It’s rarely been easy, but over the past three years there hasn’t been a more surefire bet than the Bishop Hendricken football team in the postseason.
On Tuesday, the Hawks simply did what they do. Playing a red-hot Portsmouth team in the Division I semifinals, the No. 2 seeded Hawks got a monster game from senior quarterback Patrick Gill and scored on three straight second-half possessions to pull away from the No. 3 Patriots in a 36-15 victory.
Hendricken advanced to the D-I Super Bowl for the fifth consecutive year, and the Hawks will be searching for a record fourth consecutive state championship. They’ve now won seven straight playoff games, a Division I record.
They’ll be taking on No. 4 seed Cranston East, which upset top-seeded Barrington in the other semifinal. That game is set for Sunday at 12 p.m., at Cranston Stadium.
“It never gets old,” said Hendricken head coach Keith Croft.
Tuesday was just the newest chapter in what has been the greatest stretch of football in program history. Gill was the star of the show.
The senior, in his second season under center, completed 5-of-6 passes for 169 yards and three touchdowns, while running eight times for 112 yards plus a touchdown. He threw a 50-yard touchdown to senior Mike Scarcella on Hendricken’s first drive of the second half, then ran 60 yards for a touchdown on the Hawks’ second drive, sealing the game before the fourth quarter even started.
“I thought he had a really good game,” Croft said of Gill. “His passing was there, but he ran the ball really well tonight. He bailed us out with a few big runs.”
The pressure was on Gill from the start, as Portsmouth made a concerted effort to take away running back Remington Blue and receiver Lee Moses. Blue and Moses both had big games against the Patriots in the regular season, a 41-21 Hawks win, and Portsmouth was determined not to let that happen again.
The Patriots packed eight and sometimes nine men in the box to stop Blue, and put star defensive back Matt Sewall outside on Moses. That meant other players had to step up.
Gill found Scarcella for two touchdowns, the first of which went for 95 yards and was a crippling blow to the Patriots hopes in what was an otherwise tight first half.
“We talked about it during the week, how they put Sewall on (star Cranston East receiver Marven Beauvais) so they would probably put him on Lee, and if they did that it would open up the middle of the field, or just open up Mike Scarcella as a wide-out,” Gill said. “We just went to it and attacked it and came out with good results.”
Gill also found Mitch Lucci for a 9-yard touchdown in the first half, as the Hawks were perfectly content to go away from Blue and Moses if they had to. Blue had just 40 yards on 16 carries, while Moses had one catch for eight yards.
“Lee is a great player,” Scarcella said. “But the thing about our team is that we are actually a complete team. We don’t have one guy that shines above. Remy Blue, obviously, is fantastic. Pat Gill, fantastic. The O-line, unbelievable. Mitch Lucci. We have the best defense in the state. It’s not one guy.”
Still, the game was close for a while. Hendricken got a 33-yard field goal from Robert Campbell on its opening possession – the team’s first made field goal of the season – and then held Portsmouth to a field goal attempt on its possession, which Andrew French missed wide left from 24 yards out.
The teams traded punts from there, with Portsmouth’s punt pinning the Hawks at their own 5-yard line early in the second quarter. Field position, however, wasn’t a problem.
Gill dropped back on the first play of the drive and lofted a fade to Scarcella on the right side. He leaped and caught the ball near his own 40-yard line while a Portsmouth defender fell down, and Scarcella raced the rest of the way for a touchdown. The extra point was no good and Hendricken led 9-0.
“I said to them before the game, ‘Some other guys are going to have to step up,’” Croft said. “And Mike did. I’m happy for him, because he’s a senior. He’s had a lot of big games over the years.”
Hendricken forced another punt on Portsmouth’s next possession, but the Patriots snapped the ball over their punter’s head, resulting in a turnover on downs. The Hawks returned the favor with a miscue of their own, as Blue fumbled on Hendricken’s next play to give the ball back to Portsmouth.
But the Patriots again couldn’t get anything going. With Sewall under center – as one of the best players in the state – Hendricken forced a turnover on downs on Portsmouth’s 24-yard line. Three plays later, Gill found Lucci on a 9-yard out pattern for another score, making it 15-0 with 34 seconds left in the half.
Hendricken was in control, but Portsmouth nearly cut into the deficit before the end of the half. On the ensuing kickoff, Sewall fielded the ball and exploded through the first level, breaking it up the right sideline for a 68-yard return. He was forced down on Hendricken’s 11-yard line with 22 seconds left in the half.
Armed with a shot at a big score, Portsmouth ran Sewall for minus-four yards on the first play and then followed with three consecutive incompletions to end the half.
“It would have been a little nerve-wracking, but we have such a great coaching staff that they have prepared us in every possible situation,” Scarcella said. “We have done so much study, we knew how to play everything. We were not surprised.”
Still very much in it, though, Portsmouth came out in the second half and immediately got on the board. Sewall capped a four-play drive with an acrobatic 27-yard touchdown run. The extra point made it 15-7.
Yet the Hawks were far from panic mode.
“We just had to convert,” Gill said. “If you don’t convert you put them right back in the game.”
Convert, they did. On the fourth play of the next drive, Gill found Scarcella deep up the middle, and again the Portsmouth defender couldn’t keep up. Scarcella caught the ball and cruised untouched into the end zone. Campbell’s extra point made it 22-7.
Down two scores, Portsmouth drove the ball down to Hendricken’s 23-yard line on the next possession only to have running back Travis O’Brien fumble it away.
Sensing that the Patriots were on the ropes, Hendricken ground out two first downs – both third-down conversions – before Gill got loose up the middle and went all the way to the end zone from 60 yards away. The extra point made it 29-7 with one minute to play in the third.
“I broke it from a great trap block by Nick Mariano and then a down block by [Tyler Champlin],” Gill said. “I went to the middle of the field. I saw Lee Moses to the left and nobody to my right, so I knew I was safe once I saw Lee by my side.”
Portsmouth turned the ball over on downs on its next possession and on Hendricken’s first play Gary Gibbs rumbled 35 yards for the final Hawk points. Sewall added a 6-yard touchdown run late to cap the Patriots’ scoring.
Sewall ended his career with one of the better seasons in Rhode Island history, as he was the focal point of nearly everything the Patriots did. He ran the ball 30 times on Tuesday for 215 yards and two touchdowns.
“I can’t say this enough – I’ve been coaching and playing over here a long time, and he’s the biggest warrior I’ve ever seen,” Croft said. “He just never stops. He gets knocked down, he gets back up. He gets knocked down, you think he’s hurt, he gets back up. He’s got a huge heart.”
The Hawks out-gained Portsmouth 378-311 in the game, but more importantly out-scored the Patriots by 21.
Once again, Hendricken is Super Bowl bound. No team in Rhode Island football history has won four consecutive Super Bowl championships.
“I can’t wait,” Scarcella said.