Above, Central Falls quarterback Malik Velasquez scans the field just before the snap during the third quarter.
NORTH SMITHFIELD -- Given the fact that this was a much easier verdict than he ever thought possible, North Smithfield High head coach Wes Pennington replaced his starting backfield with underclassmen Jake Palmer and Devon Deragon.
For the diminutive Palmer, he had the time of his life, both during and after the Northmen celebrated a stunningly simplistic 61-8 Senior Night triumph over Central Falls on Friday night.
Senior quarterback Mike Cicerone completed eight of a dozen aerials for 206 yards and three touchdowns and junior tailback Cody DeMarie hustled for 118 yards and two paydirts on only six handles to pace Penningtonâ€™s crew, which not only improved its Division IV mark to 4-2 (4-4 overall) but also secured a fourth consecutive postseason bid.
Once it was over, while the two squads huddled to head their mentorsâ€™ post-game speech, the lights at the Northmen Athletic Complex suddenly blacked out. Through cell phone lighting, Pennington shouted through the darkness, â€śCongratulations, playoff team!â€ť and his kids hollered with enthusiasm.
â€śWe wanted to attack their defense from the start,â€ť Pennington stated afterward. â€śWe thought we could throw the football on them, the reason being we noticed they blitzed their linebackers a lot. We figured that if we could get the ball off, weâ€™d have three receiving options open downfield.â€ť
Thatâ€™s just what happened, though the Northmen did take advantage of four interceptions from senior signal caller Malik Velasquez, all in the opening half. In the end, senior receiver Peter Keenan hauled in four tosses for 115 yards and two scores and classmate Matt Lachance three more for 74 and another TD.
Keenanâ€™s brother, junior tight end Mark, also snagged a pass for a score.
Still, it looked like it would be a battle from the start, as the Warriors (1-7, 1-6) drove 44 yards on 10 plays before North Smithfield forced them to punt from the hostsâ€™ 31. CF regained possession after allowing only one first down on the Northmenâ€™s first possession, but â€“ thanks to a Peter Keenan sack â€“ the Warriors had to punt the pigskin back.
On the very next snap, DeMarie took a handoff from Cicerone and raced 55 yard untouched for the first touchdown. Senior Dylan Narodowy, who chipped in 40 yards on nine carries, booted his first of seven PATS with 2:55 left in the opening period, and that opened the floodgates.
On the third play from scrimmage after that, junior safety Nate Palmer picked off a Velasquez toss and returned it 54 yards to the Warriorsâ€™ 1. Following a five-yard procedure penalty, beefy senior lineman Adam Souza plowed off guard from the 6, though Narodowyâ€™s point-after attempt was blocked by senior Erico Nobre.
Immediately after the ensuing kickoff, CF fumbled the return, and Peter Keenan recovered at the opponentâ€™s 41. Four plays later, on a halfback option pass, Narodowy found the elder Keenan open, and he completed the 56-yard â€ścatch and runâ€ť with :26.9 ticks left in the quarter.
A mere three snaps after that, after a Nobre 24-yard jaunt and Carlos Hernandezâ€™ 35-yard catch, Velasquez delivered a crisp six-yarder to Elijah Hamerick. Nobreâ€™s blast on the two-point conversion to close the gap to 20-8 on the final play of the quarter.
NS, however, erupted for 27 points in the second, courtesy of DeMarieâ€™s 17-yard spring around right end with 10:06 to go, Mark Keenanâ€™s 17-yard snag from Cicerone with six minutes remaining, and Lachanceâ€™s 19-yard grab from the same with 1:04 left, that after another pick.
Two plays after another kickoff, Narodowy intercepted Velasquez and sprinted it back 35 yards to the Warriorsâ€™ 11. On the very next call, Keenan hauled in Ciceroneâ€™s 11-yard aerial in the back left corner of the end zone to lift the Northmen to a 47-8 cushion at the break.
NS notched another paydirt on Ciceroneâ€™s one-yard sneak following a nine-snap, 74-yard possession on its initial drive of the third before Deragon sealed the verdict with a 15-yard TD hustle off left guard with 3:39 to play.
â€śWe had a great first drive, but we couldnâ€™t push it in; thatâ€™s been the tale of our season,â€ť sighed CF head coach Jeff Lapierre. â€śWeâ€™ll have some great gains, but we just canâ€™t finish. Unfortunately, we self-destruct, for whatever reason.
â€śThe inexperience really showed; weâ€™ll do fine from the 20 to the 20, but then something goes wrong,â€ť he added. â€śWe had two many turnovers (six in all), but the kids all showed a lot of heart here. The score was 47-8 at halftime, but they didnâ€™t quit. The guys were still screaming for the offense and defense from the sidelines â€¦ We have a ton of underclassmen, and â€“ when these boys get it â€“ who knows what can happen? Iâ€™m proud of them.â€ť
Central Falls 8 0 0 0 -- 8
North Smithfield 20 27 7 7 -- 61
NS â€“ Cody DeMarie 55 run (Dylan Narodowy kick)
NS â€“ Adam Souza 6 run (kick blocked)
NS â€“ Peter Keenan 56 pass from Narodowy (Narodowy kick)
CF â€“ Elijah Hamerick 6 pass from Malik Velasquez (Erico Nobre rush)
NS â€“ DeMarie 17 run (kick failed)
NS â€“ Mark Keenan 17 pass from Mike Cicerone (Narodowy kick)
NS â€“ Matt Lachance 19 pass from Cicerone (Narodowy kick)
NS â€“ Peter Keenan 11 pass from Cicerone (Narodowy kick)
NS â€“ Cicerone 1 run (Narodowy kick)
NS â€“ Devon Deragon 15 run (Narodowy kick)
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