They won’t be de­nied

WHS foot­ball team pulls off stun­ning come­back to punch Su­per Bowl ticket

Woonsocket Call - - FRONT PAGE - By JON BAKER jbaker@paw­tuck­et­

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.

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