After losing last two D-II Bowls, Saints ready for Saturday
PAWTUCKET – A year ago, the four senior captains of the 2021 St. Raphael football team sat at a table inside the school’s Alumni Hall. The foursome of Andre DePina-Gray, Napoleon DeBarros, Henrique Ross, and Chase Dombroski reflected on their careers and the pending opportunity for redemption.
An unlimited supply of offseason motivation was delivered on Mother’s Day 2021 when the Saints left Cranston Stadium with a sour taste in their mouths. Barrington hung a 34-6 loss that forced SRA to watch the Eagles celebrate the Division II Super Bowl. If there was a silver lining, it was that the core of returnees – headlined by the aforementioned captains – would be back for the traditional 2021 fall season.
Armed with tunnel vision, the Saints blazed a familiar trail that led them to the doorstep of a familiar venue featuring familiar stakes – Cranston Stadium with D-II supremacy on the line. No way were they going to once again experience that despondent feeling. On the Saturday before Thanksgiving 2021, the script would be flipped with DePina-Gray, DeBarros, Ross, and Dombroski basking in the glow of a Super Bowl triumph.
Alas, more hard lessons were administered. This time, it was Classical denying St. Raphael the chance to cross that one remaining river. The Saints fought hard, but the Purple proved to have a few more answers in a 28-14 final that rekindled the pit-in-the-stomach feeling.
The 2021 St. Raphael captains exited with back-to-back Super Bowl losses. They also handed the captaincy baton to three players who played integral parts during the seasons that culminated in defeats to Barrington and Classical.
Standing on the track surface at Pariseau Field on a recent weekday afternoon, Moses Meus, Christopher Molina, and Lawrence Thornton III are asked to talk about leading the program to a third straight D-II Super Bowl. They were appointed captains before the start of the season.
“We got together, worked hard in the offseason, and kept that feeling with us. Now our focus is on the opportunity that we have in front of us,” said Molina, SRA’s linebacker/ tight end.
Ah yes, the opportunity – the latest one for the Saints.
Saturday at high noon at Cranston Stadium marks the latest attempt to take home that elusive prize. This time, Portsmouth is the opponent that similar to St. Raphael is seeking to be crowned this year’s Division II
Super Bowl champion.
Understandably for the three captains, there is a sense of urgency. The safety net of knowing they could come back the following season and stand atop the D-II lands
cape has been pulled away. A year from now, Meus along with Molina and Thornton will either be in college or prep school.
“We have a saying where we say the clock is ticking for us,” said
Thornton, his team’s starting center. “We can’t take anything for granted. You can’t slack off in practice. You have to make sure to give 100 percent during the games.”
St. Raphael is done with being served pieces of cold humble pie. They’ve gone through the baptismby-fire process that some teams must endure before basking in the glow of sweet victory.
Beat Portsmouth and the memories of how things played out over the last two Super Bowls will be a distant memory.
“We want that memory to be about the three of us standing with that plaque,” said Molina.
This year’s three captains made sure to thank their 2021 predecessors.
“All of our captains from last year had a positive mindset. They always did what was needed to get to that next step … put their bodies on the line,” said Meus, a force on both sides of the ball who’s drawn interest from several NCAA Division I programs, including Army. “Last year’s senior group, they took a lot of time to show us the way. There was a lot of inspiration that we had to take advantage of.”
Added Molina, “They motivated us to work hard no matter what.”
It’s that all-gas, no-brake mentality that Meus, Thornton, and Molina sought to impart on this year’s St. Raphael squad. Clearly, the message was well received with the proof lying in another bowl berth.
“There’s been a lot of hard work. You can see the dedication in their eyes. You can see it on everyone’s faces … wanting to push themselves to be the best they can be,” said Meus.
Now on the doorstep of appearing in yet another Super Bowl, the need to lock in becomes even greater.
“When you have an opportunity like we have, you want to make sure everyone is ready and focused,” said Meus.
Outside of Hendricken and La Salle, name a R.I. high school football team that’s reached the Super Bowl for three straight seasons. History lesson aside, the Saints should take a moment to enjoy the fact that once again, you’re one of two teams left standing in the division.
“The game of football is a fun sport. You’re supposed to have fun. At the same time when things get serious, you know you’re still with your guys,” said Molina.
The time has come to see if past trials and tribulations can bear fruit in the form of St. Raphael’s first Super Bowl title since 2007. Rest assured this year’s group is eager to etch their names into the school’s football annals.
“It’s a chance to get a ring on your finger,” said Molina, his choice of words serving as a fitting reminder of what potentially awaits the Saints on this Super Bowl Saturday.