WOONSOCKET — Carnell Henderson admitted his Woonsocket High players were more than down-in-the-mouth about suffering a 43-6 pasting to powerhouse Johnston in its Division II opener last week, but claimed they seemed ready to move on during workouts this past week.
He called the quintet of practice sessions “very good” for a variety of reasons, but one kept coming to the fore.
“They were humbled” against the Panthers, he said, “and they worked hard this week. I still didn't know how they were going to respond. We have a group of guys who don't have a lot of game experience, but they are very talented; they also have a lot of energy. We were anxious to see what would happen.”
It would be a massive understatement to say Henderson and his staff were more than anxious to watch the game film of what transpired on Saturday afternoon.
Woonsocket's offense tore up the Barry Field turf, amassing 417 ground yards on 34 tries, and its defense forced four fumbles (two lost) to shred Warwick Vets, 35-6, before an enthusiastic crowd of perhaps 250.
Senior Jalen Evans led the dance party with 185 yards and a pair of paydirts on just 16 handles, while junior D'Andre Thomas – who saw minimal time due to a stomach bug – ran for 75 yards and a TD on just one carry.
Thomas' replacement, sophomore Jaston Robinson, mustered 91 yards on 11, while junior Will Andino chipped in 66 more on seven. That, of course, doesn't count his two kickoff/punt returns for 130 yards and a score, or two receptions for another 42.
All told, Andino was responsible for 238 all-purpose yards.
“Seeing how they would react to playing a solid Warwick Vets team was actually a good situation for us,” Henderson noted after his club improved to 2-1 overall (1-1 league). “It was a gut check, and the kids responded just how we had hoped.
“We had worried about how (the loss) would carry over, but we definitely got better from last week,” he added. “We got back to the basics this week; we got back to the fundamentals: Running downhill, not 'dancing,' and blocking well. I thought we did a good job of holding our blocks.”
The only glaring errors on this day: Officials flagged the 'Novans a whopping 15 times for a minus-118 yards.
“That's not good,” Henderson said, shaking his head. “It's all about being disciplined. A few of them were holding penalties, a few more false starts. That's just undisciplined football, and a majority of them were due to fatigue. We're not going to be able to make the same mistakes when we face Westerly.”
(Henderson explained the contest is still slated for 7 p.m., Friday, on the Connecticut border, but it may be changed to 11 a.m., Saturday, due to the EEE virus. He said they should know Monday afternoon).
Hurricanes' interim head coach Brian Toppa knew all about the ground tandem of Evans and Thomas before the tilt, but walked away even more impressed.
“I knew they had this three-headed monster in the backfield, with (Evans) and (Thomas),” he stated, using the backs' jersey numbers instead of names). “I also knew that (Andino) could fly, that he had a lot of dangerous moves.”
In addition, he mentioned his club suffered more than a few debilitating injuries last week against Toll Gate, and that he had to fill those spots with youth.
“We had two guys with no experience playing middle linebacker, and we had to convert a defensive lineman to fullback … But you can't make excuses for injuries,” he said. “They made less than mistakes than we did, and that's why they won. Carnell has been around a long time, and he knows what he's doing.”
Woonsocket's “D” managed a “three-and-out” on Warwick Vets' first possession, then – despite a 12-yard quarterback sack of Brett Bouchard on its initial offensive play – Henderson's crew went to work. It drove 63 yards on seven snaps ending on Evans' five-yard plunge, and senior John Poirier's first of five PAT boots gave the hosts a 7-0 lead. (The highlight of the possession came on Andino's 35-yard reception on a second-and-eight).
Following another Hurricanes' “three-and-out,” the 'Novans moved 94 yards on only four plays; that culminated when Thomas hustled 75 yards down the left sideline for the TD with 3:32 remaining in the opening quarter.
Warwick Vets (2-1, 1-1) stopped Woonsocket on its next possession, though Poirier's 45-yard punt pinned it at its own 12. On the initial snap, senior tailback T.J. Boyajian rambled 58 yards on a left-end sweep and eventually drove to the 'Novans' 3. But the defense, led by sophomore linebacker Nicholas Fernandes and senior Brian Cahill, knocked Boyajian for a four-yard loss on third-and-goal.
Junior quarterback/kicker Jessie Sedoma attempted a 23-yard field goal, but it was wide left and short.
“That was like a punch in the gut,” confessed Toppa. “You drive it all the way down there, then you falter. You get back on your heels. We talked all week about taking advantage of the opportunities when they're given, but we didn't do that.”
The tide, which already had turned, did more so on the next snap; that's when Thomas raced 80 yards untouched for the touchdown. That, however, was called back due to a holding penalty. After Robinson's 11-yard gain, Evans gleaned his second TD on a 74-yard jaunt down the left sideline with under six minutes to play before the break.
Any hope Warwick Vets may have had for a comeback disappeared on the third-quarter opening kick, as Andino hustled 86 yards down the left sideline to make it 28-0, but the Hurricanes did fight back, taking the pigskin to the Woonsocket 12.
Sedoma's fumbled snap pulled it back 10 yards, and his high aerial to the end zone was picked off by junior Joshua Trinidad.
Warwick Vets made the most of its following drive, however, when it moved 80 yards on 11 plays. Senior Anthony Lonczak snagged Sedoma's eight-yard scoring toss – after Andino had managed a slight deflection.
Sedoma's extra-point try failed just before the end of the third stanza.
The 'Novans sealed the verdict on its next ball ownership, courtesy of Poirier's eight-yard catch of Bouchard's loft.
It proved to be quite a day for Poirier, who – right after the reception and boot – jumped on senior returner Carter Thomas' muff at the Woonsocket 45. (He, by the way, also punted twice for a 43.5-yard average).
Nothing came of the miscue, but Boyajian's fumble with 3:58 left almost officially ended it. Not surprisingly, Robinson recovered.
“Jaston's only a sophomore, but he's a very good football player,” Henderson offered afterward. “He played last year as a freshman, and he's got a lot to learn, but he does play with a lot of energy. When you play with that kind of passion, you're going to make some plays, and he did on both sides (of the ball).
“This was definitely a 'must-win,'” he added. “Then again, every game is a 'must-win,' just for the sake of the kids' confidence. We had to learn how to play the right way, and that's what they did (Saturday).”