NORTH SMITHFIELD – All season long the Central Falls football team has played for Jose Figueroa, a 2011 graduate and dedicated four-year player who lost his life in a drowning accident this past summer.
From high above, he had to enjoy this one.
With their eyes clearly on the prize in Tuesday’s Division IV semifinal contest with host North Smithfield, the fourth-seeded Warriors jumped out to a 21-point cushion by the third quarter and then held off a spirited rally by the top-seeded Northmen in the second half to hold on to an emotional 25-17 victory.
During the opening coin toss, the Central Falls’ captains carried out the No. 4 jersey worn by Figueroa to honor their late teammate. After the game, C.F. coach Mo Jackson talked about how meaningful the victory was for him and his players.
“This one was a little special,” he said. “When we break it down, we usually say 1-2-3 team. Every game (this season) we have said 1-2-3 Jose ‘Fig’. Tonight he was up there watching us. He was the twelfth man on the field.”
The win earns the C.F. gridders a ticket to this weekend’s Super Bowl. It will be their first appearance in the championship game since winning it all in 2005. The Warriors will face Mount Pleasant on Sunday afternoon in the title contest at Cranston Stadium, beginning at 3 p.m. The Kilties defeated Smithfield in their semifinal game, also on Tuesday.
“It feels great, especially from this bunch of kids,” Jackson said. “There are mostly no-names. We don’t have a lot of superstars on this team. Our motto this year is to believe in yourselves and believe in each other and we’ll persevere and get better. That’s what happened. They believe in each other. They trust one another and this is the outcome of it.”
North Smithfield, which dominated the Warriors during the league season in a 27-6 rout on Nov. 11, looked impressive at the start of the game. On just the second play of the contest, two-way player Paris Correia intercepted a pass tossed by quarterback Brandon Canuto and returned it to the Warriors’ 18-yard line.
North Smithfield failed to get into the end zone, but still capitalized on the turnover with a 20-yard field goal by Jacob Walkow.
C.F. responded with a five-play, 32-yard drive that ended with Canuto spotting senior Larry Cruz with a 17-yard TD pass. The drive was set up nicely by a 40-yard kickoff return from Tyshon Ashe.
The Warriors, who held the edge in ball possession in the opening half, were able to take a 12-3 advantage into the break with another Canuto-Cruz score. This one, however, came with a little trickery. On a fourth-and-2 from the 38, Ashe took the snap, pitched it over to Canuto at the right sideline and then the QB fired a perfect pass to a wide-open Cruz, who hustled into the end zone untouched with 4:30 left.
“It was just a good, timely call for them,” said N.S. coach Wes Pennington. ”Our secondary guys were looking into the backfield and the guy got behind us.”
Jackson just felt the time was right, considering his top running back Josh Brandon had already put a big dent in the offense. The senior running back finished with 100 yards with nearly half of that total coming in the opening half.
“He is keyed on every game,” he said. “The kid has run for over 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns. Every time he gets the ball in his hand they sort of forget about everybody else. That’s what happens. They forget out him. We pitched it back to the quarterback and scored a touchdown. That’s the second time that that play has worked this year.”
The Warriors increased their lead to 25-3 midway into the third quarter, scoring twice in an 18-second span. Senior Joel Peralta capped off a seven-play, 83-yard drive with a 23-yard run. Brandon had 26 yards on three handles during the drive.
The back-breaker for the Northmen came on their first play from scrimmage when senior Senison Jimenez intercepted a pass tossed by back-up QB Justin York and returned it for a 59-yard score.
“That was probably the biggest play of the game,” Pennington said. “Had that not happened we are still playing right now.”
North Smithfield’s rally began late in the fourth quarter with Chris Mancini scoring on a one-yard plunge with 2:37 left. The Northmen scored again with 8:16 left in the fourth quarter on a 37-yard pass from starting quarterback Dan Jordan to Carlos Guzman to finish off an eight-play, 74-yard drive.
North Smithfield made one final push in the closing seconds, but Christian Brandon put an end to the threat with an interception at the one-yard line with 33 seconds remaining.
North Smithfield’s star running back Correia never made it into the end zone, but did finish the game with 110 hard-earned yards against a strong Central Falls’ defense.
Central Falls 6 6 13 0 - 25
North Smithfield 3 0 7 7 – 17
NS – Jacob Walkow 20 FG
CF – Brandon Canuto 17 pass to Larry Cruz (kick failed)
CF – Canuto 38 pass to Cruz (pass failed)
CF – Joel Peralta 23 run (pass failed)
CF – Senison Jiminez 44 interception return (Christian Brandon kick)
NS – Chris Mancini 1 run (Walkow kick)
NS – Dan Jordan 37 pass to Carlos Guzman (Walkow kick)