Four weeks ago, after a lopsided 35-14 loss at home to East Providence dropped it to 3-2 in league play, the Hendricken football team knew it needed to turn things around quickly to even make the Division I playoffs.
Now, three consecutive victories later, including a 21-13 win over Barrington on Friday night, the Hawks are flying higher than even they could have imagined.
By beating the Eagles, Hendricken finished with a 6-2 record in D-I and, when South Kingstown beat East Providence 42-10 on Friday, the Hawks locked up the No. 2 seed for the postseason. Only undefeated La Salle has a better record in Division I than the Hawks, who will host either the Townies or the Rebels when the playoffs begin on Nov. 29.
“It’s a pretty dramatic turnaround,” Hendricken head coach Keith Croft said. “I think a lot of people had us left for dead about three weeks ago. We believed in these kids and they believed in what we were doing. We didn’t do anything fancy. We just kept working and we just said, ‘Look, we’re going to have bad games and we’re going to make mistakes and let’s fix them going forward.’ That’s what we did.”
Barrington fell to 3-5 and out of the playoff picture with the loss, as it needed a win and some help from other teams to qualify.
But Hendricken used a steady offensive attack, led by Ryan Brannigan and Louis Falcone, and a late fumble recovery by Reuben Horace to hold off a late Eagles’ push and hang on for the win.
“It did get dicey, but like I told the kids, two things can happen,” Croft said. “We can either start questioning a lot of things or we can use it to our advantage. Knowing these kids, I think that’s what they’ll do. We’ve got to clean up a few things. We’ll clean up some personnel things and some situational stuff, but a win is a win.”
Hendricken led 21-0 on three Falcone touchdowns – two of which came on passes from Brannigan – before Barrington made it interesting.
Early in the fourth quarter, following a Henricken punt, the Eagles took over on their own 14-yard line. After a false start penalty, quarterback Jack Ryan kept the ball himself on the next play and got around the right side of Hendricken’s defense. He turned on the jets and out-ran everybody, scoring a 91-yard touchdown to make the score 21-7 with 10:24 remaining
On the ensuing kickoff, John Meehan executed a perfect onside kick to the middle of the field, and Barrington’s Will Brown jumped on it as soon as it went 10 yards, giving the ball back to the Eagles.
Three plays later – including a 35-yard completion from Ryan to Adam Hadley on a double-reverse pass – the Eagles were in the end zone again, as Ryan ran in it in from 24 yards out with 8:58 left. Meehan couldn’t convert the extra point, but Barrington was still within one score.
“I think, quite honestly, their plays with the double reverses, you can only prepare for those so much,” Croft said. “They had a few good plays.”
Hendricken got the ball back after that touchdown, and it set out to run down the clock and finish the victory. After two first downs, though, the drive stalled, and the Hawks punted back to the Eagles with 5:14 remaining.
Starting from its own 22-yard line, Barrington picked up where it had left off, getting two first downs in five plays to move the ball to Hendricken’s 45-yard line.
After an incompletion on first down, quarterback Jacob Simons was sacked on second down, bringing up third-and-20. Facing the biggest play of its season, the Eagles went back to the double-reverse pass, and Ryan threw long for Hadley. He got tangled up with a Hawks’ defender, and Hendricken was whistled for pass interference.
The Hawks argued, but wound up taking an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty because of that, setting Barrington up with first down from Hendricken’s 25-yard line.
Brown moved the ball to the 11 with a 14 yard run on the next play, and Ryan got it to the nine-yard line on a two-yard keeper. On second down, though, Ryan moved right with the ball and got drilled by linebacker Brian Reilly. The ball popped out, and Horace jumped on it to preserve the win.
“Our linebacker, Reilly, he hit him and I just scooped it up,” Horace said. “The team is just getting better from day one to now.”
The turnover was the third of the game for the Eagles, who threw two interceptions late in the first half to help give Hendricken the lead.
Horace had the first of those interceptions, when he tipped a second-quarter pass from Simons up in the air at the line of scrimmage and dove to make the play. Mario McClain, another lineman, had the other interception.
“My first career interception,” Horace said. “That was good. I felt like (Patriots’ defensive lineman) Vince Wilfork on that.”
The Hawks’ first points came early in the second quarter when Brannigan found Falcone for a 10-yard score, making it a 6-0 game.
Following Horace’s pick, which came with 2:09 left in the second half, Falcone got in the end zone from nine yards and Brannigan ran in the two-point conversion for a 14-0 lead.
The team’s third touchdown, however, was its most impressive.
After receiving the opening kickoff of the second half, Hendricken moved the ball 76 yards on 18 plays – 16 of which were runs – and took 9:30 off the clock. Falcone finished the drive with an eight-yard touchdown reception from Brannigan.
“I think the offensive line did a great job tonight,” Croft said. “Coach (Frank) Pantaleo made some great calls down the stretch. We told the kids going in, and we’ve said this all year – if the offensive line controls the line of scrimmage, we’re going to move the ball.”
The Hawks will now look forward to Thanksgiving, where they will travel to Toll Gate for a 10 a.m. start. Five days later, they’ll open up the playoffs.
“I like our chances in a playoff game, but I’m sure every coach going to the playoffs is saying the same thing,” Croft said. “We’ll see.”