They won’t be denied
WHS football team pulls off stunning comeback to punch Super Bowl ticket
EAST GREENWICH — Immediately after Woonsocket High had pulled off an improbable, stunning 22-21 victory over Westerly in the Division II semifinals at Carcieri Field Saturday afternoon, three or four Villa Novans crept up on an unsuspecting head coach Charlie Bibeault and doused him with the remnants of two Gatorade buckets.
Bibeault’s reaction, despite a wind chill below freezing? “Give me more! Give me more!”
That came much to the delight to the Novans, who somehow overcame deficits of 14-0 and 20-2 after a truly horrendous opening half, scored 20 answered points and nailed down the opportunity to attend the D-II Super Bowl at noon next Sunday at Cranston Stadium. They will face East Greenwich, the II-A seed that eked out an incredible 31-28 upset of top-ranked (B) Burrillville in the other semifinal.
Bibeault claimed he wasn’t pleased with allowing II-B’s second-ranked Bulldogs to run up 22 unanswered points, due to a pair of muffs and four fumbles (two lost) through the initial 24 minutes, but he did say this about his Novans’ wherewithal:
“We’re not the same team we were when they hung 60 on us earlier this year,” he noted, referring to Westerly’s 6212 bludgeoning of Bibeault’s bunch back on Sept. 21. “We knew we wanted this one more, and we got it.
“It’s true; we made a ton of mistakes in the first half, but I was thinking, ‘Just stick with it. You’ve got a great game plan, so stick with it,’” he added. “One of my idols, (former varsity mentor and current WHS
Principal) Carnell Henderson, always used to tell me, ‘Keep coaching. Trust what you have planned,’ and that’s just what I did.”
That game plan was to mix in his key weapons around stellar senior tailback Emmanuel Gomes, and Gomes didn’t disappoint. He accumulated 129 yards and three tuchdowns on 22 carries, while junior fullback Logan Coles filled in with 14 yards on five carries.
Fellow senior receiver Hezekiah Adeyeye may have only caught one pass from senior quarterback Geraldi Paniagua, but it went for 45 yards. Paniagua completed seven of 14 tosses for 80 yards.
As for the Bulldogs, who were eliminated from the playoffs and fell to 8-2 overall, senior tri-captain Tristan Turano collected 105 yards and a TD on 28 handles, but was also muckled in the end zone for a safety, which in essence began the Novans’ roll.
Seniors Peter Fusaro (seven for 59) and Jalen Valentin (five for 48 more) helped out in the Bulldogs’ one-dimensional ground offense.
Westerly certainly didn’t waste time imposing its will on Woonsocket. On the second play after Valentin’s 27-yard kickoff return to the WHS 40, Fusaro – while breaking three tackles at or near the line of scrimmage – uncorked a 55yard TD jaunt down the left sideline, and junior Nick Lauzon knocked home the extra point for the 7-0 lead.
Woonsocket (9-1 overall) answered by taking its first possession to midfield, though nothing came of it, then moved its second – after a 19yard punt – to the Westerly 27 before a fake punt/Gomes run lost three yards.
Bibeault paid for that turnover on downs, as Valentin took a sweep 35 yards around left end to help lift the Bulldogs to the 14-0 lead with still 3:43 remaining in the first quarter.
The Novans appeared to be in business when senior Dwayne O’Hagan ripped off a 30-yard kick return to the Westerly 45, yet Bibeault’s crew could only gain six yards on the next three downs and punted.
That turned out to be a huge swing – for Woonsocket. Senior Harrison Blais catapulted his 37-yard boot to the ‘Dogs’ two, and – after a Westerly penalty – the defense drilled Turano n the end zone to get on the board.
The safety also forced a free kick, and the Novans took that to the visitors’ 37, but Coles fumbled a snap in the Wildcat, and junior Derek Mason recovered.
Westerly did nothing with that possession, but it got it back following O’Hagan’s lost miscue on the punt.
The Bulldogs needed only eight snaps to maneuver 56 yards for the score, and Fusaro capped it with a four-yard plunge off right guard for the 21-2 cushion with 6:23 left in the second.
