WOONSOCKET – On a Saturday afternoon when Woonsocket High could get little going offensively – excepting a pair of monumental, game-changing, first-half plays – head coach Carnell Henderson pretty much knew he'd need to rely on his defense to achieve a successful outcome.
Three times over the final two quarters, Division II-A visitors Westerly maneuvered deep into Villa Novan territory, but they managed just one touchdown for their troubles. Time and again, Henderson's “D” kept the Bulldogs at bay, and it delivered a thrilling 12-7 Woonsocket triumph before perhaps 300 fans at Barry Field.
In the process, the Villa Novans improved their record to a handsome, enviable 4-0 overall (3-0 in II-A action), while Westerly dropped to 1-3 overall and 1-2 in league.
“You've been asking me the past three weeks about our defense, so I guess it's becoming old hat,” Henderson grinned after speaking with his troops. “We made big play after big play, just as we've been doing throughout. It's kept us in games, no doubt, and I can't wait to see our offense catch up.
“This is a huge win for us, but any league win is huge,” he added. “We played a very tough opponent, but we've been playing good teams since we started. I don't think it's going to get any easier, but I feel like we're getting battle-tested every week, and we're going to need that to be able to compete the remainder of the season.”
Really, the statistics told the story: The Bulldogs actually ran 13 more offensive snaps (55 to 42) during the contest, but the Novans' defense managed to yield only 127 ground yards on a whopping 43 carries. Their top rusher, senior tri-captain and fullback Tom McGuire, gained only 65 yards on 20 carries, while fellow captain/quarterback Scott Liguori posted 32 on nine.
Likewise, Liguori completed only three of eight passes for 14 yards, and was picked off once.
As for Woonsocket, it had control of the pigskin on only 13 plays in the second half, but held on for the satisfying victory.
Tailback Will Andino and receiver Josh Trinidad easily assembled the most impressive numbers on the offensive side, as Andino rushed for 102 yards and a TD on 14 touches while Trinidad made four catches for 98 yards.
Junior signal caller Miguel Raymond finished the afternoon 10-for-18 through the air for 174 yards, and junior Austin Wolter caught two of them for 40.
“If this team (Woonsocket) is the best team in the division at 3-0, we're pretty close,” noted Westerly mentor Chris Wriedt. “We didn't play well at all in our opener against Barrington, then we played a good half against Mount Hope but lost, 28-14. Last week, we defeated Chariho, 36-6, and here we lost a tough one.
“I don't think we're far behind (the Novans),” he continued. “If we continue to improve over the next few weeks, I think we're going to be right there (for a playoff berth) at the end.”
Henderson's crew didn't need long to gain the advantage. After Raymond found senior D'Andre Thomas on a 13-yard toss, Andino took the handoff around right end and raced 58 yards untouched for the TD; only 1:36 had elapsed after the Bulldogs' opening boot.
Raymond's PAT kick, though, was blocked by senior Matt Moretta (who stands 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, and later suffered a knee injury), but the hosts had garnered the 6-0 lead.
Due to a 15-yard personal-foul flag on Woonsocket, Westerly began its initial possession at the Novans' 41 but eventually punted. On its second drive, it moved to the hosts' 31, but Liguori's fourth-and-seven pass to sophomore Drew Turnbull fell incomplete.
The Bulldogs again wound their way past midfield on the last play of the first period; still, it had to kick it away once more. This time, senior Anthony Garro's 42-yard punt left Raymond and Co. pinned at their own 9.
Six snaps later, Raymond's pump fake disrupted the Westerly secondary, and he watched as Trinidad hauled in an 18-yard pass, then hustle down the right sideline to finish off the 59-yard scoring play.
Junior Clayton Minnich broke up Raymond's two-point conversion toss to Thomas, but the Novans had snared the 12-0 cushion with 8:48 remaining before the break.
Woonsocket took the ball back after a rather quick Westerly sequence and moved to the opponent's 30. On a second-and-10 situation, though, senior tackle Tyren Gamble caused Raymond to fumble, and sophomore end Jake Lacerte pounced on it at midfield.
Two plays later, Trinidad picked off Liguori's aerial and returned it 31 yards to the Bulldogs' 36. Two sacks after that, Woonsocket was back at its own 43 and had to kick.
Whatever adjustments Wriedt made at halftime worked wonders on his squad's opening drive in the third. It faced two third downs and a pair of fourths, but finally found the end zone after Liquori outraced junior defensive end Jorge Pomales to the left pylon.
That five-yard scramble on fourth-and-goal, not to mention junior Riyan Lennon's point-after kick,
sliced the deficit to 12-7 with 3:29 left in the third.
“We talked about doing some different things at halftime, and we pushed the ball right downfield,” Wriedt stated of the 16-play, 62-yard possession, one that ate up 8:31. “Their pass rush had done a nice job of containing our quarterback, so we decided to change it up.”
On the ensuing kickoff, Lennon “pooched” a high floater down the right sideline, and Minnich came down with it at the Novans' 30, giving Westerly an immediate chance to take the lead.
The Bulldogs, however, were whistled for a five-yard illegal procedure penalty, and sophomore Edwin Montoya and junior Shawn (call him “Texas”) Ingram drilled Jacee Hamelin for a seven-yard loss.
An incompletion and Liguori's two-yard keeper gave the visitors no other choice but to punt, and Garro's kick pinned Woonsocket deep – at its own seven.
Novans junior Nick Fernandes responded with a 35-yarder of his own, and Westerly took over at the enemy's 42. Liquori's QB scramble did gain two yards, but senior Francisco Torres delivered a crushing sack for a minus-eight yards to squelch that attempt.
With five minutes left, Woonsocket ran out the clock, courtesy of a trio of passes to Thomas (for 14 yards), Wolter (nine) and Trinidad (11). Another big help: On that final possession, Andino (who had a 48-yard jaunt to the Bulldog 25 called back for an illegal block) manufactured 20 yards on five carries.
That drive ended with Raymond taking a knee at the 29 – and in a small celebration at remaining unbeaten.
“Will kept grinding; he runs hard, and he runs downhill,” Henderson offered later. “When he gets into space, he can get break it because of his speed. At the end of the game, we needed him to keep the clock running, and he did just that.
“After they scored, and they pooched the kickoff to get it back, they had us on our heels, but we found a way to come up with the big plays,” he added. “The entire defense came up huge. I can't single anyone out. I just hope it continues. If the guys keep working hard, I have no doubt it will.”
Westerly 0 0 7 0 – 0
Woonsocket 6 6 0 0 – 12
WOON – Will Andino 58 run (kick blocked)
WOON – Josh Trinidad 59 pass from Miguel Raymond (pass failed)
WEST – Scott Liguori 5 run (Riyan Lennon kick)