PROVIDENCE — Through film study, North Smithfield High head coach Wes Pennington attempted to warn his players of the peril they were bound to face Saturday afternoon at Adams-Clanton Morgan Football Field.
Alas, what the Northmen saw on video came to life right before their very eyes.
With four touchdowns that were seemingly carbon copies of each other, Delonce Wright and his Hope High teammates sailed to a 28-10 triumph over N.S. in the Division IV opener for both squads. Wright found the end zone on runs covering 80, 58 and 15 yards and hauled in a 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matthew Santiago-Lebron.
What made Wright’s banner day so incredibly frustrating for Pennington and his coaching staff was the fashion in which the Blue Wave senior captain torched the Northmen’s defensive unit. Every score was nearly identical in that Wright would start out in the backfield before making his way to the left edge.
Once he reached the perimeter, Wright summoned an extra gear that allowed him to break through any North Smithfield defenders that happened to be in the speedy tailback’s vicinity. Truth be told, Wright’s first touchdown – coming directly on the heels of the visiting Northmen striking first for a 7-0 first-quarter lead – should have been a tackle for negative yardage. Instead, Wright was able to break free of a leg-tackle bid and dart his way past the N.S. bench for an 80-yard scamper that was a preview of coming attractions – disappointing ones if you’re the Northmen.
“We practiced that play all week long and showed the guys on film,” Pennington sighed as he prepared to board the bus for the long drive back to school. “It wasn’t anything tricky. It was about coming out and making a play and we didn’t do that.”
All the positives the Northmen sustained on a sun-splashed day occurred following the opening kickoff. Marching 80 yards on 10 plays, quarterback Dan Jordan rolled away from the pressure before looking up to find Matt Walkow all by his lonesome in the right corner of the end zone. The 10-yard scoring hookup made it 7-0 North Smithfield as Cam Stone tacked on the extra point.
Wright’s big run meant North Smithfield’s offense went back to work at 6:03 of the opening quarter, exactly 62 seconds after the aerial connection between Jordan and Walkow. Once again, the Northmen moved the ball free and easy with senior Paris Correia ripping off a series of substantial gains that allowed the visitors to push deep into Blue Wave territory. The third play of the drive saw Jordan take a broken play and scamper for six yards, yet the lack of protection was hardly a concern.
On that same play, senior offensive lineman Ryan Nelligan went down, immediately grabbing his left leg. What was originally believed to be cramps became a more serious matter after the ambulance was summoned. The game was halted for nearly 20 minutes as the Northmen went back out minus one of their key stalwarts up front.
Correia came out of the extended break and ripped off a 12-yard surge down to the Hope 7-yard line. The next three snaps saw North Smithfield go backwards as Jordan was nailed for an eight-yard loss while a holding call made it third-and-goal from the 20. An 11-yard scamper by Jordan allowed Stone to attempt a field goal from a short distance as the senior kicker was pure from 20 yards away. That made it 10-6 North Smithfield.
The rest of the game belonged to the home team. Hope took its first lead 59 seconds into the second quarter with Wright taking a toss sweep and burning North Smithfield from 58 yards out. The Blue Wave’s defense jumped into the act, forcing the Northmen into a three-and-out that featured a one-yard run by Correia, a near interception and a dropped pass that would have been good for a first down.
With momentum clearly on their side, the Blue Wave wasted little time in pinning the Northmen into a deeper hole. A leaping 30-yard grab by Hope’s Johnson Weah set up shop at the North Smithfield 17. Two players later, Wright – you guessed it – found plenty of daylight on the outside for a 15-yard score that made it 22-10.
Want to understand how the final three quarters were a complete 180 from the Northmen’s output during the opening 12 minutes? North Smithfield picked up six first downs in the first quarter, just four over the last three. Correia racked up 90 rushing yards on 10 handoffs in the opening stanza with 28 yards on 12 carries materializing over the final three quarters.
Through everything, including the six penalties that cost North Smithfield 60 yards, Pennington noticed a different squad following the unfortunate circumstances that felled Nelligan.
“Whenever there’s a long injury, there’s always a fear that the momentum’s going to switch,” noted Pennington. “You hope you can keep it, but we weren’t able to keep the momentum.”
Any hope the Northmen had of mustering a comeback fell by the wayside early in the third quarter. Poor recognition in the punt-return game resulted in a 72-yard punt by Hope that pinned N.S. at its own 2. The Northmen were able to advance out of the shadow of their own end zone, but a Correia fumble – the result of a missed blocking assignment that allowed a Hope defender to close in sooner than anticipated – gave the Blue Wave excellent field position at the Northmen 27.
For good measure, Wright took a swing pass that covered 16 yards for the touchdown. The Correia fumble was the game’s lone turnover.
If there’s any solace North Smithfield can take, it’s this: the Northmen fell to the Blue Wave in last season’s league opener before regrouping to win the regular season title. Reminded of said occurrence, Pennington said, “There’s a long season ahead.”