Everybody, it seems, loves to throw the football. The NFL is a quarterback’s league now. The college game is in love with the spread and fast-paced attacks.
Rhode Island high school football teams haven’t really been on board in the past, but this year, even America’s smallest state went airborne. Three of the four Division I playoff teams run high-octane offenses, with aerial attacks that are as dangerous as any this state has seen in recent years.
The odd man out in D-I? Bishop Hendricken. The Hawks are capable, and they’ve gotten their share of big plays through the air, but when the chips are down, these Hawks don’t spread their wings.
And guess what?
The Hawks ran their way right into the Super Bowl. Hendricken is back for its fourth straight championship game appearance thanks to a 35-21 victory over Cranston East on Wednesday night.
And thanks to a lot of running.
The Hawks trailed 14-7 at the break. They took the second half kickoff and started running the ball. They literally never stopped. Hendricken didn’t throw a pass in the second half, but marched down the field for four touchdowns – and marched right into the Super Bowl.
“We were determined to drive the ball down their throats,” said offensive tackle Nick DeCiantis. “We really came together as a team and just pushed through everything.”
Running the ball was something the Hawks wanted to do all game. Head coach Keith Croft said earlier in the week that he felt his team had to run to win.
In the first half, they sputtered.
In the second half, they fired on all cylinders.
“Fortunately, we ran the ball in the second half like we haven’t in a while,” Croft said.
Hendricken added a tight end on many of its formations, getting an extra blocker. On the other side, East lost two starters to injury – defensive end Michael Raspberry and standout safety E.J. Isom.
The door was open, and Hendricken rushed right through.
“That was the gameplan the whole time,” said center Joe Vincent. “In the beginning it was a little shaky with them over-loading one side. Halftime, we made a couple of adjustments and we were just determined to run the ball. We depend on our offensive line and we just run the ball.”
The last two years, Hendricken’s size up front has been one of its defining characteristics. A strong running game is a natural fit, and the Hawks haven’t been afraid to embrace that identity.
This year, the identity didn’t seem as strong. There were some big games by Hendricken’s running backs – and some not-so-big games.
But when it mattered most, Hendricken rediscovered itself.
“We have complete faith and pride in our offensive line,” Vincent said. “We’re probably the biggest offensive front in the state, so we might as well use it to our benefit.”
There’s a tendency in this era of the spread offense for teams to get pass-happy, to roll the dice and try to maximize their weapons. When it works, it’s beautiful, but it can still be an iffy proposition.
Hendricken can certainly throw. Quarterback Patrick Gill is capable, and a stable of receivers have plenty of big plays under their belts. The play that sparked Hendricken’s first-half touchdown drive was a long pass from Gill to Jarrid Witherspoon.
But the Hawks also know what their bread and butter is.
And when they needed it, they went to it again and again and again.
It carried them right back to the Super Bowl.
The odd man out is the odd man in.
“Coach Croft told us that if we’re going to be a Hendricken football team, we’ve got to establish a run game,” said running back Remmington Blue, who carried much of the load. “Fortunately, this game we got it back.”
William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.