WEST GREENWICH — North Smithfield High chief Wes Pennington just doesn't understand the reason why.
“It seems like whenever we come down here, we lose,” he stated after his squad had dropped a disgruntling, mistake-prone 17-14 defeat to Exeter/West Greenwich in a battle of unbeaten Division IV clubs on Saturday afternoon. “Maybe it's the ride down, I don't know, but I'll bet we haven't won here in over 10 years.”
Pennington didn't know these tidbits at the time, but the statistics told the rather sad story: Officials whistled the Northmen for eight flags, good for a minus 60 yards; they also had a pretty, 80-yard halfback pass called back due to a penalty.
His crew also fumbled thrice, though didn't lose any, and yielded the Scarlet Knights 270 yards on 46 carries, with senior Dwight Anderson leading the charge with 103 on 26. Fellow tri-captain Jake Hornoff may have completed only three of eight passes for 35 yards, but he did keep the pigskin 10 times for 63.
EWG also exhibited sloppy ball, with 10 flags for a minus 90 yards. Pure and simple, however, it was just more consistent than the visitors, who fell to 1-2 overall (1-1 league).
“Mistakes beat us, there's no other way to say it,” Pennington sighed. “We were averaging first-and-26 (he was guessing) whenever we got the ball. We'd have a good kickoff return, but then called for a block in the back. Our first-down field position was horrible, and it affected our calls.”
Noted EWG head coach Jimmy Alves (formerly an assistant under brother Steve at Shea): “It was pretty sloppy, but I thought it was a very solid game on both sides. I thought it was tough and hard-nosed throughout. North Smithfield had some size and made some great plays, but it all came down to one snap.”
Alves referred to the foot of senior newcomer Ian Geyer, who with the game tied at 14-all ripped a 20-yard field goal with 9:21 remaining in the contest to eventually seal it for the hosts.
“He played soccer for three years, but decided he wanted to play football,” Alves said of Geyer, the son of former Ocean State Buccaneers semi-pro football kicker/punter John Geyer (and 1980 East Providence High grad) back in the early 1990s. “We were psyched he came out; I think it was because of the kids he hung out with in school. I know he's very close to Jake Hornoff.
“This isn't a game you want to just stick your toe in the water and experiment,” he added. “You've got to want to play the sport, and he does. That's obvious.”
Ironically, Pennington, an ex-fullback with the Bucs, and the elder Geyer were teammates way back when.
“It was good to see (John) again,” Pennington laughed. He didn't say a word about his kid, who also recorded a late-game pick to end it. “It's tough when you spot them 14 points early on.”
After a quick three-and-out to start it, Dustin VanLuven returned senior Dylan Narodowy's punt to the NS 40, but that was called back due to an illegal block infraction. The Knights nevertheless took 10 plays (despite two more penalties) to march 62 yards, that ending on Anderson's 10-yard jaunt off right guard.
Senior captain Peter Keenan, though, blocked Geyer's PAT boot, and EWG led, 6-0.
On the Northmen's first snap from scrimmage after the ensuing kickoff, junior Nick Cicerone took a pitch around right end for 30 yards. Still, with the ball at midfield, brother and senior quarterback Mike Cicerone fumbled the snap, and sophomore Brighton Leonard sacked him for a 28-yard loss.
After another punt, the Knights (2-1 overall, 2-0 league) needed 10 plays to maneuver 56 yards, culminating on senior Matt Ricard's eight-yard counter rush off left tackle.
Anderson converted the two-point conversion on a plunge to the left, and the hosts gained the 14-0 cushion with only 2:29 gone in the second quarter.
North Smithfield responded, but definitely not the way Pennington had hoped. Facing a third-and-29 issue at its own 16, Mike Cicerone completed a 22-yard aerial to brother Nick, but the Knights had been called for pass interference.
Fifteen yards later, it still had a third-and-12 from the 32 to overcome, but Nick Cicerone made a spectacular one-handed grab (tipping it to himself), and that went for 48 yards.
Nick Cicerone later closed the nine-snap, 65-yard possession with a six-yard option hustle around left end. Senior Dylan Narodowy knocked home the extra point with 5:09 left before intermission, NS closing the gap to 14-7.
The Knights did earn 25 yards on its next drive, but Nick Cicerone intercepted Hornoff's long pass down the sideline, one intended for Geyer. Two plays later, after suffering two losses for a minus-25 yards and 25.5 ticks remaining, Pennington asked a ref if Alves had any remaining timeouts. When he said, “No,” his offense ran out the clock.
Alves and Co. took the third-period opening boot to the NS 35, though the defense stiffened. On its second attempt, and after Narodowy's 24-yard punt gave EWG a first-and-10 at the visitors' 31, it pushed to the 12 before Pennington's “D” came up big once more.
That's when Geyer came on to try a 28-yard field goal, but barely missed to the right with 5:42 left.
The Northmen answered once more, but it was uglier than the previous scoring possession.
On a double-reverse, halfback option pass, Narodowy took Peter Keenan's flip and threw to streaking senior Matt Lachance down the right sideline. The latter hauled it in to complete the amazing 80-yard play.
Officials didn't see it that way, as they deemed a lineman had been illegally down field. The elder Keenan then took a right-side sweep for 12 yards, and Nick Cicerone gained another two. On a third-and-13 from their own 29, Narodowy swept around left end for 16.
After yet one more flag, this one for holding, Narodowy found Lachance wide open again on the opposite sideline. It went for 65 yards and the score.
Narodowy delivered his second point after, and NS had tied it at 14-14 with 2:13 left in the third.
“That toss pass worked great, even though the first one was called back,” Pennington offered. “Still, giving up those two early touchdowns hurt us. That's when you have to start chasing, and you expend a lot of energy doing that.
“The good news was we came back to tie it.”
The joy was only temporary. Narodowy's ensuing kickoff traveled 45 yards to the 15, but VanLuven returned it to midfield. Eleven snaps later, Geyer's 20-yard field goal gave the Knights a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
Hornoff helped spark that possession with three keepers for 23 yards, the last four moving the pigskin to the 5.
Actually, it seemed as if EWG would extend the lead when it moved from the enemy 46 to the 11; on a fourth-and-four, and with Peter Keenan draped all over Hornoff, his pass was batted down by Nick Cicerone.
The Northmen had life – or did they?
Nick Cicerone fumbled his own pitch and was thrown for a 13-yard loss. Now 99 yards from the opposing goal line, Geyer picked off Mike Cicerone's pass, intended for Lachance, to claim the triumph.
“I liked the fact we kept fighting,” Pennington said. “The problem we had defensively – and we played well – was getting off the field. We just couldn't do it on third down, and that gave them more opportunities than it gave us.
“Offensively, we never really got into a rhythm,” he continued. “It would've been a different ballgame if we had.”
It showed in the total amount of offensive snaps; the Knights finished with 55, the Northmen just over half that amount (29). Mike Cicerone completed three of nine for 117 yards, with his kid brother snagging two for 52.
“When the game was over, I just told the kids that one loss does not define a season; what they do with that loss defines it,” Pennington stated. “We just have to go back and work harder, play our brand of football.
“I mean, the top four teams (in D-IV) get in (the playoffs), and I think we can be one of those clubs,” he added. “We've already beaten Hope (36-12), which has been one of them, and we've got North Providence at our place (Friday at 7 p.m.). We'll see what happens then.