WOONSOCKET – The Woonsocket High coaching staff prides itself on instilling in its players a good, sound understanding of fundamental football.
That is, avoid silly mistakes that result in penalties, don't turn the ball over, don't “dance” with the pigskin but push it “north-south,” et cetera.
Another definition: take advantage of your opportunities.
The Villa Novans failed in a couple of those areas against Johnston in their Division II-B opener on Saturday afternoon, as the Panthers ran 65 offensive snaps as opposed to the hosts' 41; they also were whistled for 11 penalties totaling a minus-90 yards.
But head coach Carnell Henderson's group excelled in one phase in particular: On six occasions, Johnston rolled into enemy territory, but each time his defense squashed those chances. In fact, in the opening half, the Panthers drove to the Woonsocket 8-yard line, and then the 1-yard line, but walked away without lighting a single scoreboard bulb.
That’s why the Villa Novans were able to celebrate a 14-0 victory over the visitors before perhaps 350 fans at Barry Field.
Opposing quarterbacks Mike Caparco and Marc Breton combined to complete just five of 15 passes for 35 yards, and they were picked off three times, all in critical situations. Likewise, the Panthers mustered only 105 ground yards on 40 carries, and also fumbled three times, losing one.
The Woonsocket offense was hardly stupendous, as junior signal caller Miguel Raymond mustered five completions on 13 tries for 70 yards and a TD. Likewise, senior Will Andino led the ground attack with 71 yards on 17 carries, while junior Jaston Robinson had 45 on seven.
Henderson usually dislikes singling out players for praise, but felt the need on Saturday after his club moved to 2-0 overall and 1-0 in II-B. Junior tight end/linebacker Austin Wolter played marvelously on both sides of the ball: not only did he intercept a pass and recover a fumble, but he also snagged three catches for 67 yards and a touchdown. Wolter wreaked havoc at the line of scrimmage, and was in on at least a dozen tackles over the game’s 48 minutes.
“Wolter played phenomenal,” Henderson grinned after the verdict. “He had to be the player of the game. He always was in on the big plays for us. He had a big-time catch for a TD, came up with the big pick and made a big first-down catch for us.
“Austin worked hard during the summer conditioning and worked hard in camp, and now he's reaping the benefits,” he added.
Henderson added that he thought the team defense by the Villa Novans was excellent.
“Everyone defensively just found a way to contribute,” he said. “They lean on each other. If someone makes a mistake, someone's there to pick him up on the next play. This was a total team effort … We made some costly mistakes, but we made up for them with solid plays.”
Henderson spent three years (2002-2005) as an assistant principal at Johnston High, and is familiar with some of their staff. He said Johnston is a team he has “much respect for.”
“Joey (Acciardo, Johnston's coach) and I go way back, and he definitely knows what he's doing. He's got a great group of kids and coaches, but – unfortunately – somebody's got to win, somebody's got to lose,” Henderson said.
With a chuckle he added, “I'm glad it was us.”
Henderson wasn’t laughing much earlier, however, as mental errors plagued Woonsocket from the outset. On the first snap from scrimmage, officials whistled them for encroachment, and two plays later, a roughing-the-quarterback penalty. Slowly, the Panthers took it to the Novans' 29, but Caparco missed receiver Joe Peters on a fourth-and-eight from the 33.
Junior Nick Fernandes' 13-yard punt didn't help after a quick three-and-out; that gave Johnston the ball at the enemy's 34. It later moved to the 8, but Henderson's defense knocked tailback Marc Conte for a one-yard loss, and signal caller Caparco overthrew Breton, who was open in the left portion of the end zone.
On a third-and-six situation from his own 14, Raymond fumbled the snap, and linebacker Derek Vigeant pounced on it at the 7. Four plays and three penalties later (two on the Panthers), they faced a fourth-and-goal at the 3, but Caparco again airmailed his toss to Breton.
Twice more in the second quarter, Johnston maneuvered into the hosts' side of the field; Woonsocket foiled both.
With 2:10 remaining before intermission, it looked as if the Novans would steal a score. Senior Joshua Trinidad snatched an interception at the visitors' 47 and returned it to the 12. On a fourth-and-six screen pass to D'Andre Thomas, though, Joshua Tineo dropped him for a two-yard loss.
Woonsocket needed little time after the break to put it in the end zone, not after Andino returned the third-quarter kickoff 27 yards to his own 49.
On the very next snap, Raymond fumbled the ball, calmly regained possession, planted and threw a dart to a wide-open Wolter down the middle of the turf. Thirty-seven yards later, the receiver and his lineman were celebrating what proved to be the clinching six.
Raymond booted the PAT, and the Novans had the lead it craved; most importantly, only 19 ticks came off the clock.
Immediately, Johnston produced a drive that looked like it would reach “paydirt.” Keeping it on the ground, they systematically moved it 51 yards to the 21. But Caparco took a three-yard loss on a keeper, and a lineman was called for a hold. On an incomplete pass and a two-yard gain later, Peters punted, planting Woonsocket back at its own 12.
After another three-and-out, Fernandes' 43-yard punt gave the Panthers a first-and-10 at its own 47. On the initial snap, officials whistled the hosts for encroachment, but the drive ended once Wolter picked off Caparco's toss to Conte with 21.7 seconds left in the third.
Nothing came of that possession, but once Wolter recovered Conte's fumble at the Johnston 39 with 7:15 remaining, the Novans were back in business.
Thanks to Andino's 13-yard jaunt, a 10-yarder by junior Jason Robinson and a 13-yard second-and-nine aerial to Wolter, Woonsocket had a first-and-goal from the 7. On the next play, Thomas took Raymond's handoff and converted a seven-yard counter rush off right guard to secure the win for the hosts.
That came with 4:38 left.
Johnston did move to midfield in a hurry after a Woonsocket personal foul for an illegal hit to the helmet, but on the next play, Thomas intercepted Caparco's feed at his own 47. (To give credit where it's due, sophomore linebacker Edwin Montoya tipped it at the line of scrimmage).
“My defensive coordinator, Brian Bouley, has done a fantastic job in getting our guys up for the challenge; he did a fantastic job preparing them for this,” Henderson offered. “(Those defenders) had their backs to the wall on several occasions, but they made the big plays to help us win. Our defense, I can't say enough about it.”