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WESTERLY â€” Itâ€™s a long 65-mile drive from Woonsocket to Westerlyâ€™s Augeri Field, but the Villa Novansâ€™ bus ride home from the southwestern point of the state on Saturday afternoon had to be a very enjoyable drive.
Thatâ€™s because the Villa Novans took a 19-18 overtime thriller from the previously-undefeated Bulldogs in their Division II-A clash, a hard-fought win that upped their league record to 2-1 and packed them into a congested three-way tie for second place (behind undefeated Johnston) with Westerly and Coventry.
Westerly forced overtime with a touchdown with 1:11 to go in regulation and scored another six points on the first possession of OT. But the Novans tied the contest on its turn in overtime on a six-yard TD pass (on fourth down) from quarterback Brett Bouchard to co-captain Kyle Mulvey, and then won the game on the all-important extra point by John Poirier.
â€śItâ€™s just good to win,â€ť remarked Woonsocket head coach Carnell Henderson. â€śYou know youâ€™re going to come in here and get a tough Westerly team. Theyâ€™re a tough physical team, and we saw that coming in, but itâ€™s just good to get a win.â€ť
The key to this victory was the Novansâ€™ bend-but-donâ€™t-break defense, which allowed 262 yards of offense, but forced a pair of turnovers (a fumble recovery by Josh Trinidad on Westerlyâ€™s first play of the contest and an interception by Nick Fernandes midway through the third quarter) and allowed the Bulldogs to only cross the Novansâ€™ 35-yard-line twice.
Only five of Westerlyâ€™s 43 plays went for more than eight yards, but their two longest â€“ passes of 48 and 29 yards from quarterback Phil Lynch to wideout Anthony Garro â€“ put the ball on the Novansâ€™ 1 and eventually resulted in 1-yard touchdown runs by tailback Adam Mitchell.
â€śThe defense played great,â€ť noted Henderson, whose team played turnover-free football. â€śOther than those two mishaps, we played a great football game.â€ť
Henderson also gave credit to his players in the trenches. The Villa Novansâ€™ offensive line did a good job keeping Bouchardâ€™s jersey clean and only allowed him to get sacked once (on the final play of regulation), and the defensive front limited the Bulldogsâ€™ ground game, which racked up over 200 yards in each of their first three games, to accumulate just 162.
â€śOur guys up front did a great job,â€ť said Henderson. â€śWesterly has a tough front, but offensive line did a phenomenal job controlling the front and our defensive line did a great job providing pressure.â€ť
The Novans scored their first touchdown with six seconds to play in the first quarter on a 24-yard pass from Bouchard to Will Andino, who did a great job reeling in the aerial in double coverage in the middle of the end zone.
But with 3:04 to play in the first half, the Bulldogs tied the score, as Lynchâ€™s long 48-yard pass to Garro resulted in Mitchellâ€™s first score of the afternoon.
In the opening minutes of the third quarter, the Novans again struck. A 55-yard punt return by Andino brought the ball to the â€™Dogsâ€™ 9, and after an illegal procedure penalty and 11-yard run by Evans, the Novans scored on a 3-yard run by Evans that he took around the right pilon.
The Novans, who missed the extra point on their first score, tried for the two-point conversion, but Bouchard completed a pass that only went for one yard.
The Bulldogs eventually struck for their late touchdown, and with less than three minutes to go in the contest, they benefited from Lynchâ€™s 29-yard pass to Garro, which nearly turned into an interception, but was tipped by two defensive backs before falling into Garroâ€™s hands as he fell backwards onto the Novansâ€™ 1.
Woonsocket then made two valiant goal-line stands to keep the ball on the 1, but on third down, Mitchell broke the goal line for a touchdown before getting tackled back on the 1.
Westerly then tried to claim the lead on an extra-point attempt by Dom Capizzano, but his kick sailed wide.
In overtime, the Bulldogs got the ball first on the 10 and reached the end zone on carries of 1, 8, and 1 yards by Mitchell, who finished the contest with 91 yards on 22 carries. Capizzano then again tried to deliver the extra point, but his kick was a line drive that deflected off a lineman and never came close to the uprights.
The Novans then went to work from the 10, but began their possession with an illegal procedure penalty that backed them up five yards.
Bouchard then lobbed a 2-yard pass to Dâ€™Andre Thomas, and after tossing an incomplete pass, he hit Mulvey with a 7-yard strike in the middle of the field, and on fourth down, found Mulvey all by himself in the right corner of the end zone to knot the game.
â€śMulveyâ€™s always there to make a play,â€ť added Henderson. â€śHe was definitely the go-to guy in overtime.â€ť
Poirier was then called on to boot the extra point and win the game, and his kick sailed straight through the uprights, setting off a spirited celebration by the Villa Novans and their coaches near midfield.
â€śThese guys are resilient, and thatâ€™s what we were looking to see going into the season,â€ť said Henderson. â€śWe have a lot of unknowns, but week after week, they just bounce back and keep practicing harder and getting better, and thatâ€™s all you can ask for out of a football team.â€ť
The Novans ended the game with just 153 yards of offense. Fifty came on 7-of-15 passing from Bouchard, while the rest came on the ground, with Evans picking up 77 yards on 22 carries and breaking loose for a 22-yard pickup early in the drive that led to Andinoâ€™s touchdown.