Boston High School: Remington Blue

Hendricken (R.I.) football wears a target

October, 9, 2014
10/09/14
12:13
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Ever since Rhode Island high schools began playing football in 1932, no school ever had won four consecutive Division I (i.e. initially the top division was Class A) state championships without having to share the title.

Rhode IslandWhen the Rhode Island Interscholastic League implemented playoffs in 1972, again, no team ever has won four consecutive Division I Super Bowl titles – until last season.

That’s when Hendricken High made history by becoming the first school to win a fourth consecutive Division I Super Bowl championship.

There’s more. Keith Croft, who was appointed the Hawks’ head coach in 2007, has guided Hendricken to seven consecutive Division I playoffs including two Super Bowls where the Hawks were defeated. Entering this season, Croft’s seven-year record was a combined 99-20.

A total of 17 boys on the 2014 team played for the Hawks when they annexed Super Bowl championships in 2011, 2012 and 2013. It might it be reasonable to expect that complacency is occupying a spot on the Hawks’ bench this season although, through the games of Oct. 4, Hendricken is 5-0 overall and leads Division I with a 3-0 record.

“I’m sure because of human nature it’s happened,” Croft said. “That’s something we’re on guard against as coaches. We don’t talk about the past. We talk about tradition, history and legacy.

“Some kids are self-motivated and some we have to stay on top of as coaches. Some kids you can treat certain ways and others you can’t. I think as coaches, it’s our job to know what makes each kid tick. We’re more psychologists today more than anything else.”

Hawks know they’re a target: And they know it, especially considering when the Hawks step on the field for a given game they wear the proverbial target on their collective backs.

“We talk about that every game,” Croft said. “We talk about how it’s everyone’s biggest game (when a team plays Hendricken). We have to fight for everything.

“We don’t take anything for granted. We wear a big target. There’s no doubt about it.”

There might be a reasonable assumption that it would be even more difficult for Hendricken to win a fifth consecutive Division I Super Bowl if senior John Toppa decided not to resume his football career.

Toppa, the grandson of the late John Toppa, who built Rogers High into a team that dominated the top division during the 1970s and 1980s, gave up football last fall to concentrate on baseball. He decided to return to the football team this fall and through five games, he’s completed 31-of-54 passes for 550 yards and six touchdowns and has carried the ball 42 times for 409 yards (a 7.9-yard average) and eight scores.

“John told us (football) is such a different sport that he wanted to be part of something,” Croft said. “Baseball can be different. He said it was something he missed and he wanted another shot. We knew he was a good player.

“There isn’t anything in the rule book that says a player can’t take a year off. He made a decision that he felt was best for his baseball career and we’re glad to have him back.”

If Toppa had decided to concentrate of baseball and forsake football, Croft would have turned to Plan B.

“We would have played whoever won that job,” he said. “Whoever was the best quarterback would have played. We’ve had players before who’ve had season-ending injuries.

“We would have moved forward. Right now, it would have been his backup, Chris Hindle. If John had decided not to come out, we would have moved on.”

Versatile offense: Hendricken has “moved on” this season but with a different offensive scheme.

Last season, for the most part it, was a matter of handing the ball off to First Team All-State running back Remington Blue and watching him rack up 1,405 yards plus a plethora of touchdowns.

Now, the Hawks have a more balanced attack. Besides Toppa’s ability to complete passes and run for yardage, Lee Moses has carried the ball 15 times for 276 yards (an 18.9-yard average) and three touchdowns.

Senior Gary Gibbs has gained 270 yards and scored once on 43 carries.

Moses, in addition, has caught 15 passes for 276 yards (an 18.9-yard average) and three scores.

And on defense, safety Shane Moses leads Hendricken with a total of 38 tackles while linebacker Shane Olson has 30.

“We’re balanced,” Croft said. “The difference with Remington back there, teams had to gear up to stop the run. This year we have a lot of depth and a lot of guys that can score.

“But we’re still trying to find our go-to guy – the guy we can go to in the clutch.”

Besides Toppa, Gibbs, Moses and senior Power Kanga are vying for that role.

“Gibbs has done well and so has Moses, who’s committed to UMass,” Croft said. “Those two guys are off to a solid start. And Power Kanga will develop.

“Our best offense will be to spread it around instead of having that one running back line Remington Blue. That’s not going to happen this year.”

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey, plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y. he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.

Woonsocket (R.I.) football refocuses after upset

October, 23, 2013
10/23/13
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Call it a blip on the proverbial radar screen. Call it an aberration. Call it a fluke.

