Just like last year, a young and largely untested Bishop Hendricken football team will be looking for improvement every step of the way this season.
If the two halves of Friday’s non-league season opener are any indication, that process is already well underway.
After carrying a 9-6 lead into halftime against Division II contender St. Raphael at Max Read Field, the visiting Hawks exploded in the second half and rolled to a 36-8 victory. Junior Remmington Blue rushed for 229 yards and four touchdowns to lead an impressive first effort for the two-time defending state champion Hawks.
“I thought our kids stepped up,” said head coach Keith Croft. “It was a battle the whole way. I’m really happy that we came out and played the way we did. Obviously, we want to improve on some things, but it was a good start.”
With just two returning starters on offense and four on defense, the Hawks expected some growing pains. And they knew going into Friday’s game that a veteran Saints team might be able to take advantage.
That was the trend early. Hendricken lost a fumble on its second possession. Two plays later, St. Ray’s quarterback Nick Sisto connected with Charles Correa on the right sideline, and Correa out-raced the defense for a 63-yard touchdown. The two-point try was no good, but the Saints led 6-0.
From there, the Hawks steadily found their footing.
After the teams traded punts, Blue rambled 56 yards on the first play of Hendricken’s next series and was pushed out of bounds just a yard shy of the end zone. One play later, Blue ran it in for the touchdown, and Bobby Lineberger drilled the extra point for the 7-6 lead.
The Saints took over at their own 15 and immediately went backwards when Jarrid Witherspoon and Dallas Sauer combined on a sack of Sisto for an 8-yard loss. Correa then took a handoff and was forced backwards. He raced for the sideline but couldn’t get the corner and was eventually pushed backwards. He stepped out of bounds just behind the pylon, giving the Hawks a safety and a 9-6 lead.
The Hawks didn’t get anything else for the rest of the half, but the spark had been lit.
In the second half, they caught fire.
On the third play of the half, Blue took a handoff, cut through the middle, bounced it to the left and scampered 53 yards for a touchdown. Lineberger’s extra point made it 16-6.
The Saints weren’t done yet. They drove all the way to the Hendricken 6-yard line, but the Hawks came through with a stop as Romario Rousseau kept Correa out of the end zone on a fourth-down pass.
The Hawks were forced to punt after taking over and a bad snap sent Lineberger chasing after a loose ball. He kicked out of the end zone to take the safety, making it 16-8.
After that, it was all Hawks.
The Saints fumbled the snap on the second play of their next drive, and Nick DeCiantis recovered for Hendricken. A 17-yard pass from Patrick Gill to Mike Scarcella and an 18-yard run by Gill put the ball into the red zone. Gill converted a third down with a 6-yard pass to Matt Duffie and Blue ran it in from the 8-yard line for his third touchdown of the game. The Hawks went for two but didn’t get it, leaving it a 22-8 game.
“Remy obviously had a great game, and I think our offensive line really took over in the second half,” Croft said. “We pride ourselves on conditioning. We were a little slow to start and a little sluggish, but as the game went on, I think our conditioning benefited us.”
The Saints again broke into Hendricken territory thanks to a 35-yard run by Alfred Dorbor, but the Hawks came up with another stop. Michael Crisione sacked Sisto for a 9-yard loss on third down, and Duffie broke up a pass to Correa on fourth-and-long.
“For the most part, I was very happy with the way the defense played,” Croft said. “We’ve got some speed at linebackers. We’ve got a very young secondary. I thought they came of age tonight as the game went on. I think the strength of our team is in the linebackers and the defensive backs, but we’ve got some experience on the defensive line too.”
After that stop, Hendricken punched the gas pedal. Blue broke a 65-yard touchdown run on the second play of the next drive. When the Saints turned the ball over on downs, Hendricken needed just four plays to find the end zone again. Sophomore Power Kanga rumbled in from 35 yards out, and Lineberger made the extra point for the 36-8 lead.
While that final score wasn’t reflective of the whole game, the Hawks were happy to put a big notch in the win column.
“I’m very happy that we played them,” Croft said. “That score is not indicative of the type of game it was. They’re a really good football team. They have a lot of Division I speed, and the kid Correa is a handful. This was a good win.”
Blue had 229 yards on just 14 carries in his breakout performance. The junior saw only limited varsity action last season.
“I wasn’t expecting this at all,” Blue said. “It was a great game. The line did a phenomenal job. There was just great blocking the whole time, so I could really see the field.”
The Hawks finished with 454 yards on the ground. Kanga had 65 yards and a touchdown, while Gill rushed for 64 yards. Gill was 4-of-12 passing for 24 yards in his varsity debut.
“I think there’s room for improvement,” Croft said. “I think our running game will get better as the timing gets better. Gill played pretty well for his first varsity game. He managed it well.”
The Hendricken defense limited the Saints to 70 yards rushing and 137 total yards. Correa, the standout senior, was held to four yards rushing on seven carries. Dorbor, a sophomore, led the Saints with 75 yards on eight carries.
The Hawks will now move into Division I play, which begins with Friday night’s home game against South Kingstown. The Rebels were a playoff team a year ago and fell to Hendricken in the Division I semifinals.
“Every week’s a battle,” Croft said. “South Kingstown is going to be tough. They’ve got some good kids coming back and they always give us a battle. It’ll be a tough week.”