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WOOD RIVER JUNCTION â€” Chariho High got off to a very good start, but Woonsocket High pulled off a fantastic finish.
The Villa Novans scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns and saw their lights-out defense force the Chargers to turn the ball over on their final four series in a 21-7 semifinal-round victory on Tuesday night on the Chargersâ€™ turf that put them back into the Division II Super Bowl.
The defending champion Novans, who went into intermission down by a 7-0 score, will take on Division II-B rival Tolman High (a 25-12 winner over St. Raphael Academy in its semifinal-round affair) in Sundayâ€™s Super Bowl at Cranston Stadium. Game time is at noon.
â€śItâ€™s a great feeling,â€ť offered Woonsocket coach Carnell Henderson, whose team dropped a 6-0 verdict to the Tigers at the start of the season. â€śComing into the season, I donâ€™t think too many people had us being here, expect for that group thatâ€™s in that locker room. But they knew what they had and they knew what their goals were, and that was to go out on top, and these seniors will get the opportunity to do that on Sunday.â€ť
In order to get to Sundayâ€™s ballgame, the Novans had a tall task in Tuesdayâ€™s contest with the Chargers, who boasted plenty of size up front and played a very physical game with their visitors from start to finish.
To make matters tougher for the Villa Novans, they went into battle without the services of standout wide receiver Jessie Charette, who suited up for the duel, but didnâ€™t play because of shoulder soreness he suffered in last weekâ€™s Thanksgiving Day battle with Cumberland High.
â€śWe knew they were going to be a tough physical football team and we had to match their intensity,â€ť admitted Henderson. â€śWe were a little banged up from Thanksgiving, and not having Jessie kind of made us do some things differently. But once we settled in and had an idea of what we were doing, we sucked it up and played football the way itâ€™s supposed to be played.â€ť
Before anybody could get settled in the bleachers, the Chargers scored their touchdown on just the third play of the game. Speedy wide receiver Marco Jones grabbed a short screen pass from quarterback Jansen Williamson and broke loose for a 73-yard sprint to the end zone.
â€śThe kid just slipped out there, made a great play, and took it to the house,â€ť said Henderson. â€śHeâ€™s faster than I thought he was.â€ť
The Novans did their best to tie the score before the break, and on three of their five possessions, they were able to get the ball past the Chargersâ€™ 35.
But Novans quarterback Kevin Reyes, who tossed three interceptions in the first half, tossed two when Woonsocket had the ball on the Chariho 12 and 34, and the Novans also turned the ball over on downs on the Charger 25.
But on the first series of the second half, the Novans got on the board on a four-yard touchdown run by Jalen Evans that capped a quick seven-play, 61-yard drive that was ignited by a 26-yard pass from Reyes to Geo Heredia.
The Villa Novans then tried to knot the score with the extra point, but John Poirierâ€™s kick was deflected by a Charger lineman and sailed a few feet short of the crossbar.
But Woonsocket finally took the lead two minutes into the fourth quarter on a 49-yard touchdown pass from Reyes to Edwin Jones, followed by a two-point conversion pass from Reyes to Oswald Torres.
Reyesâ€™ long pass looked like it was going to be an interception at the hostsâ€™ 10 by free safety Jesse Dolbey, who stepped in front of Jones and jumped up to grab the ball. But when he came down with the ball, Jones ripped it out of his hands and raced with it to the end zone.
Armed with a seven-point lead, the Villa Novans defense stepped up big and forced the Chargers into four of their six turnovers in the game. Torres had two interceptions, Reyes had another, and Kyle McKellick added a fumble recovery.
â€śGuys stepped in and made plays and thatâ€™s what weâ€™re all about,â€ť admitted Henderson, who praised the defensive efforts of Joe Rodriguez, Torres, and Heredia. â€śThatâ€™s what our defense has done all year. They continue to keep us in the game and we continue to try to keep plugging.â€ť
The Novans made it a two-possession game with 5:11 on the clock on a 20-yard touchdown run by Jones, followed by the extra point by Poirier.
Reyes battled back from his shaky start to complete half of his 18 passes for 148 yards, the bulk of them to Heredia, who caught six passes for 87 yards. Evans led the Novansâ€™ ground game with 102 yards on 24 carries.