Actually, O’Hagan (five returns, 55 yards) muffed the ensuing kickoff, but it didn’t matter, as Woonsocket instigated a 68-yard, seven-play possession with Gomes’ sixyard scoring pitch/hustle off left tackle.
Adeyeye’s PAT with 3:29 remaining before the break sliced the deficit to 21-9.
The Novans were back in business.
On the opening boot of the third quarter, they knifed it closer following O’Hagan’s 14-yard return; they matric- ulated 45 yards on six plays, with Gomes galloping 19 yards untouched on a sweep around right end. Adeyeye added the PAT, and WHS trailed, 21-16, with only 2:21 elapsed in the period.
Following a three-and-out, the Novans were at it again. Thanks in part to Paniagua’s pretty 45-yard passl to Adeyeye down the right sideline, they gained a first-and-goal at the 4, and Gomes closed it with a three-yard plunge off right guard with 3:54 left in the third.
When Adeyeye split the uprights, Woonsocket found itself up, 22-21.
Early in the fourth, the ‘Dogs produced a threatening drive, moving it to the Novans’ 36. Yet, on a thirdand-1, Woonsocket forced Turano to fumble, and sophomore Mel’Von Wright recovered with nine minutes remaining in regulation.
Westerly had one more chance to get into field-goal territory when it forced its foe to punt with 5:41 left. It took over at its own 13, then succeeded on maintaining possession after Turano managed two yards on a fourthand-inch at the 22.
The Novans again pinned them deep, this time for a fourth-and-16 situation from the Westerly 18, and Fusaro gained just two on a fake punt.
Gomes could have scored during a fourth-and-five rush from the ‘Dogs 15, but instead slid down at the 1.
“Coach told me if I broke it out, I shouldn’t run it in,” Gomes grinned afterward. “I knew exactly why he said that – to keep the clock going.”
When asked his feelings about attending the Super Bowl, he sighed, “I really can’t believe it. I’ve never never been to one, so this is really special … We didn’t have a great start, but we kept believing. We knew after the first drive of the second half, when we came out and ran it down their throats, that the momentum was all ours. We just played hard.”
Offered Bibeault: “When we scored to close out the half, we kept telling our guys, ‘Look over at their sideline. Look at their faces. They’re deflated. They don’t have any energy.’ The thing is, that got us going. We wanted it more.
“Like I told you, all they do is run the ball. They only threw two passes, so we wanted to do to them what Burrillville did a couple of weeks ago: Stuff the run and control the line of scrimmage,” he continued. “It took us a about a half, but we did.”
Westerly 14 7 0 0 – 21
Woonsocket 2 7 13 0 – 22
WEST – Peter Fusaro 55 run (Nick Lauzon kick)
WEST – Jalen Valentin 35 run (Lauzon kick)
WOON – Safety: Team tackle of Tristan Turano in end zone
WEST – Turano 4 run (Lauzon kick )
WOON – Emmanuel Gomes 6 run (Hezekiah Adeyeye kick)
WOON – Gomes 19 run (Adeyeye kick)
WOON – Gomes 3 run (pass failed)
Above, Woonsocket standout running back Emmanuel Gomes (27) leaves a Westerly defender in the dust on the way to the end zone, one of his three touchdowns on the day. At right, the Woonsocket defense bottles up the middle to force Westerly to punt. It was a busy day for the local football teams as Cumberland, Burrillville and North Smithfield/MSC also had semifinal games. North Smithfield/MSC was the big winner, rolling 56-8 over Toll Gate in Division IV. The Clippers came up short in their Division I tussle, 21-6 to North Kingstown. And in another heart-pounder, Burrillville was stuffed on the final play of the game in a 31-28 defeat to East Greenwich. The win earned East Greenwich a Division II Super Bowl berth with the aforementioned Villa Novans. For more, see SPORTS, PAGE B1.
Woonsocket’s Emmanuel Gomes (27) rushes for one of his three touchdowns Saturday.