PROVIDENCE — North Smithfield’s resurgent football program took a step backwards on Saturday afternoon, turning the ball over five times during an 18-10 loss to Hope High.
“Extremely frustrating,” Northmen coach Wes Pennington said when asked to describe what he had just seen. “We fought hard but you can’t win football games turning the ball over like that.”
Fresh off a season-opening 55-26 romp over Burrillville, the Northmen entered their Division IV opener seeking to maintain the momentum built by the 2010 squad that qualified for the playoffs with a 6-2 league record.
Hope also made the playoffs last year and returned “a real good group of seniors,” according to coach Michael Gibbons. Those seniors played a key role in Saturday’s outcome.
North Smithfield’s biggest turnover came early in the fourth quarter, right after Hope had taken a 12-7 lead. The Northmen hit on a 23-yard pass from Dan Jordan to tight end Peter Keenan, putting the ball near midfield. Halfback Paris Correia then ran for 21 yards. An encroachment penalty on Hope put the ball at the Blue Wave’s own 28-yard line. Momentum had clearly swung in North’s direction.
On first-and-five, Jordan dropped back from center and tried to flip a screen pass to Correia in the right flat. Correia, however, was a yard behind his QB and the ensuing missed connection on the short pass became a live ball. Hope’s Johnson Weah, arguably the best player on the field, beat Correia to the football, picked it up and ran 59 yards, all the way down to the 13-yard line. Halfback Delonce Wright needed just two carries to push across the game’s decisive score.
North Smithfield responded with an efficient drive culminated by Jacob Walkow’s 36-yard field goal with 3:38 left in the game, cutting the deficit to a doable 18-10.
The Northmen then rose up on defense to force a punt.
This is where Weah, a senior, hurt the visitors again, sending his boot 46 yards down the field to North’s six-yard line. Jordan and Correia and company never had a chance as the Blue Wave defenders swarmed through the line of scrimmage for two sacks in the final minute of the game.
North Smithfield began the game gaining 14 yards on its first two carries. Correia got six and then Jordan scrambled for eight yards after missing an intended handoff to Mancini in the backfield.
On first down from North’s own 39, Jordan and Mancini proceeded to botch another handoff, putting the ball on the ground. Hope’s Corey Brinkman recovered at the 37 and the Blue Wave covered the remaining distance in six plays with Wright scoring from 25 yards out for a 6-0 lead.
North turned the ball over on downs on its next possession. It fumbled the ball away at midfield with 45 seconds left in the first quarter. Jordan was intercepted midway through the second quarter, then saw his desperation pass at the end of the half just elude the outstretched hands of Keenan at the end zone flag for what might have been a stunning last-second touchdown.
It was that kind day for the Northmen.
“We can run that screen pass 50 times in practice and get it right every time,” Pennington said. “Maybe today was just one of those days. The kids get a little tired and the timing for a handoff or a pass is thrown off. One of our fumbles today was the quarterback’s fault. Another was the fullback’s fault. We have to do a better job than we did today. That’s the bottom line.”
North’s lone touchdown drive came early in the third quarter. Correia, who rushed 18 times for 171 yards, began the possession by sweeping right end and cutting back across the field for a 33-yard gain. Four plays later, the hard-running junior raced 20 yards into the end zone to tie the game at 6-6. Walkow’s extra point gave North its only lead of the day.
Hope went back ahead 12-7 on a 52-yard scoring drive early in the fourth quarter. A 27-yard run by Richard Collins got the ball to the 25 and teammate Delonce Wright covered the rest on the next play.
North Smithfield will visit Smithfield this coming Friday night. Smithfield dropped a 29-0 decision to Central Falls in its league opener this past Friday evening.