Defense rises to the occasion
against West and Hendricken, when it scored 28.
Yet, when the two high-powered units met on the biggest stage, it was the Hawks’ defense that won out.
“We just believed in each other,” said senior Jarrid Witherspoon. “We stuck together and we showed today that we’re the best in the state.”
One adjustment that Green did make on defense was frequently shifting Witherspoon from defensive end to linebacker to get more size up front. It paid big-time dividends.
In the second quarter, with the Hawks trailing 13-10, lineman Michael Crisione got pressure on La Salle quarterback Anthony Francis from the backside, and Francis tried to flip a pass out to running back Josh Morris in the right flat.
Witherspoon was there. He tipped the ball into the air, caught it and raced 41 yards for a touchdown. Hendricken never trailed again.
“Mike Crisione got tremendous pressure on the backside on Anthony and hit him just as he was releasing the ball,” Hendricken head coach Keith Croft said. “Jarrid was in the right place at the right time. And that’s Jarrid. Athletic, and I think he’s one of the best linebackers in the state. He showed it.”
Witherspoon’s move to nearly full-time linebacker also helped with the run, as Hendricken held Francis – a First-Team All-State quarterback – to just 37 yards rushing, including only three yards in the second half.
At the same time, the Hawks also held All-State running back Josh Morris to 115 yards, only 17 of which came after halftime.
“We were focused on Francis and Morris obviously,” senior linebacker Marco DelVecchio said. “Just their speed and their ability to make plays – we had to contain them.”
Hendricken also excelled covering the pass. In the regular season meeting between the two teams, the Hawks had some blown coverages that led to a few big plays.
With three sophomores starting in the secondary, those types of growing pains were expected. But Hendricken was confident it could eliminate those problems the second time around.
Green cut out some of the exotic coverage schemes his team played initially and went to a more generic look. By simplifying everything, he cut down the risk.
“At least to the formation that hurt us the most, coverage-wise we took a lot of pressure off them,” Green said. “We played them back, let the other guys run. We played a real simple, basic coverage. We kept it simple. I got smarter after we got beat. I threw out the complicated stuff and brought out a simple gameplan.”
To go with the Witherspoon interception, Hendricken also forced Francis into a costly fourth-quarter throw that was picked off near midfield by senior Romario Rousseau.
On the day, Francis completed just seven of 21 passes. In the regular season meeting, he was 18-of-29.
“The gameplan was just to stay humble, because we made a lot of mental mistakes last time,” Rousseau said. “But if we corrected those, I felt like we could come out with a victory.”
It all added up to the best defensive performance the Hawks have had all season long, in the most important of moments. Just as it has for three years running, Hendricken’s signature unit rose to the occasion. La Salle’s 20 points was its lowest output of the season.
The Rams scored on just three of 12 possessions during the game, and went six straight without scoring at one point. They scored on a Francis touchdown run with 4:06 left in the second quarter to go up 13-10, and then didn’t score again until Francis threw a touchdown to Keon Wilson with just 2:16 remaining in the game. Between touchdowns, 25:50 of game time had elapsed.
And by the time La Salle did score it was too late for any comeback. The Hendricken defense had already done its part. It put forth a championship performance.
“We went base, we went vanilla,” Green said. “The only big difference was personnel. That was it. The kids just came ready to play. It’s amazing. I’m blown away.”