The Warwick Vets football team headed to Woonsocket on Saturday in search of its third consecutive win to open the season. The ’Canes quickly fell flat, and when they finally got their footing, the Novans pulled the rug out again.
After falling behind 14-0, Vets came to life with a drive deep into Woonsocket territory. It ended with a missed field goal, though, and two plays later, the explosive Woonsocket running attack struck again to make it a 21-0 game. Throw in a kickoff return touchdown to open the second half, and the Novans were on their way to a 35-6 victory.
It was closer than the scoreboard indicated, but it was still tough to swallow for a Vets team that had been riding high.
“They were the better team today,” said Vets head coach Bryan Nappa. “We knew they had a three-headed monster. It was something to be concerned with. We had some injury adversity this week, and we were playing a lot of young guys in the middle there. Coach [Carnell] Henderson is a great coach so we knew he was going to come right at us. They did what they had to do to win the ball game today.”
The ’Canes were playing without juniors David MacDonald and Dennis Scalzo, both of whom were injured in last week’s win over Toll Gate. The pair usually anchors the Vets defense from the inside linebacker spots. They’re also the first and second string fullbacks.
The impact of their absence was felt immediately, especially on the defensive side of the ball. After Vets punted on its first possession, Woonsocket marched 62 yards for a touchdown. Jalen Evans, who frequently found running room in the middle of the defense, capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run.
“The middle is a crucial part of our defense,” Nappa said. “We were very young there. But you can’t make excuses for injuries. They made less mistakes than we did today.”
Vets again went nowhere on its second drive and though Jessie Sedoma’s punt pinned the Novans at their own 6-yard line, they were quickly back in business. Two runs by Evans put the ball at the 25 before D’Andre Thomas busted a 75-yard touchdown run down the sideline. John Poirier’s extra point made it 14-0 with less than nine minutes off the clock.
After the ’Canes punted again, the Vets defense came up with a stop. Three penalties pushed the Novans back and Andrew Sjodahl made a tackle on a third-down play to force a punt.
Then the ’Canes hit their stride.
On the first play of their next possession, T.J. Boyajian bounced a run to the outside, broke three tackles near the sideline and then took off. When the Novans finally caught up, Boyajian had scampered 57 yards to the Woonsocket 30-yard line.
A 5-yard run by Luke Cardillo and a 10-yard run by Boyajian put the ball on the 15. A facemask penalty on a 5-yard run by Cardillo gave Vets first-and-goal at the 4-yard line. It seemed the ’Canes would quickly get within a touchdown.
Instead, Boyajian was hit for a 1-yard loss on first down. Cardillo picked up two yards on second down to put the ball at the 3-yard line, but defensive lineman Nicholas Fernandes got penetration on the third-down play and tackled Boyajian for a 4-yard loss.
Vets sent out the field goal team and Sedoma’s kick was off the mark.
“That’s a punch in the gut,” Nappa said. “You drive down the field and get in a first-and-goal situation, then you miss a couple of assignments and falter back on your heels a little bit. That’s always tough. Then the missed field goal, and you give them the ball back on the 20. We talked all week in practice about taking advantage of the opportunities we’re given when we get them. Not to take advantage of an opportunity like that, it sets you back as a team.”
And Woonsocket soon set the ’Canes back even further. After a holding penalty negated an 80-yard touchdown, Evans rambled 74 yards for a score on the third play of the Novans’ next drive. Poirier’s extra point made it a 21-0 game.
Vets got a decent drive going after that but couldn’t convert a fourth-and-3 at midfield and turned the ball over on downs. The ’Canes went to halftime down three scores.
That deficit was still manageable, but it didn’t last long.
Will Andino returned the opening kickoff of the second half 86 yards for a touchdown. Just like that, Vets was in a tough spot.
“Woonsocket came out hard in the second half and they fought all the way through,” Nappa said.
The ’Canes played the Novans relatively even from there but couldn’t get a real comeback off the ground. Some success with the option paved the way for a solid next drive, but Sedoma had a pass intercepted in the end zone. After forcing a punt, Vets got on the board with an 80-yard drive capped by an 8-yard pass from Sedoma to Tony Lonczak.
“The good thing was they didn’t let [the kickoff return touchdown] demoralize them,” Nappa said.
But the comeback trail was still too steep. Woonsocket quarterback Brett Bouchard threw an 8-yard touchdown to Poirier with 7:46 left in the fourth quarter, and the extra point made it 35-6.
Vets lost a fumble on the ensuing kickoff return. Then, after forcing a punt, they fumbled on the first play of their next drive, robbing them of any chance to get closer.
Boyajian had another strong performance in the loss, finishing with 155 yards rushing on 21 carries. Sedoma added 43 yards on the ground.
Woonsocket racked up 363 yards rushing, led by Evans, who tallied 184 yards and two touchdowns.
The Novans, who lost to Johnston in their league opener, are now 1-1 in Division II-A play. The ’Canes are also 1-1 and will return to action Saturday at 10 a.m. when they host Coventry.
“The focus from here is setting our sights on Saturday morning, towards Coventry,” Nappa said. “We can’t let this become poison in our systems. It’s very early in the season. This division is tough so you never know who’s going to beat who on any given day. There’s still a lot of football to be played. We’ll have a good hard week of practice and we should be looking good for Coventry.”