CUMBERLAND - Oswald "Pepe" Torres sensed the ball was coming his way. When it did, the Woonsocket High senior leaped high in the air, caught the ball and ran 70 yards for a touchdown.
Torres interception return at the start of the fourth quarter of Thursday's Thanksgiving Day showdown versus host Cumberland turned into the crucial play of the day as the Villa Novans survived a hard-fought 14-0 verdict over the Clippers at Tucker Field.
The victory is the fourth straight for the Villa Novans, who are back on the field this Tuesday for a Division II semifinal contest at Chariho.
On paper, the Villa Novans were strong favorites to take home the coveted St. Germain Trophy with a win. Woonsocket finished second in Div. II-B with a 6-1 mark and had allowed just 20 points in its seven league games. Cumberland, which was eliminated from the postseason a few weeks ago, entered the tilt with a 3-4 record in Div. II-A.
But the Clippers, winners of five of their last seven games, stood toe-to-toe with the Villa Novans in a defensive battle between the two neighboring rivals that began from the opening whistle. Cumberland's defense limited the Villa Novans' offense to just 64 total yards with 42 coming on ground.
"Any time you get into tradition and kids playing with just passion, the records go out the window The emotion gets cranked up," said WHS coach Carnell Henderson, whose squad registered its seventh shutout of the season. "This Cumberland team came out here and the coach had them wound up. I think our guys came in thinking they were going to roll and they found out they were in a dogfight. To our guys credit, they kept fighting and we bent but we didn't break."
"Every game they played as hard as they could play," said CHS coach Chris Skurka, "The seniors on this team never quit. They played football like it's suppose to be played. They played because they love it; because there is nothing else they'd rather be doing. It speaks volumes what type of character these kids have. This Woonsocket team, we gave them absolutely the most physical game they have had all season."
Operating out of a wildcat formation, Cumberland's Ben Elliott took most of the snaps from the shotgun and finished with a game-high 102 yards on 21 handles. The Clippers managed to keep the Villa Novans' high-powered offense off the field more times than its accustomed to with just 32 plays in the four quarters.
"They didn't do anything that we didn't see that they wouldn't do," Henderson said. "They just played fundamentally tough football. I give that team credit and the coaching staff. They had their kids ready and did what they had to do. I'm not going to take anything away from our team because they fought as well. Any time you put up a doughnut, that means you did something well. We were able to make the plays when we needed to."
Both teams were guilty of their share of turnovers with a combined nine fumbles. But the Villa Novans also intercepted the ball four times with Torres' theft turning out to be the back-breaker in the tight contest, earning him the well-deserved MVP trophy.
With the Villa Novans holding a 7-0 edge after a two-yard run from junior Orlan Thomas with six seconds left in the second quarter, Cumberland got prime field position near the end of the third quarter at the Novans' 30 and looked ready to knot the score. But on a 4-and-7 from the 27 after recovering their won fumble, Clipper sophomore Trent Vasey unleashed a pass near the right sideline that Torres read perfectly, nabbing the ball in mid-air and then racing into the end zone for the final score.
"I sensed it," Torres said. "I knew someone was going to run the out. I have seen that same type of play plenty of times. I read it, intercepted the ball and ran fort the touchdown."
"Pepe has been a leader for us all season," Henderson added. "He's the defensive glue, We put him in several different places and he always seems to make the big play. The trademark of our team is we play defense and we don't turn the ball over. Well, today, we turned the ball over but we did play defense."
After a scoreless game, Woonsocket took its 6-0 lead into the half when Thomas hustled into the end zone. in their previous possession, the Villa Novans were threatening for a score, but on a fourth-and-5 at the Clippers' 8-yard line Mitch Gaboury intercepted a pass tossed by Woonsocket quarterback Kevin Reyes at the 6.
The Clippers weren't able to make good use of Gaboury's theft and were forced to punt after just five plays. With the ball at the the 13 after a rushed punt and a five-yard penalty by the Clippers, Woonsocket was able to put a number of the scoreboard before the half with a five-play drive. The key play in the drive came on a fourth-and-13 at the 15 when Reyes tossed a 13-yard aerial to senior Jessie Charette near the right sideline. On the next play, Thomas scored.
"It was fourth down, we had to get them off the field. We had done a decent job doing that previously," Skurka said. "Again, the kids made plays. He made a great catch on the sideline on a fourth-down play and that allowed them the ability to put the ball in before the half…That's how football goes. That's how it is. That's what happens."
Woonsocket will now prep for its showdown with Chariho on Tuesday. Even though his team's performance wasn't flawless on Turkey Day, Henderson was satisfied with the final result.
"At the end of the day, a win is a win," he said. "We'll take a 'W' but it's a lot of build on, a lot of mistakes made. But it was a lot of little mistakes that we can correct."
Woonsocket 0 7 0 7 - 14
Cumberland 0 0 0 0 - 0
W - Orlan Thomas 2 run (John Poirer kick)
W - Oswald Torres 70 Int. return (Poirer kick)
First downs 4 2
Rushes-yards 33-150 19-42
Passing 12 22
Sacked-yards lost 1-(-9) 2-(-16)
Net passing 12 22
Punts-average 2-27 2-29
Fumbles-lost 4-1 5-2
Penalties-yards 3-23 4-35
RUSHING: C - Tom Carroll 5-39, Ben Elliott 21-102, Gary Oliviera 1-0, Mitchell Baxter 1-(-5), Trent Vasey 1-(-9), Mo Allam 5-23. W - Jalen Evans 11-24, Kevin Reyes 4-(-3), Orlan Thomas 4-21, Jessie Charette 1-(-4).
PASSING: C - Ben Elliott 0-5-2 0. Trent Vasey 2-4-2 12. W - Kevin Reyes 3-12-1 22.
RECEIVING: C - Matt Lafredo 1-8, Ben Elliott 1-13. W - Orlan Thomas 1-1, Jessie Charette 2-21.