You will rarely see a more intense and exciting football game than the one played Friday night at Warwick Vets in a game that had playoff implications for both teams. Johnston quarterback Mark Breton’s touchdown pass to Alex Tenerella with eight seconds remaining – and the ensuing two-point conversion – proved to be the difference as the Panthers spoiled the Hurricanes’ homecoming and senior night in a 22-21 win.
The win was Johnston’s fifth in a row and it clinched Division II-A’s No. 2 seed for the playoffs. Vets, who was tied with Johnston coming into the game, fell to 4-2 and will need a win at Mt. Hope this week – or some help in other games – to clinch a spot.
“Without a doubt this was the most intense game in a long time,” said Johnston head coach Joe Acciardo. “Warwick is a tough team and they have a lot of great athletes. We have a lot of respect for this team.”
Vets fell behind 14-0 in the first half but scored three consecutive touchdowns in the second half and looked poised for its biggest victory of the season. The third touchdown came with just 59 seconds left in the game.
But Johnston wasn’t done.
The Panthers would get a good run back on the ensuing kickoff from Marc Conte, setting them up at midfield with no timeouts and 52 seconds on the game clock. Breton got his team closer with a nice run and he connected on a pass to Mathieu, who got out of bounds to stop the clock. Breton would then find his favorite target, Tenerella, in the end zone as he out-jumped the defender for the winning touchdown with eight seconds showing on the clock.
“You have a minute left in the game and against a team like Johnston you can never say you have the game in the bag,” Vets coach Bryan Nappa said.
The Panthers went for the win with the two-point conversion, and Conte ran into the end zone untouched, giving JHS the thrilling win.
“We were out of sorts, they put a lot of pressure up front but in the end we pulled it out,” Acciardo said. “I hope something snaps our guys out of the little funk they are in. We came to play hard but we need a little more concentration at practice. This game will certainly give us a lift. I hope we learned our lesson tonight and good things will come from it.”
Vets was left with a heart-breaking loss.
“These kids came together to play and they left it all on the field,” Nappa said. “Both teams fought hard and Johnston has a lot of weapons and a lot of talent. They are well-coached. Our guys are fighters and we came out and did our best.”
In the first quarter, both teams could not capitalize on turnovers. Ricky Antonio’s fumble recovery for Vets went by the boards and Nick Gatta’s recovery of a bad snap at the Hurricane 20-yard line could not be turned into Panther points thanks to a David MacDonald sack of Breton on a fourth-down play.
With 4:01 left in the first half, Johnston’s Joe Peters ripped off a 38-yard run, and Breton would later scramble for the first score of the night from 15 yards out. Breton’s two-point conversion pass to Conte was broken up in the end zone, but JHS enjoyed the early lead 6-0.
Vets quarterback Jesse Sedoma was intercepted on the ensuing possession by Devin Leary, who ran it to the Hurricane 8-yard line. From there, Peters punched it into the end zone from 2 yards out and Breton would convert the two-point conversion on a keeper for a 14-0 JHS lead with 2:39 left in the first half. There was still time for the Hurricanes to get something on the scoreboard before the first half expired. Kyle Morissette returned the ensuing kickoff to the Panther 40 and a Johnston facemask penalty put the ball at the 23 yard line, but with 23 seconds on the clock, Sedoma’s pass on fourth down fell incomplete. That sent Johnston into the break with a two-touchdown lead.
As the second half opened , Sedoma was picked off by Kenny Kue and JHS had good field position at the home team’s 35. The ’Canes forced a three-and-out, though and took the ball back at their own 23. It appeared that the Johnston defense would force a three-and-out of its own, but a personal foul call on the Panthers gave Warwick an automatic first down at their own 39. Soon after, the Hurricanes could not convert a first down so Sedoma set up in punt formation. He surprised Johnston by faking the punt for a first down, giving his team new life. MacDonald ran hard for a first down and on a key fourth-and-4 play, Sedoma then eluded the Johnston defense for a 25-yard touchdown run. His PAT cut the lead in half at the 2:40 mark of the third quarter.
“Sedoma is explosive and has matured in the last three years,” Nappa said. “He has become a very smart and hard nosed player and he came up big for us tonight.”
As the final quarter began, the Panthers had a great chance to score when Sedoma had to cover a bad snap on a punt that set up the visitors on the Vets 15-yard line. A halfback option play worked to perfection for the Panthers, but Conte could not haul in the pass from Mike Caparco, which would have resulted in six points. Instead, Vets forced a turnover on downs at the 10-yard line.
The ’Canes came up empty on their next drive but stayed within striking distance when Peters lost a fumble on the doorstep of the end zone. Vets recovered the ball for a touchback and took over with 6:33 left.
Starting from his own 20, Sedoma went right to work, completing passes to Chris Conley and Jacob Issac for first downs. Two personal foul calls on the Panthers aided the Hurricane drive and Sedoma converted on a big third-and-5 play to put the ball at the JHS 11 with 3:22 left in the fourth quarter. Sedoma would find the end zone for the second time in the game from 2 yards out to make it 14-13. The ’Canes decided to go for the lead instead of the tie, but MacDonald was stopped just short of the goal line on the two-point try and JHS clung to a 1-point lead.
Needing another big play, Vets’ Luke Cardillo recovered a Breton fumble at the Johnston 20-yard line. A late hit penalty that had the Johnston sideline erupting gave Vets first-and-goal at the 1.
A penalty pushed the Hurricanes back 5 yards and Breton made some big tackles that kept them out of the end zone. Sedoma set up for a 20-yard field goal attempt with 59 seconds left in the game. JHS blocked the kick but an alert Conley picked up the loose ball and ran it into the end zone untouched for a touchdown.
“A botched field goal bit us earlier in the year,” Nappa said. “We take the things we do bad and make it into a learning experience and it comes out positive.”
The extra point was faked as Jeremy Morrissette gave the ‘Canes a 21-14 lead and sent the home crowd into a frenzy.
Unfortunately for the ’Canes, the excitement was short-lived as Johnston drove for the game-winning score.
Even with the loss, the ’Canes are still in a good position for the playoffs. They’re in third place at 4-2, ahead of three 3-3 teams – Mt. Hope, Westerly and Coventry. If the ’Canes beat Mt. Hope this week, they’ll be in, no questions asked. They could also find their way in with a loss if tiebreakers go their way, but they’d rather not chance it.
“If we win against Mt. Hope we will make the playoffs and that is our focus,” Nappa said. “We have to channel our energy and disappointment and bring it to Mt. Hope. These kids want to get in the playoffs, they started when they were sophomores. I told them they have nothing to be ashamed about. You cannot ask for anything more on a Friday night.”