Football in June might not be traditional, but when the pads are on, there’s another team across the line and fans are in the stands, football is still football.
On Saturday, at the Rhode Island Football Coaches Association All-Star Game at Cranston Stadium, the two intra-state teams proved that, when they made the second annual game seem like it was a state championship game and not an exhibition game in the middle of the summer.
After a well-played first three quarters, tempers flared and the game spiraled out of control late in the fourth quarter when a benches-clearing altercation took place in front of the West bench after a late hit on Mt. Pleasant running back Randolph Zleh, who was playing for the West.
A scuffle ensued and the referees called the game with just under five minutes to play, giving the West a shortened – but earned – 27-17 victory.
“They were pushing, shoving,” said former Warwick Vets linebacker David MacDonald, one of four Warwick high school players who competed in the game. “We got our hits in too, but I had a feeling. Everyone runs their mouth and some people can’t control it. I didn’t know it was going to end like that. I wish it didn’t end like that.”
It did, though, marring what was an exciting game up to that point. The game was back-and-forth, with the West taking control in the second half largely due to the electric play of Zleh, who had two touchdowns and was named the West’s offensive Most Valuable Player.
Johnston’s Alex Tenerella was named the defensive MVP for the West, while Moses Brown quarterback Eric Cosmopulos was named the offensive MVP for the East and Exeter-West Greenwich’s Carl Neff was the defensive MVP.
MacDonald played on the East side, along with former Warwick Vets teammate Tim Hogan. They were joined by Pilgrim’s Nick Burns and Hendricken’s John Larkin. Hendricken’s Remington Blue – the MVP of the last two Division I Super Bowls – was injured during practice and attended the game for the East, but did not suit up.
It was a unique experience, one that allowed seniors from around the state to team up with their rivals, and also play football one more time before either heading off to college or putting their careers completely to bed.
“Nick Burns over there, he’s on Pilgrim,” MacDonald said. “Vets hates Pilgrim. But we became tight. It’s football. As soon as we got there, the chemistry flowed. Everybody got tight.”
The East team looked stronger in the first half, taking a 15-14 lead into the break thanks to a 25-yard touchdown strike from Cosmopulos to Portsmouth’s Travis O’Brien, and another touchdown pass from Cosmopulos, this one from 21 yards away to East Providence’s Austin Baptista.
West’s initial first-half score came in one of most frequent ways points were scored this football season, as the record-setting Cranston East duo of Alex Corvese and Marven Beauvais hooked up for a 21-yard touchdown in the first quarter. They later connected for a 70-yard score on a fade up the left sideline with 7:33 to play that put the West in front 27-17 to stay.
“It was fun playing with the kids from different divisions,” MacDonald said. “A lot of talent on the kids we played with. It was an awesome time.”
Zleh, meanwhile, provided West’s other points. He scored from 1 yard out in the second quarter to make it 15-14 going into the half, and he gave the West the lead for good early in the second half when he scored on a 49-yard touchdown run in which he made a number of East players miss on his way to the end zone.
Zleh also had two touchdown runs called back, including a 39-yarder in the third quarter in which he juked back and forth along the left sideline, only to see it negated for a holding call.
East’s final points – and only second-half points – came on a safety on the first play of the fourth quarter, when Corvese was taken down in the end zone. That made the score 20-17.
Five minutes later, Corvese’s bomb to Beauvais put the game out of reach, and put the finishing touches on the West win, as the referees ended it just three minutes later.
Still, it was a time that MacDonald and his East teammates won’t soon forget.
“We did really good,” MacDonald said. “From the beginning of the game we just came out. We had the fire, we were ready to go. Second half we had a couple of those little mistakes where [Zleh] got by us. A loss is a loss, there’s nothing you can do about it. But I think we played excellent.”