Just a few seconds into Saturday’s freshman football Super Bowl, the undefeated Bishop Hendricken Hawks found themselves in unfamiliar territory. Barrington’s Nick Jensen broke a 50-yard run on the first play of the game, setting the Eagles up deep inside Hendricken territory. They scored a few plays later.
For a Hendricken team that out-scored its opponents 278-88 in the regular season and had trailed only once all year, it was a new challenge.
But the Hawks were up for it.
A touchdown and two-point conversion gave Hendricken a lead later in the first quarter, and though Barrington kept coming, the Hawks never lost that lead. They went on to a 36-18 victory and their third consecutive freshman championship.
“It was a battle,” said head coach Jonathan Stringfellow. “We stayed composed. We haven’t been backs to the wall much all season, but we were able to get our composure back and do what we do. And thank goodness we have some playmakers.”
Early on, it was Barrington’s play-making ability that shined through. With the ball at the Barrington 42 to start the game, Jensen took a handoff on a jet sweep, found the edge and scampered 50 yards before Lee Moses tracked him down at the 13-yard line. The Eagles found the end zone five plays later on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Jake Slye.
“Barrington plays hard,” Stringfellow said. “They’re always well-coached. It didn’t surprise us. We got pinned inside, the kid runs fast and he broke one. It was one of those things – they played hard.”
In its last game of the regular season, Hendricken had fallen behind Cranston West, but that was the only time the team had trailed all season and it wasn’t quite so jarring.
“Cranston West did the same thing, driving right down the field, but it wasn’t that explosive,” Stringfellow said.
The Hawks came back from that deficit against West to win 38-24. After the Eagles’ early touchdown on Saturday, they set out to do the same thing.
At first, the comeback trail was hard to find. Hendricken lost 10 yards on a fumbled pitch on its first drive, then missed on a pass and had two runs go nowhere. Barrington took over on downs near midfield.
That’s when the Hawks started to find their footing.
Jensen was hit for a 1-yard loss on each of Barrington’s next two plays. Moses and Gary Gibbs then broke up a pass for Andrew Blau, forcing the Eagles to punt. Andrew Rywolt dropped the snap, though, and when he tried to run, he was thrown for a five-yard loss. The Hawks took over at the Barrington 38.
This time, the offense was clicking.
Power Kanga had runs of six and five yards to start the drive before Gibbs broke loose for a 17-yarder, setting up the Hawks with a first-and-goal at the 10. The next snap was fumbled, but the Hawks kept coming. Gibbs picked up seven yards on second down, Toppa got three more on third down and Kanga rumbled in from two yards out on fourth-and-goal. Kanga also ran in the two-point conversion to put Hendricken up 8-6.
Armed with a lead, the Hendricken defense again flexed its muscles and forced a quick three-and-out. This time, Rywolt got the punt off, but the way it turned out, the Eagles might have preferred if he hadn’t.
The bouncing punt slipped all the way to the deep man Moses, who scooped it up, sidestepped a tackler and raced to the corner. He rambled all the way into the end zone for a 60-yard touchdown. John Toppa hit Matt Duffie for the two-point conversion.
“It felt good to get my team in the game,” Moses said. “We came out and we were a little bit nervous at first – big game, a lot of people. Being able to return that punt was just a great feeling. It was good to get my team back in the game.”
Moses has been a special teams weapon all year, and Stringfellow was hoping he’d get a shot to return one in the championship.
“We just hope people kick to him,” Stringfellow said. “It worked out for us.”
The punt return seemed to give the Hawks a jolt, and they quickly built on it. Hendricken recovered a fumble on the first play of Barrington’s next drive. Then, on the very next play, Toppa took an option to the left and ran it in from 12 yards out. Jehvine Quaweay converted the two-point try for the 24-6 lead.
For the rest of the first half, Hendricken’s fast-and-furious attack finally slowed down. Toppa was picked off on a deflection, and Hendricken lost a fumble on its next possession.
In the meantime, Barrington got another big play as Jensen hit Hunter Constable for 45 yards on a halfback pass. Slye scored a touchdown two plays later to make it 24-12.
But after that, the Hawks made sure they stayed in control. Kanga scored his second touchdown of the game from four yards out with 2:40 left in the third quarter. On Barrington’s next possession, Christian Wesolowski blocked a punt, setting the Hawks up at the Eagle 35. Toppa then dropped back to pass and hit a wide-open Moses for a 35-yard touchdown and the 36-12 lead.
“They all stepped up,” Stringfellow said. “Toppa threw some nice balls and we got the running game going a little bit. Defensively, we buckled down and that kept us in the game. We kept them confined a little bit and we were able to take care of business.”
The Eagles added a late touchdown by Ryan Brown, but the outcome wasn’t in doubt. The Hawks could celebrate.
“I’m proud of my team because we came a long way this year,” Moses said. “I was glad we were able to pull it together and win it.”
Kanga led the Hawks with 63 yards on 14 carries. Gary Gibbs added 56 yards on seven carries, and Terrence Gibbs chipped in with 25 yards on eight carries. Toppa completed three passes for 59 yards and a touchdown.
The championship is Hendricken’s fourth in the last five years, since Stringfellow and assistants Robert Manning and Michael Quigley have been at the helm. Stringfellow hopes this group can follow the same path of his first team, which won the varsity Super Bowl last season.
“Hopefully we’ll hold them together for four years and hopefully they can go on and do what the group did last year, winning it their senior year,” Stringfellow said. “I tell them this is just a building block. This is just a start. Hopefully, they continue the next four years.”