In a near-blinding downpour, the Hendricken football team didn’t look the least bit uncomfortable on Friday night.
As its opponent, Tolman, struggled to take care of the ball, the Hawks thrived, using a dominating defense and an efficient offense to rack up 21 early points on their way to a 28-7 victory over the Tigers.
Hendricken stayed unbeaten at 4-0 and 3-0 in Division I, while Tolman fell to 1-3 and 0-3 in its first year in D-I. The Hawks are tied atop the league with La Salle, while 2-0 Cranston East sits a half-game back.
As a team with an offense predicated on outside running and throwing the ball, Tolman couldn’t seem to adjust to the first-half rain. Hendricken, meanwhile, was ready for the moment.
“We did a script yesterday, game situations,” Hendricken senior captain Marco DelVecchio said. “We had somebody squirting the ball with water, all day. We were definitely prepared for the rain, and I think we play better in the rain.”
That was never clearer than over the first 12 minutes, when the Hawks played almost mistake-free while the Tigers were the polar opposite.
On Tolman’s first drive of the game, it lost two yards on the first three plays and then turned the ball over on downs when punter Andrew Soares couldn’t handle the snap. The result was a 16-yard loss, giving Hendricken the ball just 25 yards from the end zone.
And on the first play of the drive, the Hawks’ Remmington Blue went untouched through the middle and up the right side for a 25-yard score. Bobby Lineberger’s extra point made it 7-0 just 1:47 into the game.
“I think the weather helped us more than it helped them,” Hendricken head coach Keith Croft said. “I think they like to run a little more East and West, have a little more of a passing game. They’ve got some good athletes. Our defense came to play to start the game, gave our offense a little momentum and we kind of built on it.”
On Tolman’s next possession, it lost four yards before quarterback Brandon Dunlap threw an interception to DelVecchio on third down.
Again armed with good field position, Hendricken couldn’t capitalize as quarterback Patrick Gill fumbled the snap exchange and the ball was recovered by the Tigers.
But the Hawks didn’t wait long to regain momentum.
After three plays netted the Tigers minus-13 yards, they lined up to punt a second time and again botched the snap. Hendricken pounced on Soares, who recovered the ball on his team’s 1-yard line.
Gill jumped over the line on the very next play for a 1-yard score, and Lineberger made it 14-0.
“They weren’t happy with Coach Croft yesterday, but I said ‘We’re going to squirt their hands, get the ball wet,’” Croft said. “I don’t know if it helped much, but I think it took away the excuses.”
Tolman went three-and-out on its next possession, losing nine yards in the process before successfully getting off a punt for the first time.
Hendricken took over on its own 47-yard line, and two plays later – on the first play of the second quarter – Gill found DelVecchio wide open behind the defense for a 53-yard touchdown. Lineberger added the extra point, and Hendricken was up 21-0.
“They blitzed all game,” DelVecchio said. “So coach was like, ‘I’m going to run you out on a corner.’ I ran the corner, and I had to slow down for the ball a little bit. It was a perfect pass, and a touchdown.”
In building that three-touchdown lead, Hendricken’s defense led the way. The Hawks held Tolman to a staggering minus-58 yards of offense on its first four possessions, while forcing an interception, two turnovers on downs and a punt. They also picked up five sacks – they had seven on the day – during that span.
“The gameplan was contain,” DelVecchio said. “Contain the quarterback, contain the running backs and stop it with our front five. Luckily our perimeter helped out too.”
Tolman found its groove before the half ended, though, getting a 38-yard touchdown pass from Dunlap to Justin Otis with 7:40 left in the first half, and the Hawks went into halftime up 21-7.
After Hendricken turned the ball over on downs in Tolman territory to open the second half, the Tigers drove down the field, hoping to make it a one-possession game.
Multiple long runs, including a 30-yarder by Darnell Walls, set Tolman up with first-and-10 at Hendricken’s 22-yard-line.
A first down run netted the Tigers three yards before they lost a yard on second. On third down, Dunlap rolled out to his right but DelVecchio tripped him up for his second sack of the game.
One play later, Dunlap’s fade attempt to Mamour Samb fell incomplete, and the Hendricken offense took over on downs.
“You had kids like Marco and Jarrid [Witherspoon] saying, ‘They’re not getting in,’” Croft said. “Those kids are veterans, and they’ve been through these battles before. Even when they break off those big plays, once they start getting near the goal line they just feed off each other. They play a lot better.”
Hendricken ended up punting on that possession, but Tolman punted on its next drive – with DelVecchio tipping the punt – and Hendricken took over on its own 43-yard-line.
Three plays later, Blue burst through the middle for his second touchdown of the game, this one a 35-yarder, to put the game on ice with 5:53 to play. Lineberger converted his fourth extra point to provide the winning margin.
“Tolman has some great athletes,” DelVecchio said. “They have a lot of speed, they have a lot of size. This was definitely a circled game for us. We wanted to be more physical, and we knew that they had a close game with La Salle. We wanted to come out here, get the lead right away and finish the job.”
Blue led all rushers with 99 yards on the day, while Gill threw for 73 yards. Tolman was held to just 50 total yards.
Next up for the Hawks is Cranston West, which is coming off a 27-17 loss to La Salle and is currently 0-3 in D-I.
That game will be played on Friday at 7 p.m. at Cranston Stadium.
“My last message to them when we broke was, ‘Guys, throw the records out, this is a team that you’re battling with for a playoff spot,” Croft said. “‘You have to win these games.’ The rest of our schedule, we’re battling everyone for a playoff spot.”