Rhode IslandCall it any of the above.

But after defeating four Division II-A opponents (five overall including a non-league victory) first-place Woonsocket found out -- much to the Villa Novans’ distaste -- what it’s like to exit a field with their first number under the loss column.

Rogers, who plays in II-B, upset the previously undefeated Villa Novans, 21-14, on Oct. 19 in a non-league game.

For want of a better phrase call it a wakeup call because in their four victories over division opponents, the Villa Novans had outscored them by a combined margin of 73-7.

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” said Woonsocket coach/alumnus Carnell Henderson. “It’s a humbling loss because you want to win every game. But if there ever was a day to have a bad game this was it.”

The reason being non-league games don’t count in the standings and have zero effect on teams’ playoff chances. Henderson was, oh, upset at what transpired on each side of the ball.

Rogers turned the ball three times inside the Vikings 15-yard line including twice in the fourth quarter. But Woonsocket only capitalized on one of those golden opportunities.

At the risk of using a baseball metaphor, batting .333 is great in that sport but a percentage of that nature is mediocre (or worse) in football.

On the flip side, Rogers passed for two touchdowns – the first touchdown passes the Villa Novans have allowed all season.

“Our defense had been playing extremely well,” said Henderson. “I felt we had a group of young guys who could play aggressive on defense.”

In retrospect, maybe the Villa Novans were too aggressive on defense and it cost them. That performance was in stark contrast to the one they delivered in a 12-7 victory over Westerly when they only allowed three pass completions.

“We got off to a good start but we knew there still was plenty of work to do,” said Henderson. “It seemed that everyone played their worst game at the same time (against Rogers).

“It was humbling but now we go back to the drawing board try to get ready for a return to league play.”

Being humbled notwithstanding, the Villa Novans already hold the first tiebreaker should that come into play at the end of the season (record in head-to-head competition).

Johnston and Warwick Veterans are tied for second at 3-1. But the Villa Novans have beaten the Panthers 14-0 and the Hurricanes 27-0.

In fact, the three league opponents left on Woonsocket’s schedule have a combined record of 4-8.

(Read full post)

Hendricken again setting pace in R.I.

October, 9, 2013
10/09/13
7:13
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That Hendricken High again is among the top football teams in the state, while playing in the top division (Division I), isn’t a major surprise.

Rhode IslandThe Hawks have a long history of reloading instead of rebuilding – which is exemplified by the fact they’ve won three consecutive Division I Super Bowls and have a chance to become the first team in state history (since the Interscholastic League implemented Super Bowls in the early 1970s) to win four consecutive bowl championships.

But the fact Hendricken is 4-0 overall and tied with Barrington for first place with a 3-0 record is a surprise considering the Hawks have a veritable rookie under center – Pat Gill.

Last season as a junior, Gill was under center for exactly zero snaps as the Hawks upset La Salle in the Division I bowl with then-senior Ryan Brannigan leading the way.

But at the end of fall practice and before the regular season commenced, head coach Keith Croft decided that Gill would be his best option at least to qualify for the playoffs if not win that iconic fourth consecutive Super Bowl.

“Pat has been one of the greatest success stories in the history of Hendricken football,” said Croft. “Really, he’s an underdog (for what it’s worth, Gill checks in at 5-feet-8 and 160 pounds) and is the type of kid you root for.”

Gill gave an indication of things to come in Hendricken’s non-league, season opener against a Division II team, St. Raphael, whom the Hawks dispatched by the score of 34-6.

Gill completed a modest 3-of-4 passes for 63 yards and two touchdowns –one a 25-yard strike to Lee Moses and the other a 20-yarder to Mike Scarcella.

“At the beginning, I came into a new role after our Super Bowl championship,” said Gill. “Fortunately, we had a lot of guys back especially in the offensive line. But in the beginning, I really was a little bit shaky.

“Once we got going it was amazing.”

At the least, Gill was semi-amazing during a 36-14 victory over South Kingstown in Hendricken’s division opener.

He passed for 94 yards, including a 33-yarder to superb running back Remington Blue midway through the second quarter for a 7-0 lead. Gill also threw another touchdown pass and dashed 36 yards for a score early in the fourth quarter to break the game open.

“I’m more comfortable knowing how to read the routes better,” said Gill. “I also feel I’m more explosive when I’m running. But I have to get better.”

Gill gave another indication that he was getting “better” during a 38-7 romp over East Providence.

The game was scoreless entering the second period when Gill heaved a 65-yard touchdown pass to Moses.

Altogether, Gill tossed a trio of TD passes – each to a different receiver.

