BURRILLVILLE – About a year ago under the Gaudet Middle School football stadium's lights, host Middletown High didn't just whup Burrillville in a Division III contest, but embarrassed it with a 58-7 pasting.
Broncos' mentor Gennaro Ferraro reminded his current troops of that bushwhacking last September during practice sessions this past week.
And with an amazing ground outing by senior tailback Jonathan (just call him “Jonny”) Thornhill and a masterful defensive effort, previously-downtrodden Burrillville manufactured a thrilling 19-14 upset win over the stunned Islanders before about 200 fans at Alumni Field.
Thornhill galloped for 195 yards and a touchdown on 37 carries, while sophomore quarterback Isaiah DeSilva completed 10 of 21 passes for 134 yards and sophomore slot receiver Riley Tupper snagged seven catches for another 119.
Once the final gun had sounded, and the two squads and respective coaching staffs had congratulated each other at midfield, Ferraro ran to a pair of assistants and hugged them mightily. Next came Thornhill, then senior center Andrew Carlson, then Tupper. While their chief talked with another few players, a trio of kids decided to give Ferraro a splash with the remaining contents of their water bucket.
Ferraro responded with more hugs to whoever would have them.
“Last year, we lost to Middletown, 58-7, and we didn't think it should've been that much,” Ferraro said. “We talked about it every day in practice, every second. I kept telling the kids that we're in a different place than we were 365 days ago, that we were more of a team, that we had more talent.
“I said that they were the epitome of 'T-E-A-M,' and that they love to accept challenges, even those that may seem insurmountable,” he added. “They're just a great group of …”
He paused, placed his hands over his eyes, took a few seconds to compose and finished, “boys. I'm so proud of them.”
With the triumph, the Broncos moved to 2-0 overall (after a 32-0 blowout of Scituate in a non-league game last weekend) and 1-0 in D-III. Middletown fell to 1-1 overall and 0-1 league.
Defensively, Ferraro's squad yielded senior back Connor Russ 102 yards and a score on 16 carries, and did allow junior Shemar Vincent 53 more on 10, but it also shut down the Islanders' vaunted passing attack.
Junior quarterback Jake Francis completed just one of five passes for eight yards, and picked him off once.
It was the visitors who struck first, grabbing to a 7-0 lead on a drive off the opening kickoff. They went 57 yards on 11 plays culminating on Russ' three-yard plunge off right guard. Brandon Vars booted the extra point just 4:59 into the tilt, and the Islanders were off and running.
Burrillville, however, immediately answered with a stirring drive of its own. On its first play, DeSilva found Tupper wide open down the left hash, completing a 33-yard toss to the Middletown 46, and that's when Thornhill took over. After being thrown for a two-yard loss on his first rush, he carried it eight more times for 40 yards, the last seven bashing through two defenders to reach the end zone.
Sophomore Greg Carlson kicked the extra point, and the two were squared at 7-up with 44.1 ticks left in the first.
On the ensuing squib kick, though, Ryan Traeger returned it 23 yards to the Broncos' 37. On the next snap, Vincent took a pitch, swept around right end and raced untouched 37 yards to paydirt. Again, Vars delivered the point-after, and the Islanders had regained the lead only 18.5 seconds after it had lost it.
Three more times in the opening half, the Broncos moved the ball into enemy territory – the first to the 29 (before Thornhill gained only two of the three necessary yards); the second to the 23 (prior to the offense stumbling); and the last to the 27 (but they ran out of time due to killer penalties).
It looked like the hosts had regained their edge at the start of the third, but Tupper fumbled the punt snap and a defender threw him for a 17-yard loss.
Middletown gained possession at the Burrillville 19, but an illegal procedure call pushed it back to the 24, and Francis' fourth-and-14 screen pass to Vincent fell to the turf.
That stop apparently sparked the offense, which took possession at its own 23. Nine snaps and 77 yards after, Thornhill plowed four yards off right guard for the TD. The younger Carlson's PAT flew through the uprights to tie it 14-14, but officials whistled the defense for encroachment.
The pigskin now just 1.5 yards from the goal line, Carlson lined up for another try, but it sailed wide left; the Broncos still trailed, 14-13, midway through the third.
Middletown returned the favor, utilizing Russ' jaunts of 19, 14 and 11 yards to move from its 48 to the Burrillville 8. That's where the ball remained after the defense dropped Russ for a six-yard gain on a fourth-and-goal, left-end sweep.
The hosts did move from their own 2 to the 16, but on DeSilva's three-yard screen pass to Tupper, the latter fumbled, allowing a linebacker to recover at the Broncos' 19 on the initial snap of the fourth period.
Four plays later, Francis' pass to Vincent in the right just inside the left end zone pylon was masterfully picked off by Tupper.
That came with 9:40 left in the fourth.
Thornhill took a three-yard loss to open the possession, but avenged that on a third-and-13 situation; he took a draw play 34 yards to the Islanders' 49. Following an iffy ineligible receiver down field flag, Burrillville faced a fourth-and-15 at its own 46.
DeSilva, though, delivered to Tupper a superb, 31-yard toss down the right sideline, and the Broncos were back in business with a first down at 23. Facing yet another fourth-and-long (nine), Tupper accepted his QB's throw in the right flat and took it 18 yards to the 4. On a third-and-goal predicament, Thornhill netted a pair, setting up a fourth down at the 1.
That's when referees called the Islanders for an inadvertent facemask, and that brought it to the 1, anyway.
On yet one more third-and-goal, the 6-3 DeSilva snuck it over for the score that gave Burrillville its first lead. Traeger intercepted the signal caller's two-point conversion attempt, but the damage had been inflicted.
The Islanders did advance to the enemy 46, but the defense stiffened on a fourth-and-five, allowing just three. That sent the fans into delirium.
“Jonny ran his heart out,” Ferraro grinned. “The offense runs through him. He's just a phenomenal player. Our game plan coming in was to sustain drives, don't give up any special teams scores and play hellacious defense.”
When asked about Tupper's fumble, he stated, “What we tell the kids is that the best thing about football is the next play; you make a mistake, you've got another play to turn it around. Riley made that mistake, but then he came up with that big pick. He also came up with two mammoth catches on fourth down to keep that last drive alive.
“Like I said, these guys accept challenges, and this was a great one,” he added. “That interception was the game; we turned it into points. We rely on Tup and Jonny, but everyone on this team is relied upon. If one guy misses some play, another guy comes in and does the job. They pick each other up. They accepted this challenge. They just want to win.”