The day started out promising enough, with the Bishop Hendricken freshman football team going on a long, clock-killing drive deep into La Salle territory.
Nearly seven minutes later, though, that drive halted and the Hawks never made it that far again. The Rams, on the other hand, lived up to their undefeated record with a 24-point second half, as they denied Hendricken its fourth straight freshman Super Bowl title with a 30-0 victory.
La Salle had beaten Hendricken 30-6 during the regular season, and Saturday’s game was largely similar. The first half was close – at least on the scoreboard – but the Rams’ dominant defense and depth on offense eventually won out.
“They’re a talented football team,” Hendricken head coach Jonathan Stringfellow said. “They played hard. They really bring it.”
It was Hendricken’s second loss of the year, as their 7-1 record during the regular season was just behind La Salle’s 8-0 mark. It was also only the fifth loss in the last six years for the Hawks’ freshman program.
The Rams just had too much. They out-scored their opponents 306-36 during the regular season, and their prowess on both sides of the ball shone through. Defensively, they surrendered just 100 yards of total offense to the Hawks – 39 of which came on the opening drive.
Offensively, La Salle rotated in two entirely separate groups. Quarterbacks Kyron Lopes and John Farley both contributed, as they each scored a touchdown on the ground, and running back T-boy White racked up 142 yards rushing and a touchdown of his own.
“I think what did it for us is that we have so many different guys,” La Salle head coach Paul Wilson said. “We’ve got two teams, coming in first and second team, and I think we wore them down.”
For the Hawks, coming away empty on the first drive was a tough pill to swallow.
They started out with the ball at their own 35-yard line, and quarterback Billy Mueller threw the ball deep on the very first play. La Salle was flagged for holding, and the Hawks kept up the pressure with three third-down conversions, including a 16-yard pass from Mueller to Joe Binda.
They got down to the 7-yard line, but on third-and-2, White broke through the line and sacked Mueller for a 2-yard loss.
Facing fourth-and-4, Stringfellow elected to try a 26-yard field goal with Matthew Harkin. But Hendricken never got the ball set for the kick after a bad snap, and despite having the ball for the first 6:33 of the game the Hawks still had a zero on the scoreboard.
“We hoped to get points, that’s why we tried to kick the field goal,” Stringfellow said. “We were hoping just to get some points out of there. We know the kid can make a 35-yard field goal. I just thought that was the best opportunity, and it didn’t work out.”
Taking over at their own 16-yard line, La Salle immediately mounted their own drive, converting two fourth downs and a third down to move towards midfield. Hendricken looked like it would hold strong, and it forced the Rams into a third-and-15 situation, but White broke a 64-yard run up the left side for the game’s first points. The two-point conversion was no good, and La Salle led 6-0.
“He’s so fast,” Wilson said of White. “We really didn’t have him for the first game, but we did have another kid [C.J. Waite] that’s at the varsity level now. They took him up, and he really stepped into his place.”
Hendricken went three-and-out on its next drive, and La Salle immediately came right back down the field until the Hawks’ defense held strong inside the five, forcing a turnover on downs.
Still, Hendricken struggled to move the ball again, as Binda broke off a 26-yard run on the first play of the ensuing drive but the Hawks couldn’t pick up another first down.
The game went into the half at 6-0, and though La Salle had moved the ball better than Hendricken, the Hawks had been a touch unlucky too. The Rams fumbled the ball three times and recovered all three, and Hendricken got its hands on two passes that could have been intercepted. One of those passes was tipped into the air and caught by White, who ended up with a 22-yard gain.
“I think in the first half we missed out on [three] fumbles and two interceptions,” Stringfellow said. “It didn’t bounce our way. Good teams take advantage of a ball bouncing.”
Coming out of the break, it was still a one-score game, but the Rams continued to assert themselves. They drove into the Hawks’ red zone again to begin the third quarter, only to turn the ball over on downs at the 13-yard line.
Yet Hendricken went three-and-out, and La Salle took over at the Hawks’ 36-yard line. The Rams didn’t waste the good field position. In nine plays they found the end zone, with Lopes capping the drive with a 3-yard touchdown plunge. White ran in the conversion, making it 14-0.
Then came the knockout blow. When Hendricken got the ball back, Mueller was hurt on a run up the middle. He didn’t return, as Justin Gist took over at quarterback, and an already struggling Hawks’ offense struggled even more.
They went three-and-out following the Mueller injury, and elected to punt. But Dante Baldelli – punting in place of the injured Mueller – had his punt blocked.
Hendricken forced another turnover on downs in the red zone, but then went three-and-out again and punted. La Salle took over at the Hawks’ 20-yard line, and Lopes hit James Picerelli for a 16-yard touchdown on fourth-and-6. Lopes found Elijiah McLean for the conversion, and at 22-0 the game was all but in the books.
The Hawks lost a fumble to start the next dive and La Salle finished the scoring with a 40-yard touchdown run by Farley. He ran in the conversion as well.
“It’s probably the best team I’ve ever had,” Wilson said. “Great kids, awesome team. We got the undefeated season, which we were shooting for.”
Hendricken had just seven total first downs in the game, four of which came on the first drive. La Salle, meanwhile, had 17 and racked up 361 yards of total offense.
Coming into the game, the Hawks knew a few things would have to break their way for them to be in the game. It didn’t quite work out that way, but Stringfellow was still proud of his team and what it was able to accomplish over the course of the season.
“The growth through the season was amazing,” Stringfellow said. “These kids had basically never played before. To put them together from where they started in August, and make it to the Super Bowl, it was quite a testament to the way they wanted to work and improve as a team.”