With Gill and Blue leading the way, Hendricken turned a 40-0 Division I victory over Tolman into little more than a half-field scrimmage.

After the dust had settled, the Hawks led the division in both points scored (114) and fewest points allowed (21).

“Since I’m a senior, I know I have more experience and am better able to help the younger guys on the team,” said Gill. “We have a lot of our good skill guys back and we know what we can do.

“We know no other team ever has won four Super Bowl titles in a row. We’re very hungry to win that fourth title.”

ROLLING THE DICE: If La Salle Academy beats out Hendricken for the regular-season Division I title, and perhaps wins the Super Bowl, the Rams can look back on a 22-21 victory over Cranston West on Oct. 4, as the turning point in their season.

The Falcons led 21-14 entering the last 1:45 when La Salle when Jace Pena lofted a short touchdown pass to Keon Wilson with 25 ticks of the clock remaining.

The score also presented head coach Geoff Marcone with a conundrum: Go for the extra point (Pete DeSimore already had kicked two PATs), a tie and overtime, or opt for a two-point conversion which would produce a victory.

Marcone let the Rams decide and they opted for the deuce. Keon Wilson passed to DeSimone in the end zone for the game-winning points.

RETURNING TO THE HARD WOOD: Jane Burgess Schwechheimer has been appointed the new girls’ basketball coach at Lincoln School.

Burgess, who’s married to Pawtucket Red Sox General Manager Lou Schweccheimer, had a stellar career at Warwick Veterans High which enabled her to obtain inclusion in both the Hurricanes’ and the Rhode Island Interscholastic League Halls of Fame.

She later went on to star for St. John’s.

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y, he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.

Rhode Island football preview

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
5:09
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Invariably any pre-season football preview at least starts – but doesn’t necessarily end – with perennial Division I power Hendricken.

Rhode IslandCoach Keith Croft’s Hawks are coming off their third consecutive Division I Super Bowl championship (and ninth in school history) but enter the 2013 season with a dearth of seniors.

Only 13 are listed on the roster which means Croft has his work cut out for him looking to replace First Team All-State selections like tight end/defensive lineman Mario McClain, two-way lineman Nick DeCiantis, linebacker Jarrid Witherspoon and linebacker Marco Delvecchio.

Fortunately, for the Hawks, they could be solid on offense since they feature easily one of the state’s top running backs in junior Remington Blue, plus junior quarterback Patrick Gill. Gill seemingly came out of nowhere last season to earn the No. 1 signal-caller position and in the end was a major factor in the Super Bowl as Hendricken upset heavily-favored La Salle.

The key for Gill will be to remain healthy since the only other experienced quarterback on the Hendricken roster, John Toppa, opted not to play football this season.

Without question La Salle coach Geoff Marcone faces a major challenge in his attempt to replace two of the most productive offensive players in school history – First Team All-State running back Josh Morris (the 2011 Rhode Island Gatorade Player of the Year) and First Team All-State quarterback Anthony Francis (the 2012 Rhode Island Gatorade Player of the Year).

Marcone does have 18 seniors on his roster and will choose his starting quarterback from a group that includes sophomores Jace Pena and John Farley.

Keon Wilson again will be the primary target for whoever lines up under center while the defense will be led by linebacker Brendan Lippe.

The two Cranston teams, Cranston East and Cranston West, also could figure in the playoff picture.

East returns First Team All-State running back/defensive back Marquem Monroe who last season scored a total of 14 touchdowns and also intercepted four passes.

First Team All-Stater Marven Beauvais complements Monroe on offense while Alex Corvese is an experienced quarterback.

Cranston West will be a force if the Falcons received production that’s expected from running back Isaiah Alvarez and linebacker Jack Hammond.

***

Division II invariably is the most wide-open division in the state – one reason being the format.

Eight teams are in II-A, eight in II-B and top four in each division qualify for the playoffs.

Cumberland qualified for the Super Bowl for the first time since 2005 and waxed Woonsocket, 49-0, for all the marbles led by a pair of graduated All-State picks – wide receive Mitch Baxter and tight end Trent Vasey.

But the Clippers still have talent, especially in the appropriately-named running back Joe Fine plus linebacker Chris Hayes who led Cumberland in tackles last season.

The Villa Novans, who’ve undergone a resurrection in recent years, will be out to avenge that lop-sided loss to Cumberland in the Super Bowl.

Leading the way will be speedster Will Andino who can run and catch the ball plus junior lineman Shawn Ingram, a potential First Team All-State selection.

(Read full post)

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