NORTH SMITHFIELD – North Smithfield is heading back in the Division IV playoffs, and the Northmen earned their return trip the hard way – with a five-game win streak loaded with victories over the division’s top teams.
The Northmen celebrated their ‘Senior Night’ and officially stamped their ticket to the postseason on Friday by putting away the division’s top scoring team, Central Falls, by a 20-6 score.
Junior tailback Paris Correia went over the 1,000-yard mark on the ground by rushing for 143 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries for the Northmen, who raised their record to 5-2 and have a very easy contest against winless Scituate awaiting them in their regular-season finale on Thanksgiving Day.
But the real story of the night was the exceptional defense turned in by the Northmen, who held the Warriors to a season-low 182 yards and picked off 1,200-yard passer Brandon Canuto three times.
The Warriors entered the game averaging 32.1 points and nearly 350 yards of offense per game, but the Northmen rose to the challenge and kept them off the board until Canuto hit wide receiver Christian Brandon with a five-yard touchdown pass with 6:15 left in the game.
“(C.F.) has been averaging over 30 points a game,” added N.S. head coach Wes Pennington, whose team was coming off a huge win over previously-unbeaten Mount Pleasant, and a few weeks before that, downed defending champ Exeter/West Greenwich. “To shut them down is huge for our defense. They did an awesome job.”
While the victory landed the Northmen back in the playoffs, the loss ruined the playoff-bound Warriors’ chances at landing a possible No. 2 seed in the opening round of the playoffs on Tuesday, Nov. 29.
“The way we played, we won’t go any further (than the first round),” added C.F. coach Mo Jackson. “This is the worst that we played the entire season.
“I’m not taking anything away from North Smithfield because they played a very good game, but we just didn’t play well at all. We didn’t execute and we shot ourselves in the foot.”
The Warriors shot themselves in the foot on their very first possession when they turned the ball over on the N.S 25 and the Northmen responded with an eight-yard touchdown run by Peter Keenan with 4:27 left in the first quarter.
Another turnover midway through the second quarter gave N.S. the ball on the Warriors’ 41, and again, the Northmen turned it into points when Carlos Guzman scored on a seven-yard reverse handoff and Jacob Walkow kicked the second of his three extra points to make it a 14-0 game with 39.9 seconds left in the half.
Correia’s touchdown came on a one-yard plunge into the end zone 1:36 into the final quarter, and after Brandon gave the Warriors their points with his touchdown grab, Chris Mancini capped the Northmen’s scoring with a one-yard TD run with 2:04 left in the game.
Mancini, who was one of the Northmen’s seniors honored before the game, ended up rushing for 80 yards on 14 handoffs. Josh Brandon, the Warriors’ 1,000-yard fullback, was C.F.’s workhorse and lone bright spot offensively, picking up 115 of his team’s yards on 26 carries.
While the Northmen are expected to take care of business with Scituate on Thanksgiving, they will surely keep another eye on another holiday contest between Smithfield (5-2) and North Providence (4-3).
If the Sentinels, who beat N.S. earlier in the season, eliminate the Cougars from postseason consideration, they will land the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and N.S. will be the No. 3 seed. But if the Cougars win, the Northmen will earn the second seed and land a home game in the first round.
“We just have to hope that things work out for us on Thanksgiving where we can come back home and play a playoff game here,” remarked Pennington. “That was our goal at the beginning of the year, and right now, I think we’re playing very good football, so I’m excited.”