The Bishop Hendricken football team will be squaring off against rival La Salle this Friday night at Cranston Stadium in the Division I State Championship.
As we all know, the Rams pulled off the upset last season and put an end to Hendricken’s historic run of seven straight titles. The question coming into the 2018 fall was if and how that loss would affect the Hawks, and if Hendricken was actually human after all.
When considering the season that the Hawks have had, which includes an undefeated league record, and some big wins over top-tier teams like La Salle, North Kingstown, East Providence, and Cranston East, it is clear that Hendricken has moved on from last year, and is on a mission to prove that the Rams hit the lotto last November.
After covering a handful of Hendricken games this year, including the 2017 state title rematch at La Salle earlier this season in which the Hawks cruised to a 48-27 victory, it’s hard for me to see anything but a Hendricken win coming on Friday.
In terms of what I saw in the two clubs’ first meeting, I saw two good teams that had a competitive match up until the final quarter or so. The Rams were solid in all three phases for the first three quarters, and it looked like these two clubs may have each met their match.
However, as the game entered the later portion of the third quarter and into the fourth, the Hawks proved that they were the better team, and made it look easy in the final 20 minutes to be honest.
Although the Hawks are stout in all three phases, the offense has been the trickiest unit to figure out for opposing teams this year. Although teams like North Kingstown, Shea and East Providence were able to slow down the Hawks offense, none of them were able to hold Hendricken to under 20 points. There are just too many weapons, there is just too much versatility.
No one has really figured out quarterback Tom Comella yet. Sure, he is a little undersized, but his ability to escape the pocket and do damage is uncanny. Although he is not going to drop back in the pocket and pick you apart all night, he has shown the ability to throw with pinpoint accuracy on the move. He’s also blazing fast, so having to contain a talent like that has been hell for every team he has faced, and down the stretch the Rams were another team that fell victim of the puzzle.
Speaking of puzzles, there is also Angel Sanchez, who teams have also not been able to contain. He has truly been the queen of the chess board, and whether it is lining up as a halfback or lining up outside as a receiver, he is about as dangerous and athletic a player you will see in the state.
Israel Emmanuel has been a thumper in the backfield for the Hawks as well. He’s big, strong, unafraid to take (or give) punishment. Having the bruiser element has also been a great asset for the Hawks. Evan Rinaldi has also given them a solid option out of the backfield as well.
Let’s not exclude the unsung heroes of the offense in the line. Led by Georgia-commit Xavier Truss, the Hawks’ O-line has bullied nearly everyone it has faced. Whether it be run support or pass protection, this has been as good of a unit as the state has seen all season long.
Although the defense has been beat at times during the season, it always seems to come up with the big play or the key stop to put an end to the threat. Sanchez has been elite in the defensive backfield this season, and linebacker Nic Comella has also been a force, among others. La Salle had its moments against the Hawks defense in the first meeting, and I expect the Rams to produce once again. Will it be enough to keep up with the Hendricken offense though?
Hendricken also has the intangibles as well. Experience, mental toughness, physical toughness, a big crowd in the stands. The Hawks have been there and done that, and will not fold under the bright lights or the pressure that they will face on Friday.
Overall, I do not see this game being a blowout. To La Salle’s credit, the Rams also have had quality quarterback play from Nathan Lussier, and also have playmakers in all three phases. Like I said earlier, three of the four quarters were competitive.
Having said that though, I just do not see a way to shut down the Hawks offense. There is just too much talent, too much versatility, too much success to expect the Rams to hold Hendricken under 20 points.
Of course, I am not suggesting the Rams to concede its own defensive battle, but I think the only way to approach Hendricken is to attack the defense and try to be unpredictable. Cranston East came within arms reach of pulling off the upset, and it was because the Bolts were aggressive down the stretch, let the ball fly, and put trust in its playmakers.
Overall, I expect a competitive game, but a comfortable win for the Hawks. I expect a similar game script as well. It would not surprise me to see the score tied or close to it at the halftime break, but I expect the Hawks to come out strong in the second half and put the game away.
Prediction: Hendricken 34, La Salle 20