Wow. What an atmosphere for Rhode Island high school football.
Every single ingredient for an outstanding night for everyone there - the teams, the athletic complex, a heated rivalry based on genuine mutual respect, an overflow crowd totally into the game - was all there. Throw in the need for our guys to win in order to secure the #2 seed in the upcoming state playoffs and their shot at Rhode Island high school football immortality, the Rams' desperate need to win in order to secure a spot in the playoffs, MaxPreps showcasing this as one of the eleven games nationwide in its rivalry series, and a classic contest on top of all of it...and...well...
WOW. What a night.
Of course, The Network was there with full coverage, led by the outstanding play-by-play and analysis work of Cam Brennan and Stone Freeman. We even unveiled the new, official Network banner last night from high above the 50-yard line:
By game's end, it was cold - really cold. It's doubtful, though, that anyone actually noticed. The game had everyone's undivided attention. If we here at The Network ever have the opportunity to run "classic" games similar to ESPN, this will undoubtedly be one of the games that is shown over and over again.
The Hawks were coming off a tough 7-0 loss to top-seeded Barrington last Friday night, a game in which the Eagles did a magnificent job of running a ball-control offense in order to keep the ball out of the Hawks' hands and of putting a premium and trust in their defense. They executed both beautifully. The Hawks played smashmouth with them all night, but, in the end, came up just short. As a result, our guys entered this game needing to do two things: putting themselves back on the rails leading to the playoffs and securing the #2 seed. It's a pretty good bet that they either sensed or knew that it wasn't going to be easy, as the Rams entered the game in a win-or-go-home position, and, as Coach Pantaleo pointed out in this week's podcast, when you're faced with a rivalry game like this, all the other stuff - records, stats, matchups, etc. - go right out the door. It's a different game entirely.
Prophetic words. LaSalle came ready to play and did so on even terms for the full 48 minutes.
Operating out of an offensive formation that they used with success throughout the night, the Rams struck early and they struck fast, taking a 13-0 lead barely halfway into the first quarter on Kyron Lopes's 26-yard run for a touchdown, and then, following a Hawks' fumble, CJ Waite rumbled 14 yards and broke the plane again. The Rams failed to convert the extra point after the second TD. The Rams ran what appeared to be a basic, no-frills wildcat offense, with the quarterback/running back taking direct snaps and running the ball off tackle or around end. They made little to no use of any wide receivers, and the back taking the snaps varied, depending on the game situation and down-and-distance.
By the middle of the second quarter, a general shift in momentum occurred as a result of Matt Duffie's pick-6 for a touchdown and Remington Blue's 20-yard dash for a touchdown. Duffie's interception for a score can be seen here:
Remy put the Hawks in position to score the second time with this run,
...and followed it up with this touchdown run -
If you were either a LaSalle player, coach, or fan at halftime, you had to wonder what had just happened. For the majority of the first 24 minutes, you'd largely outplayed the Hawks, but you trailed, 14-13. It didn't seem to be a promising situation for the Maroon. If that was their mindset, however, they sure didn't let it show in the second half.
Our guys lengthened their lead to 21-13 about halfway through the third quarter on Pat Gill's 7-yard touchdown run, and at that point, it appeared that the momentum was clearly with the Hawks and that they were on the verge of putting the game away. A bit further along into the quarter, the Hawks pinned the Rams deep in their own territory, at their own seven yard line. Once again operating out of their basic wildcat, Keon Wilson broke through the Hawks' first line of defense and was off to the races, coming to a stop only when he had crossed into the end zone after a 93-yard run. The Rams went for the two-point conversion, which failed, but suddenly it was 21-19.
On Hendricken's next possession, QB Pat Gill rolled left, and, throwing against his body, attempted to hit one of his receivers in the flat; unfortunately, a Rams' defensive back read it perfectly, intercepted the pass and ran it back deep into Hawks' territory. Our defense stiffened and refused to allow the TD, but LaSalle converted the turnover into three points, and with the fourth quarter just underway, the Rams had the lead, the momentum, and most importantly, their confidence; this game no longer had anything to do with records and statistics. This was now a Rivalry Game.
The teams traded possessions for a large portion of the final quarter, both defenses refusing to give in. With less than two minutes remaining and the Hawks beginning what would most likely be their final possession at their own 47, it looked as though LaSalle would tough this one out, upset their archrivals, and keep their season alive. On first down, Pat Gill threw incomplete; on second down, however, he hit wide receiver Lee Moses on the left sideline. Lee did the rest, breaking a couple of tackles, keeping his balance, and managing to stay in bounds all the way to the house on a 53-yard scoring play. With about a minute-and-a-half to go, the Hawks had a 27-22 lead.
The Rams had one more shot, though, and a touchdown - no conversion necessary - would win the game.
They almost did it, methodically moving the ball into scoring position. The Hawks were there, though, to pick off the Rams' last-ditch attempt to score in the end zone, and with about 20 seconds to go, the game and all the potential heart attacks that were about to happen on the Hendricken side of the stands, were mercifully over.
Following the game, Coach Croft accepted the MaxPreps rivalry game trophy from organization officials and members of the National Guard and acknowledged what an incredible game had taken place as well as the tremendous atmosphere for high school football.
From here the Hawks have a bit of a break, with their only remaining regular season game being the annual inter-city Thanksgiving matchup against Toll Gate. They finish the D-1 regular season as the #2 seed with a 7-1 record, and including their opening-season win over St. Ray's in a non-league contest, go into the Thanksgiving game with an 8-1 record overall. The Rams are, quite obviously, a very, very good football team, but as a result of some unlucky breaks over the course of the season, finish their D-1 schedule out of the playoff picture.
So, in a couple of weeks, it'll be time to ramp up for the playoffs and a shot at history.
The Network will be there with the coverage.