WOONSOCKET — What makes the 2012 edition of Woonsocket High so unique is that Carnell Henderson’s Villa Novans have learned to win games in all kinds of ways.
There have been blowouts, close shaves and other instances when the Villa Novans took the field minus a full compliment of healthy bodies. Other times, Woonsocket has been its own worst enemy, turning the ball over at an alarming rate.
That, in turn, allowed the opposition to hang out, a storyline that unfolded before the Novans’ eyes Saturday afternoon at Barry Field.
Alas, the three second-half turnovers Henderson watched his team commit did not come back to haunt his club. Woonsocket was able to fashion a 21-8 verdict against Coventry, one that wasn’t completely settled until senior John Poirier broke two tackles on his way to a 19-yard scoring reception that came with 1:43 remaining.
Up until that point, Coventry trailed by a touchdown and an extra point, a set of particulars the opposition found itself in at halftime – and again at the conclusion of the third quarter. Why the Oakers remained within striking distance was easy to see, as the Novans became sloppy, fumbling the ball twice while quarterback Brett Bouchard was intercepted on a play that saw not a single Woonsocket player in the vicinity of his throwing lane.
Despite the miscues that were piling up at an uncharacteristically alarming rate, Henderson saw his club hold serve. The Oakers did not capitalize on any of the good fortune bestowed upon them, such wastefulness allowing the “bend-but-don’t-break” Novans to get out of Dodge with a triumph that officially wrapped up a playoff spot in the eight-team, Division II post-season tourney.
“This group has a lot of spirit,” Henderson declared after Woonsocket concluded the regular season with a 5-2 mark in II-A. “We didn’t do a lot of things right today, but they made the plays when they needed to. Hopefully we can continue to do that.
“At the same token, if you do what you’re supposed to do and not turn the football over, and we score where we’re supposed to score like we’re supposed to, they find themselves in a bind,” Henderson continued.
Technically, Woonsocket tied Mount Hope for second place in the standings. Under the R.I. Interscholastic League’s playoff format, the first tiebreaker is the outcome of the head-to-head meeting. Such criteria means that the Huskies are the No. 2 seed on the II-A side of the bracket and will receive a home game in next weekend’s quarterfinal round (Mt. Hope defeated Woonsocket on Oct. 6 by a 26-7 count).
As the No. 3 seed, the Villa Novans will hit the road to face the No. 2 seed on the II-B side; all signs point to it being St. Raphael Academy.
Reflecting on taking Woonsocket to the postseason for the third time in his five years at the helm, Henderson noted, “It’s every coach’s goal to get in, it’s that simple. To step back and see a group of kids play to their potential, I don’t really look at it as what (qualifying for the second season) means to me personally. This is just another opportunity for these kids to enjoy something they love.”
Henderson spoke about the seniors that were around when the Woonsocket program captured back-to-back Division II Super Bowl titles in 2009 and 2010. It’s a group – headlined by Jalen Evans, Kyle Mulvey and Ryan Lagasse – that can speak to the underclassmen about the level of concentration that’s needed in order to emerge as the last team standing.
“They’ve been there and tasted the victories,” stated Henderson matter-of-factly.
Playing in his final home game, Evans ran for 90 tough yards on 25 carries and a touchdown, a three-yard score that put the home team up 15-0 midway through the second quarter. The Novans scored was a safety when the Oakers’ Jose Santos fielded a punt just shy of his team’s goal line. Santos then retreated into the end zone, where he was met by a group of Novans.
Woonsocket capitalized on another Coventry mistake early in the second quarter, as sophomore Shawn Ingram picked up a fumble and ran it 30 yards to pay dirt.
“Just a great effort,” praised Henderson. “Shawn is a 10th grader who plays every play like it’s his last. He’ll never come off the field and hasn’t slowed down since we started camp.”
As the two total passes the Knotty Oakers attempted suggests, Coventry didn’t do anything fancy or tricky. The Oakers (2-5) came out in a Wing-T formation that was disguised well in the early going and on the lone touchdown they scored, a five-yard run by Stryker Blue with 5:13 left before halftime.
“You knew what they were going to do and after watching two films; you knew they weren’t going to change,” Henderson said. “It’s about playing assignment football in a situation like that.”
Woonsocket had a chance to place substantial distance between itself and Coventry in the third quarter, but a botched exchange on an option read between Bouchard and Evans gave the Oakers the ball at their own 22. The fumble came on a second-and-goal snap at the 8 and marked the third time on the drive that the Novans placed the ball on the carpet.
Two more Woonsocket turnovers would rear their ugly head in the final quarter, yet on this day, none of the giveaways proved to be costly.