For one half of the 13th annual Governor’s Cup football game on Saturday, the Rhode Island team looked every bit like Connecticut’s equal.
That was until the third quarter, where Connecticut flexed its muscles and left no doubt about the difference between the two states.
Rhode Island went into the break down only 10-6, but turned the ball over on its first two plays of the second half. Connecticut turned both of those takeaways into touchdowns, and it ran away with the game 37-6 at Southington High School’s Fontana Field.
It was the ninth straight victory for Connecticut in the yearly all-star game between the two states.
“I feel like if we just kept up the intensity and the level of play we had in the first half we could have made it closer or even pulled it off,” Hendricken’s Mark Vargas said. “But it just didn’t work out for us.”
Vargas was one of six players from Warwick schools on the Governor’s Cup roster, five of whom were from Hendricken. But there was little any of them could do to prevent the Connecticut onslaught.
Connecticut started the second half with the ball, and two plays into its drive, Montrell Dobbs had a highlight reel 77-yard touchdown run to get the scoring started. Dobbs finished with 96 yards on 10 carries and was named Connecticut’s offensive MVP.
Looking to answer right back, Rhode Island handed the ball to Exeter/West Greenwich’s Al Georgio on its ensuing possession, but Georgio took a crushing hit at the line of scrimmage and fumbled the ball.
Connecticut recovered, and two plays later, Max DeLorenzo ran 15 yards for his team’s second touchdown is less than two minutes.
And it got even worse.
On the first play of its next drive, Rhode Island and former St. Raphael quarterback Trevor Vasey was picked off by Jack DeBiase.
Five plays afterwards, Joe Della Vecchia found Brian Kelly for a 20-yard touchdown. Matthew Cassidy missed the extra point, but not even five minutes into the second half it was 30-6 Connecticut.
“It’s tough. I think there was no doubt that we wanted the game as much as they did, but I’m not going to lie and say we have more pure talent – because they do,” Vargas said. “We came here and we played hard.”
The Rhode Island offense was stagnant for the remainder of the game. It accumulated just two total yards of offense after halftime and only one first down.
Part of the reason for that was the deficit, as Rhode Island had to take to the air and try to force the issue if it had any hope of climbing back into the game.
When the mid-range passing game wasn’t working, there wasn’t much else to go to.
“The play calling was just try to score as quick as possible,” Hendricken’s Rob Manning said. “But they have great athletes, so you can’t just try and run by them, especially when they know they can play at 15 yards back.”
Manning was one of the bright spots on the Rhode Island team, as he caught four passes for 63 yards.
All of his receptions went for first downs, causing Connecticut to have to shift their defensive strategy to try to slow him down.
“After the first few catches they started to double-team me,” Manning said. “I’d have a linebacker and then behind the linebacker would be a safety. I just had to get behind the press coverage.”
Most of Manning’s production came in the first half when, not coincidentally, Rhode Island was having success moving the ball.
Rhode Island opened the game with a 12-play, 71-yard drive that resulted in a 26-yard field goal from Chad Bacon and a 3-0 lead.
Manning had three catches on that drive, including a 15-yard grab on Rhode Island’s first play from scrimmage.
“At the beginning, we knew short passing was our thing,” Manning said. “We have efficient wide receivers who catch the ball.”
Connecticut tied the game with 9:49 remaining in the second quarter on a 33-yard field goal from Matthew Cassidy. It then took a 10-3 lead on a 59-yard touchdown pass from Della Vecchia to Nainy Bah. Rhode Island’s final points came on a booming 49-yard field goal off Bacon’s foot with 20 seconds left in the half.
The final touchdown of the game was scored on a 14-yard pass from Kyle Nolan to Kelly late in the fourth quarter.
Manning was Rhode Island’s leading receiver, while Vasey was the team’s leading passer with 112 yards while completing 13 of 22 attempts. Shea’s Fred Gobewole was Rhode Island’s leading rusher with two carries for 22 yards.
Vasey was named offensive MVP, while East Providence’s Dana Andrade was named defensive MVP. Connecticut’s Willie Maxen was its defensive MVP.
The Hendricken players besides Manning – Vargas, Tim Burnett, Stanley Sainterlien and Mike Lippe – also contributed heavily. Vargas, Lippe and Sainterlien played linebacker and helped out on special teams, while Burnett created havoc from his spot at defensive end, and was one of the defense’s top players.
Toll Gate’s Zach Furtado played a role as well, seeing time at tight end and on special teams.
And despite the outcome of the game, it was still an experience the players won’t soon forget.
“I’m thrilled that I played in it,” Manning said. “I was debating whether or not to play in it. You can always get injured, but that’s football. I’m thrilled that I played in it. It was a great time.”
It was simply a great way, win or lose, for the 51 players to cap their high school careers.
“It was a great time,” Vargas said. “Meeting new guys that I played against on the field, it’s interesting to meet them in person and play with them. It was great making new friends that I’m going to keep in touch with for a while. And it’s two weeks of practice for football, so you can’t beat that.”