NORTH PROVIDENCE --- For a team that hasn’t experienced many close contests this year, North Smithfield handled the pressure of Friday night’s Division IV nailbiter on the road with North Providence quite well.
The Northmen picked up a huge victory before a large crowd, a 27-21 overtime triumph, that not only spoiled the Cougars’ ‘Senior Night’ festivities, but also saw one of N.S.’s youngest players, sophomore receiver Peter Keenan, score the game-winning touchdown on a reverse handoff.
The Cougars had the first crack on offense in the extra session, which calls for each team to have the ball on offense on their opponent’s 10-yard line and get four plays to score. But N.P.’s series lasted just one play and resulted in an interception by cornerback Daniel Jordan, who picked off a pass by quarterback Joel Diaz at the five.
North Smithfield then took over on the 10, and after a handoff up the middle by fullback Chris Mancini picked up three yards and another inside handoff to tailback Paris Correia got three more yards, Keenan delivered on the very next play.
Keenan had a wonderful night on both sides of the ball. Not only did he haul in a 26-yard pass from Jordan to help set up the Northmen’s game-tying touchdown early in the fourth quarter, but he played well defensively and swatted away a pass by Diaz with 5:55 left in the game, the score tied, and the Cougars facing a fourth-and-5 on the N.S. 17.
Keenan also carried the ball six times for 82 yards, and his first five handoffs were on the same play as the one designed for him in overtime.
“It’s about calling the play at the right time,” said N.S. head coach Wes Pennington. “(In overtime), I saw the (defensive) ends kind of bunching in because we were running the ball up the middle a little bit, so I thought it might have been a good time to run it again, and it worked.”
While the victory boosted the Northmen’s playoff hopes and raised their division record to 3-2 (N.P. fell to 3-3), it was far for easy. The Northmen had to battle back from three deficits and contain an explosive offense that rolled into the weekend averaging 36 points per game.
“That was a great win,” said Pennington. “I can’t say enough about the victory tonight -- coming from behind, (North Providence) scoring a lot of points the way they score points and our defense holding them, and overcoming turnovers. They didn’t have any turnovers and we had three that we had to overcome, so I can’t say enough about the effort today.”
The Northmen looked like they were going to be in for a long night on the Cougars’ first drive of the night, a game-opening 15-play, 70-yard march to the end zone that absorbed seven minutes and 19 seconds off the clock and resulted in a 7-yard keeper by Diaz.
N.S. then tied the score with 5:33 to play in the first half on a 26-yard TD run by Correia, who ended up with 102 yards on the ground on 19 carries, but the Cougars managed to take back the lead before the break on a 12-yard TD pass from Diaz to Jabriel Ali with 40 seconds on the clock.
Both teams again swapped touchdowns to start the third quarter – the Northmen striking first on a nine-yard run by Keenan, and the Cougars answering back on a 2-yard carry by Ricardo Garcia.
But two plays into the fourth quarter, N.S. tied the score on a 3-yard dive up the middle by Mancini, who managed to get the nose of the ball over the goal line as he was getting tackled.
The Cougars had a golden opportunity to reclaim their lead midway through the final quarter, but when Keenan came up with his big defensive play and the hosts turned the ball over on downs, the Northmen found themselves with enough time to work the ball down the other end of the field and grab the lead.
In nine plays, they kept the ball on the ground and brought it to the Cougars’ eight, and Keenan picked up 38 big yards on the drive with another reverse handoff.
With seven seconds on the clock, Pennington called time-out and sent his kicker, Jacob Walkow, out to try a 25-yard field goal. But Walkow, who added the extra point on his team’s first three touchdowns, hooked his kick wide to the left by less than a foot.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Northmen over the next couple of weekends. Next Friday, they will host unbeaten Mount Pleasant (5-0), and the following weekend, second-place Central Falls (5-2) comes to town.
“It’s playoff time,” Pennington said with a smile. “That’s what we like. The way I see it, if we can finish this thing off, we’ll be playing our best football come playoff time, and that’s when you want to be at your best.”
NORTH SMITHFIELD, 27-21
North Smithfield 0 7 7 7 6 -- 27
North Providence 7 6 8 0 0 -- 21
NP – Joel Diaz 7 run (Igor Lima kick)
NS – Paris Correia 26 run (Jacob Walkow kick)
NP – Jabriel Ali 12 pass from Joel Diaz (kick failed)
NS – Peter Keenan 9 run (Jacob Walkow kick)
NP – Ricardo Garcia 2 run (Jabriel Ali pass from Joel Diaz)
NS – Chris Mancini 3 run (Jacob Walkow kick)
NS – Peter Keenan 3 run