WOONSOCKET – Saturday afternoon marked “Senior Day” for the Woonsocket High football team, and a pre-game celebration – one in which the dozen soon-to-be graduates issued flowers to their parents and/or guardians – must have had them feeling rather satisfied.
The inner peace didn't quite show itself during the 48 minutes of battling against Division II-A foe Toll Gate, but the gritty Villa Novans nevertheless left Barry Field with a 20-8 triumph.
The Titans ran 59 offensive plays and controlled the pigskin with aplomb, but still suffered their sixth straight loss while falling to 0-5 in league action.
Woonsocket had only 30 plays, but senior tailback Will Andino amassed 167 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries while hauling in a pass for 42 more; that lifted the hometowners to 6-1 overall and 5-0 in II-A.
“You know, my feeling about this is we got a win and we remained unbeaten in our division,” stated WHS chief Carnell Henderson afterward. “We're creating for ourselves a good seed in the playoffs, but how we got there? I'm not too happy.
“We had too many mistakes, and we've got to get better at some things,” he continued. “We need to focus at the task at hand. I think the kids may have underestimated this team based on their record coming in, but Toll Gate fought hard. They did a good job, so I think this a lesson learned. We didn't do the things we needed to, or we didn't have the mind-set during the week of practice.
“We can definitely learn from this.”
Henderson's defense played well, though not great. It did just enough to thwart a pair of lengthy drives deep into Woonsocket territory over the final 24 minutes.
For the Novans, junior signal caller Miguel Raymond completed four of his eight throws for 66 yards, but he also took three sacks for a minus-21 yards, dropping his net total to a mere 45.
As for Toll Gate, the entire ground attack manufactured 162 yards on 43 carries, five fewer than Andino on 30 fewer touches.
The Woonsocket defense yielded the Titans' option offense some lengthy plays, but – when asked to – dug down deep at opportune times.
Senior Chris Durand led the visitors' attack with 54 yards on 16 carries, and junior Nick Lamoie chipped in 49 more on nine. Senior quarterback/captain Joe Brosnahan completed six of 14 passes for 71 yards, and junior receiver Jake Moran snagged four for 42.
In the end, however, the Novans reigned.
The Titans did move to their own 46 on the opening drive of the first quarter, but a holding penalty broke that up, and the hosts did nothing with their first possession either. Soon after, though, Woonsocket took advantage of a 12-yard punt that gave it the ball at the Toll Gate 45.
On first down, Andino swept around the left side and ran untouched for all 45 yards to give the Novans a 6-0 lead, although junior Sean Vann blocked Raymond's PAT kick with 5:08 remaining in the initial stanza.
A drive to the Woonsocket 34 ended when Brosnahan's fourth-and-eight pass to Moran fell two yards short, allowing the Novans to take over on downs – but they didn’t get very far. On the second play of their possession, Andino took a direct snap around the left end for 12 yards, but fumbled it away at his own 41.
Eight plays and a Novan encroachment penalty later, Durand plunged two yards off left guard, and Brosnahan threw to Moran in the right section of the end zone to give the Titans the lead at 8-6.
Only 50 seconds remained before intermission, and it was believed Henderson's crew would hit a knee once or twice to enter halftime behind two.
This head coach, though, has never been shy about taking chances.
Following senior Francisco Torres' nine-yard kick return to the 32, Raymond delivered a 13-yarder to junior tight end Austin Wolter, then did the same to Andino over the middle; once the senior snagged it at about the Toll Gate 40's left hash, he looped around a defender and sprinted 42 yards down the left sideline.
It appeared he had scored on the catch-and-run, but officials ruled he stepped out of bounds at the Titans 4.
Three snaps and a minus-three yards later, Raymond threw to senior Joshua Trinidad, and he tried to plow through two right-side defensive backs. He ended up fumbling in the end zone, but Wolter immediately pounced on it to give the Novans the 12-8 lead, with 1.5 seconds left in the half.
The coaching staff called another play for the almost-always reliable Trinidad, and he cradled Raymond's two-point conversion pass to put Woonsocket ahead 14-8 at halftime.
After a quick three-and-out at the start of the third, Novans' junior punter Nick Fernandes let fly a 19-yarder (though it was against a stiff breeze from the north), and Toll Gate took over at the WHS 48. It moved as far as the 7, but an illegal procedure flag pushed it back. Two consecutive incompletions later, the hosts had held.
Taking over at the 12, the Novans then produced its most impressive possession of the afternoon – Andino started it with a 14-yard jaunt off right guard, then finished off the 12-play, 88-yard drive with a 40-yard sprint through the same hole.
On this one, he was untouched, but Raymond's conversion aerial to Trinidad failed.
All that occurred after Woonsocket had converted two third downs, the last to the 40 on an encroachment infraction.
The Titans immediately fashioned a 14-snap, 66-yard possession, and got as far as the Novans 12, but – on a fourth-and-three with 1:10 remaining, Brosnahan's left-side keeper mustered only a pair.
Henderson's bunch achieved the victory without the services of senior running back/free safety D'Andre Thomas and junior tight end/defensive end Jorge Pomales.
The former stood on the sidelines with crutches due to a broken foot, and the latter the same with a torn MCL. Nevertheless, defensive stalwarts such as junior Shawn (“Texas”) Ingram, Fernandes, senior Xavier Labrecque and sophomore Edwin Montoya stood out with numerous tackles.
“It was just a great performance by Will,” Henderson noted. “Without D'Andre in there (he was injured in a 20-14 setback to Rogers last weekend), he had to be the featured back, and we needed for him to carry the load. He did, and then some.
“With the defense, we had some problems with their option, but they had some great stops, too,” he added. “We had lost two key cogs in our defense, and we needed some guys to step in there and learn quick, so I thought our defense played pretty well. We had (senior) Victor Hunt fill in in the defensive backfield, and we went at defensive end by committee, adding a few wrinkles.
“Hopefully, we're going to get all this right moving forward. That's what I'm really counting on.”
Toll Gate 0 8 0 0 – 8
Woonsocket 6 8 0 6 – 20
WOON – Will Andino 45 run (kick blocked)
TG – Chris Durand 2 run (Jake Moran pass from Joe Brosnahan)
WOON – Austin Wolter recovers fumble in end zone (Joshua Trinidad pass from Raymond)
WOON – Andino 40 run (pass failed)