If the La Salle football team’s body of work heading into this weekend hadn’t yet made it the favorite to win the Division I title, Friday night’s performance against Bishop Hendricken certainly did.
The Rams are the team to beat.
La Salle used the legs and the arm of All-State quarterback Anthony Francis to power past the Hawks 28-7 and clinch the No. 1 seed in D-I for the second consecutive season. The Rams are 7-0, with a Thanksgiving Day game against East Providence still remaining.
Hendricken lost for the second time in its last four games, falling to 6-2. While its D-I slate is finished, the Hawks won’t know if they’re the No. 2 or No. 3 seed until the regular season finishes up for other D-I teams on Thanksgiving.
They will either host Cranston East in the D-I semifinals on Nov. 27 or they will travel to Portsmouth.
The Rams, meanwhile, will host either East or Portsmouth in round one, and they’ll be the favorites no matter who the opponent is.
“Listen, like I told these guys, I don’t think you’re going to get any debate from anyone that they’re the best team in the state,” Hendricken head coach Keith Croft said. “They have all the tools, all the weapons.”
The most important of those weapons on Friday night was Francis. The senior threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, as he accounted for 274 yards of offense by himself.
In the first half alone he completed 15-of-19 passes for 165 yards, as he helped La Salle jump out to a 21-0 lead at the break.
“Anthony did a fantastic job,” La Salle head coach Geoff Marcone said. “We give him two or three plays in that set, and he’s got to find the one that works. And he did. Really, we don’t have much control. We rep it all week in practice and then when we come to the game, it’s on him.”
Francis’s favorite target on the day was senior Mitchell DaSilva, who hauled in nine passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns.
That connection got the scoring started midway through the first quarter, as Francis found DaSilva on a wheel route up the right side on third-and-11 for a 24-yard touchdown. Drew Chretien added the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
Francis threw an interception to Lee Moses in the end zone on La Salle’s next possession, following a Hendricken punt, but another Hendricken punt gave the Rams the ball back with 5:27 left in the second quarter.
From there, Francis engineered a nine-play, 82-yard touchdown drive that culminated with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Francis to Tyneil Cooper on fourth-and-5. On the drive, Francis went 4-of-5 for 78 yards, including a 66-yard hook-up with DaSilva. Chretien’s extra point extended the lead to 14-0 with 2:36 left in the half.
“Francis, he was just phenomenal throwing the ball tonight,” Croft said. “Across the field, across his body, he was throwing the ball on a line.”
On the kickoff, La Salle sent the ball out of bounds, and Hendricken took over on its own 36-yard line. But on the first play, quarterback Patrick Gill lofted a pass to the right that Cooper intercepted, and he returned it all the way to the Hawks’ 19-yard line.
The Rams didn’t waste the chance. They lost six yards on second down, but Francis found Keon Wilson for 12 yards on third-and-16, and then hit Josh Morris for 8 yards on fourth-and-4. On the next play, Francis plowed into the end zone from 5 yards away with 36 seconds left in the half for the 21-0 lead.
“That was huge,” Marcone said. “We said that once we got that turnover, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get points out of this. Let’s get points, let’s get a touchdown or even a field goal.’ That pick was huge. It carried us into the second half.”
In that first half, La Salle ran 38 plays compared to Hendricken’s 20 and it out-gained the Hawks 246-59. The Rams had 11 first downs to Hendricken’s four.
Gill completed just one pass in the first two quarters, and 42 of the Hawks’ 50 rushing yards came on one play – a second-quarter rush by Remmington Blue.
“I think what we were seeing, the looks we were getting was what we were looking for,” Marcone said. “What we saw, we made a lot of audibles, a lot of adjustments.”
The second half was significantly better for Hendricken, as it still struggled offensively but saw its defense rise to the occasion. The Hawks, who have allowed the fewest points in D-I, forced La Salle to turn the ball over on downs on its first three possessions of the second half. All three of those times, the Rams were in Hendricken territory and twice they were inside the 10, but the Hawks held tough despite the score.
The 28 points La Salle scored actually tied its lowest output of the league season.
“I know the score is a little deceiving, but I think our kids played really well defensively,” Croft said. “We put our defense in some bad spots throughout the course of the game, and you can’t do that against a team like La Salle.”
On the Rams’ fourth possession of the half, they found the end zone again, as Francis hooked up with DaSilva from 17 yards out on a fourth-and-11 play, making the score 28-0.
“He’s leading us in receptions,” Marcone said of DaSilva. “No one really knows. Everyone talks about Keon and Tyneil because they make all the big plays, but he’s quietly been one of our steady, strong guys. That’s Mitchell. He quietly goes about his business and does his job.”
Hendricken answered from there, putting together its best drive of the night. In just three plays it marched down the field. Gill completed a 34-yard pass to Michael Scarcella to start the drive and the two connected again soon after for a 39-yard score.
Scarcella quietly put together a strong game, as he had five catches for 177 yards and the touchdown. He also had another touchdown called back on a questionable offensive pass interference call.
Gill finished 5-of-11 for 177 yards threw the air, while Blue was Hendricken’s leading rusher with 67 yards. Morris was La Salle’s leader on the ground with 122 yards. Francis added 75, and 199 yards passing.
The Hawks will now wait to find out their playoff fate, with an eye on the Thanksgiving game between Cranston East and Cranston West. If East wins, Hendricken will be the No. 2 seed and it will host East. If West wins – which would drop East out of a three-way tie for second and into the fourth spot – the Hawks will be the No. 3 seed and will travel to Portsmouth.
Hendricken also has its annual Thanksgiving game with Toll Gate, which has been moved to Wednesday night this season. That game is now scheduled for Nov. 21 at 7 p.m.
And then its playoff time again, as the Hawks will try to win their third consecutive state championship.
It will be an uphill climb, but Hendricken needs only to look at last year to see that it’s possible. A season ago, the Hawks lost 39-14 to La Salle during the regular season before upsetting the Rams 17-14 in the Super Bowl.
First, though, they’ll need to win their semifinal game.
“I did bring up last year,” Croft said. “But I cautioned my team. The difference was, we had a whole season to make a lot of improvement. The window is a lot smaller this year. That being said, we said we’d love to see them again, but you can’t look past anyone. You can’t talk about having another shot at them until you win a playoff game, and that’s going to be a battle no matter who you play.”