Despite La Salle’s gaudy regular season numbers, the Bishop Hendricken freshman football team didn’t think it would be over-matched when the two teams faced off in the Division I freshman Super Bowl on Saturday.
As it turned out, if anyone was over-matched, it was the Rams.
The Hawks wore down La Salle with an aggressive defense and a relentless ground game on offense, dominating the fourth quarter to overcome a two-point deficit and capture the championship with a 38-22 victory.
Running back Kwity Paye led the way, scoring on three straight carries in roughly a six-minute span in the fourth quarter to seal the deal for Hendricken. Paye scored four times on the day and ran for 171 yards, lifting the Hawks to a fourth freshman state title in five years.
The top seeded and formerly unbeaten Rams had beaten Hendricken, the No. 2 seed, 14-8 on Sept. 12, handing the Hawks their only loss of the season. La Salle also beat Hendricken in last year’s freshman Super Bowl.
Saturday was sweet revenge.
“The other (championships) we were supposed to win,” Hendricken head coach Jonathan Stringfellow said. “This one, to battle back from losing was kind of a nice feature. That made it a little special.”
Hendricken most certainly wasn’t supposed to win this one, despite having a dominant season. Even with the loss to the Rams in September, the Hawks out-scored their opponents 293-97 and won their semifinal game against Portsmouth 34-0.
But La Salle had been even better. To go with its victory over Hendricken, the Rams had out-scored opponents 314-14 during the regular season. They gave up six points to Portsmouth on Sept. 5 in their season opener, gave up the eight points to Hendricken and then didn’t give up a single point for the remainder of the season. They shutout their last seven regular season opponents, and gave up just seven points to Barrington in a 42-7 victory in the semifinals.
None of that seemed to faze the Hawks.
“The first time we played them, we had two (touchdowns) called back on us,” Hendricken quarterback Chris Hindle said. “We knew that we could score, it was just if we could stop them. We had confidence in the plays that we ran.”
The Hawks controlled play for most of the day, out-gaining La Salle 362-217, but a few mistakes in the third quarter saw them lose a 20-14 lead and fall behind 22-20 when La Salle’s Samuel Coleman scored from 8 yards out and also converted the two-point conversion.
Suddenly trailing for the first time all game, Hendricken drove into Rams’ territory but turned the ball over on downs, giving the ball back to La Salle with 11:06 to play.
Then the Hawks woke up in a big way. On La Salle’s third play of the drive, quarterback Vince DiMonte was hit hard by Hendricken’s Samuel Hill, forcing a fumble. Andrew Hopgood recovered, and the Hawks were back in business.
Two players later, Paye spun out of a tackle in the backfield and then found room on the left side, gaining the end zone from 29 yards away to give Hendricken the lead again at 26-22 with 8:56 left.
Paye wasn’t healthy when the teams met in the regular season, and having him back made a huge difference for the Hawks.
“Losing 14-8 the first time, with a couple of touchdowns called back and Kwity wasn’t healthy,” Stringfellow said. “He spent the night in the hospital with dehydration. Having a healthy Kwity and all things on cylinders, we felt pretty good going in that we’d be able to move the football.”
The Rams got the ball back but threw three straight incomplete passes on their own 29-yard line before making the unlikely call to go for it from that spot on fourth down with well over eight minutes still remaining. DiMonte completed a pass to Michael A’Vant, but A’Vant was stopped a yard shy of the first down marker, giving the ball back to Hendricken.
Armed with all the momentum, the Hawks wasted no time piling on. After two carries by Matthew DiTondo and one by Hill, Paye broke loose and scored from 23 yards away to make it 32-22.
“Just fighting,” Paye said. “I was just fighting.”
The Rams picked up one first down on their next possession, but the Hawks bore down again and forced a turnover on downs with just under five minutes to play.
“Our defense came up big when they started to throw the ball after we scored,” Hindle said.
Four players later, after DiTondo ran for 20 yards on three carries, Paye finished the job again. He scored from 24 yards away with 2:44 remaining to put his team up 38-22 and all but clinch the win for the Hawks.
“Losing to them in the second week of the season hurt, but we figured if we just followed what coach told us, that we’ve be able to give (Paye) the ball and score a couple,” Hindle said.
La Salle picked up one first down on its next possession, but Paye made his impact felt one more time with an interception of DiMonte. Hendricken took over, Hindle kneeled three times and the Hawks celebrated an unlikely championship.
“The varsity won Friday night, the JV won this morning and us winning today is kind of a nice sweep for the weekend,” Stringfellow said.
Hendricken started out the game as the aggressor. It moved the ball at will on its first drive, but lost a fumble on the goal line. It took advantage of the field position, though, grabbing a 2-0 lead thanks to a safety in the first quarter on a tandem tackle by Hopgood and DiTondo on La Salle back Jermaine Moore.
The Hawks then made it 8-0 early in the second quarter when Hill charged up the middle for an 11-yard touchdown. La Salle was able to cut into the lead on a 7-yard score by Jermaine Monteiro with 5:11 to play in the half, getting it to 8-6.
Hendricken struck again late in the half though, as Paye scored from 4 yards away with 26 seconds to go for a 14-6 lead.
It looked like that would be the halftime score, but La Salle managed to move the ball 64 yards in just 22 seconds – with no timeouts – at the end of the half, and found the end zone on a 37-yard pass from DiMonte to Owen Smith. DiMonte hit Coleman for a two-point conversion, tying the score 14.
“Obviously we wanted to be ahead, but 14-14 at halftime with a team as good as La Salle was a good battle for us,” Stringfellow said. “And we felt confident with us getting the ball to start the second half that we could start to bang in there and do our thing that we do.”
On its second possession of the second half, Hendricken regained the lead, as Hindle hit Hopgood on a perfect pass on the right side for a 40-yard touchdown to make the score 20-14.
Hindle finished the day with 83 yards through the air. DiTondo ran for 90 yards, while Hill and Paye each had a pair of catches.
La Salle got 46 yards on the ground from Coleman and 42 from Moore. DiMonte threw for 88 yards.
It was a team effort all-around for the Hawks.
And they’re the freshman champs again.
“This was nice,” Stringfellow said. “The last losses we’ve had have been to La Salle, so this one feels good.”