NORTH SMITHFIELD – In a grinding, back-and-forth game that produced little offense, North Smithfield came up with just the kind of big plays it needed to make its Division IV Homecoming contest with visiting North Providence a successful one.
And after Friday night’s 14-6 victory over the Cougars, the Northmen are now just a single win away from securing their first playoff berth in the school’s history.
“Good teams usually have a couple of guys, or a guy, that’s going to step up and make things happen,” said N.S. coach Wes Pennington, whose squad hiked their record to 4-1 in the league. The Cougars dropped to an even 3-3. “Tonight we had a couple of guys that made things happen; a couple of guys that stepped up when we needed them to. That has been happening for us all year.”
The chain of events that resulted in the winning drive by the Northmen late in the third quarter produced two of those big plays. Trailing by an 8-6 score and the ball at their own 14, North Providence was able to move the ball all the way down to the Northmen’s 27 on nine plays, including a 31-yard pass from N.P. quarterback Anthony Pontrelli to Justin DiGiulio, who hauled in the ball near the left sideline despite blanket coverage by North Smithfield’s Nathan Lussier.
But Lussier would get his revenge. On a first-and-10 from the 27, the Cougars’ tenth play of the drive, the senior cornerback intercepted a Pontrelli pass a few yards from the goal line and darted up the sideline for a 31-yard gain.
It was then running back Paris Correia’s turn to chime in with his heroics. The speedy senior, who finished with 149 yards on the ground, made his biggest impact just two plays after Lussier made Pontrelli pay dearly for his long pass. With the ball at the 35, after a short gain by teammate Alex Blanchette on the first play from scrimmage, Correia took a pitch from quarterback Tim Kennett and raced 61 yards down the left sideline. Two plays later, he was awarded for his hard work with a four-yard TD run with just 56.4 seconds left in the quarter.
Pennington’s thoughts on the eventual game-winner: “We were trying to figure out how to get these guys to loosen up a little bit. We figured it we faked with the fullback and pitched it out to Paris we might get the edge and it kind of worked out that way. He had a nice lane to run in and he took it down field.”
Lussier’s mid-air theft certainly ignited the flame for the Northmen.
“I think he was a little upset a couple of plays before when they threw the fade-out,” Pennington said. “That was perfect coverage and the guy made a nice reception. I think that kind of made him upset so when they went back to it, he made the adjustment and was able to pick the ball up.”
North Smithfield was able to solidify victory No. 4 in the fourth quarter when it stopped the Cougars’ final drive. A pair of Northmen were instrumental in the Cougars failing in that bid. Peter Mancini stuffed N.P. running back Ricardo Garcia for a two-yard loss midway into the drive after the Cougars earned a first down. Then, on a fourth-and-7 at midfield, Correia broke up a pass thrown by Pontrelli.
North Smithfield executed the final four minutes of the game in perfect fashion. It began with a 13-yard run from Mancini on the first play and a seven-yarder for the final first down of the game by Correia with less than two minutes on the clock.
“I anticipated (the game) coming out this way,” Pennington said. “They were 3-2. They are a good football team. They have been successful against us. I talked to someone earlier today and they said the last time we actually beat these guys was 1999. They came with confidence that they could beat us.”
Both team waged a tight defensive battle in the first half. North Smithfield got on the board first when Blanchette hustled into the end zone on a three-yard run in the second quarter, capping off a nine-play, 64-yard drive. Correia ran in for the two-point conversion to make it 8-0 in the Northmen’s favor. With 28 ticks left, the Cougars scored their lone touchdown on a fullback option when Anthony Robbio unleashed a quick pass to Justin DiGiulio for a 15-yard TD.
North Smithfield’s defense recovered two fumbles and had a pair of interceptions in the ‘W’. In addition to Correia’s big night, Mancini ran for 45 yards on just four touches.
“The defense stepped up when needed,” Pennington said. “They made some nice interceptions, some timely turnovers. And the offense just kept plugging, just kept plugging and eventually it started to open up for us.”
“North Providence came in looking to solidify themselves in the playoff race,” he continued. “They came in with their best effort tonight. We had to have a few gut checks along the way to put this one in the win column.”
North Smithfield will try and secure its berth in the postseason next Saturday at unbeaten Mount Pleasant. Kickoff is at 4 p.m.