks ended up allowing just 50 yards of offense.
On the other side, Gill completed seven of 11 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. He rushed for 52 yards and the three scores.
Sophomore Gary Gibbs was Hendricken’s leading rusher, with 61 yards on three carries late in the game. The Hawks finished with 184 yards on the ground, and though they were happy to use their weapons in the passing game, the ground game was a concern.
“It’s a nice sign [to pass the ball well] but like I said to the kids at halftime, we’ve got to run the ball to get to that next level,” Croft said. “We’ve been kind of up and down.”
That’s one of the improvements the Hawks will be focused on as they gear up for the meat of their schedule. The four games in the books were against the bottom four teams in the Division I standings. The top half of the division still awaits, and that stretch begins Friday when the Hawks host fellow unbeaten Cranston East.
“Cranston East is obviously a huge game,” Croft said. “I think they feel like they have one of the best teams in the league so we’re going to be up against it next week. We’re going to put our best foot forward and see what happens.”