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WOONSOCKET â€” After winning consecutive Division II Super Bowls, head coach Carnell Henderson and Woonsocket are in the midst of a transition period.
The young and inexperienced Villa Novans are receiving a baptism by fire, while at the same time, trying to uphold the proud tradition that goes with being defending champs. Itâ€™s a club that has plenty of room to grow after absorbing a 35-6 hurting from Tolman High Saturday afternoon at Barry Field. It was a rematch of last Decemberâ€™s Div. II title game, won by the Novans, 28-14.
The loss leaves Woonsocket winless in three games and 0-2 in Division II-B. The Novans have been outscored by an alarming 95-14 margin, but you wonâ€™t hear any talk of panic leak from Hendersonâ€™s lips.
Why? Henderson understands that football is about the journey a team takes once training camp commences under the sultry August sun and lasts (hopefully) until the first weekend in December. In a time of struggles, the journey serves as a reminder that thereâ€™s still time to salvage the season in order to reach the lofty destination that past Woonsocket grid outfits have reached.
â€śWeâ€™re still on that journey,â€ť said Henderson outside the locker room. â€śWe have a long way to go, but if we can right the ship, weâ€™ll be fine.
â€śYou have to continue to coach them up and they (the players) have to believe in the system,â€ť Henderson continued. â€śYou continue to try and get better every single week. Weâ€™ll learn from it and try to pick up the pieces.â€ť
Where do the Novans go from here? Certainly itâ€™s tough to gauge when two of the clubâ€™s better players â€“ senior Jalen Evans and sophomore Dâ€™Andre Thomas â€“ donâ€™t dress and thus were unavailable. The injuries continue to pile up for Henderson after junior lineman Juan Rivera went down with an apparent ankle injury in the third quarter. Rivera was transported to the hospital.
â€śYouâ€™re talking about someone who was the starting running back in the Super Bowl. Thatâ€™s an impact player,â€ť said Henderson about Evans. â€śYou see the third-string running back break a couple of runs, but if heâ€™s the first-string guy, heâ€™s running away from everyone and score a touchdown. Injuries are a part of the game and weâ€™ve got to try and find a way to fix them.â€ť
A closer examination of Saturdayâ€™s encounter reveals that the Tigers controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Defensively, Tolman threw a myriad of different looks at Brett Bouchard as the Woonsocket quarterback spent a hearty portion of the afternoon running for his dear life. The pressure Tolman applied was relentless with Bouchard often faced with little choice but to rush his throws in order to avoid getting sacked.
Woonsocketâ€™s running game did have its moments, but without Evans and Thomas to shoulder the load, itâ€™s a unit that will continue to rely heavily on senior Kyle McKellick, who spoiled Tolmanâ€™s shutout bid with a one-yard score with 1:17 remaining.
From an offensive standpoint the Tigers were able to do whatever they desired. Quarterback Luis Rodrigues tossed two touchdowns covering 30 and 25 yards while a trio of tailbacks â€“ Andrew Gilbert, Homlin Taylor and Mory Keita â€“ found the end zone.
Tolman enjoyed a 21-0 lead as the second half got underway, but the Tigers were far from done. A three-and-out by Woonsocket gave way to a quick-hitting five-play, 64-yard scoring drive by the visitors that didnâ€™t even take two minutes off the clock.
The Tigers took a 35-0 lead into the final quarter after Keita burned the Novansâ€™ defense for a 78-yard score, the 10th time Woonsocket had surrendered a run of 10 yards or greater.
If thereâ€™s a silver lining to Woonsocketâ€™s tough start to the season, itâ€™s that thereâ€™s still ample time to get on track. The next opportunity arises this Saturday when the Villa Novans bus to Pariseau Field to face St. Raphael Academy.
â€śWe have a lot of work to do,â€ť said Henderson. â€śEvery time you get a chance to play, itâ€™s a learning process. Every time we come out here weâ€™re trying to get better. I thought we did some good things and the film will show them what they did wrong.â€ť