The stands were full at Ed Fracassa Stadium for the semifinal round of the playoffs between the Bishop Hendricken Hawks and the Central Knights. Hendricken came into the game hot off a four-game winning streak. As for Central, they were trying to turn the tides of their season, coming off back-to-back losses.
These two teams saw each other not too long ago with the Hawks coming out on top in a 14-12 victory, beating Central at home, which made this matchup especially intriguing. Hawk’s Head Coach Keith Croft commented on what it has been like having a bit of a rivalry with the Knights before the game.
“It’s been a really hard, heart-wrenching game the last couple of times we’ve played them, so we’re looking forward to another battle,” said Croft.
Central Knights Head Coach Michael Washington also commented on the rivalry heading into the playoff matchup.
“We’re always looking forward to playing Hendricken, I think any time you get an opportunity to play the number one school in the state, one of the best schools in the region, and one of the best schools in the country, you’re always grateful for the opportunity to have your kids play and have a chance to win,” said Washington.
Things looked very good for Central early in the game, with the Knights immediately putting up six thanks to a 72-yard touchdown run by senior playmaker Armase Edouard. The Knights then forced a Hawks punt and quickly got the ball back, but not for long. After moving the ball down the field some, Knights junior quarterback Avani Rodrigues was intercepted by Oscar Weah who had a good runback after the catch.
The interception set up the Hawks at Central’s 30-yard line, where senior receiver Anthony Manna made an impressive contested catch on a deep streak to put Hendricken on the one yard line where junior quarterback Jayden Falcone punched it in for the touchdown. The PAT was good, tying the game at 7-7.
The Knights responded with a long drive that led into the second quarter. The drive ended with a touchdown off a direct snap to Edouard and was aided by some big plays by receivers Zion Duarte and Adonis Medina. The extra point was missed, making the score 13-7, Knights. Coach Washington made it clear that this was not going to be a one-man effort.
“I’m just very happy to have guys who are selfless, who don’t care about 15 carries, 20 carries, that type of deal. Just having kids that are selfless and are able to be happy for one another when they’re successful, I think that’s what makes a great team,” said Washington.
From this point forward, the Hawks would not allow the Knights to score a single point for the rest of the contest. This was due to a combination of Hendricken’s defense playing very well as a unit and Central continuously shooting themselves in the foot with nonstop penalties. It seemed as if every time the Knights would break through and get a good play there would be a yellow flag that would follow.
Hendricken took advantage of Central’s penalties and upped the ante on offense, with them scoring 34 unanswered points. 14 of the 34 points were scored by sophomore Michael DaSilva, with him catching a 35-yard-deep pass from Falcone with six seconds left in the first half and another at the start of the second half, with him hauling in a 55-yard touchdown on a streak.
The Hawks became very aggressive with the lead, with them kicking and recovering an onside kick after the second DaSilva touchdown. This led to Falcone’s second rushing touchdown off a read option to the outside, making the score 27-13, Hawks midway through the third quarter. Falcone’s touchdown was set up by big runs by both Oscar Weah and Ronjai Francis, who have been Hendricken’s bread and butter throughout the season. Pregame, Coach Croft touched on the importance of the Hawk’s two-headed monster.
“That’s [Oscar Weah and Ronjai Francis] been our combination all year and we hope to keep it going today, and that’s what we’re going to need to be successful,” said Croft.
Central kept getting big plays through the means of Edouard, Medina, and Theron Zarwea but as said previously, the Knights couldn’t catch a break with penalties, forcing them to keep giving the ball back to the red-hot Hawks offense. Ronjai Francis got loose towards the end of the third quarter, scoring a 40-yard touchdown, making the score 34-13 going into the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter was a long one, with many passing plays and penalties on both sides. Eventually, the Hawks broke the fourth quarter drought with another touchdown run by Ronjai Francis after Central turned it over on downs, making the score 41-13, where it would stay for the rest of the game. Despite the deficit, Central kept fighting, with them getting down the field late in the fourth quarter, only to cough the ball up and give it back to the Hawks, where they then ran the clock out.
Bishop Hendricken will now go to Cranston Stadium next Sunday for the Championship, which they are no strangers to. The Hawks will be going up against longtime rival LaSalle Academy, who beat North Kingstown 35-21 in their semifinal round. It will certainly be a barnburner with both teams having scored over 200 points on the season. This Super Bowl matchup will be another rematch. These two teams faced off back in mid-October with the Hawks coming away with the victory, and they will hope to do the same in a much higher-stakes situation.