It seemed like there were two schools of thought heading into last Friday’s state title rematch between the Bishop Hendricken Hawks and the La Salle Rams.
The first was that the Hawks’ stronghold on Rhode Island football had finally wavered when the Rams ended their streak of seven straight titles last November. The other was that Hendricken was the same old powerhouse, and just happened to trip up in the last game of the season.
Hendricken’s 48-27 thrashing of the Rams proved that those who belonged to the second school were the ones who were also in the right.
La Salle is a great team obviously, and even looked poised to do some serious damage in the first quarter. The offense was clicking, it had the momentum after the big kickoff return touchdown, it had the home crowd on its side … it just seemed like once again it would not be Hendricken’s night.
However, Hendricken showed its experience and poise by rebounding in the final three quarters and making it clear to all of Rhode Island that it is still the top club in the state, despite not holding the title at the moment.
It was a complete team effort … I know it’s cliché to say that but it is true. All three phases showed up for Hendricken, and all three produced in big spots to prove that the Hawks are still the most complete team from top to bottom.
The offense rolled throughout the game, even in the first quarter when things started off shaky in general.
Tom Comella is a classic dual threat quarterback with his arm and legs, and showed off each in the win. La Salle was just flat-out out matched when he rolled out … do you engage him or fall back? I don’t think anyone in the stadium really knew.
The line, led by Georgia-bound Xavier Truss was also impressive. Despite multiple penalties in the first quarter, and having to hear the La Salle crowd chanting “overrated,” Truss and company buckled down and bullied the Rams the rest of the way. The Rams couldn’t force any pressure, they couldn’t slow down the rush, they were in trouble.
It didn’t help that Angel Sanchez scored three touchdowns, further proving he is the top playmaker in the state. It didn’t help that Israel Emmanuel once again powered between the tackles for two scores of his own, further establishing himself as the state’s top bruiser back. Offensively, the Hawks played near perfect for the final three quarters.
Hendricken’s defense also showed up. 27 points doesn’t sound pretty on paper, and it took the defense a little while to get going, but the Hawks ended up hauling in two interceptions and brought each of them deep into Rams territory to set up eventual touchdowns.
After the first-quarter touchdown return debacle, the special teams also showed up. Whether it was keeping the Rams in their own territory on kickoffs, or setting up the offense at midfield, the Hawks special teams rebounded at the end of the day.
Friday night did not appear to be two evenly-matched teams where one just happened to outplay the other … it looked as though Hendricken was head and shoulders better than the Rams.
After the game, Hendricken head coach Keith Croft said, “My message to the team before the game was, ‘(La Salle is) a really good team and they’re going to make plays … the way we respond is going to determine how this game ends,’” and he couldn’t have been more correct.
The Rams came out hot in the first quarter and did indeed make plays, but any momentum they began to build was quickly washed away by the Hawks. Even in the third quarter when the Rams came out and scored, pulling within one touchdown, the Hawks responded the next drive with a score of their own. They answered the bell every time.
It’s a long season obviously, and who knows what can and will change by the time the playoffs roll around.
Will there be injuries? Will a team lose confidence and fall? Will an unlikely team rattle off a few wins and emerge as a contender? It’s too early to answer any of those questions.
But after seeing what Hendricken pulled off last week, and considering the showing it had against North Kingstown and Cumberland, it’s clear that Hendricken will be one of the last teams standing at the end of the day, and is the clear favorite to reclaim the title.
Like I said, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the season unfolds, but these Hawks are hungry, talented, well-coached, and experienced … they have it all.
The 2017 Hawks also had it all, expect for one thing: the taste of real defeat.
I’m sure if you ask any of the kids or coaches from last season, they would all tell you that they wished they had won the final game of the season. However, sometimes falling short is the best thing that can happen to a team, and it appears that the 2018 Hawks are a better version of what Rhode Island saw last year.