The St. Rays Saints Are Division II State Champions
The St. Rays High School Saints have battled all year long to get to the state championship game, and did just that. After back to back victories over Shea High School and Westerly High School, the Saints had some momentum to build off of. Despite that momentum, St. Rays struggled out of the gate to get anything going offensively.
They tried to establish the running game early but Portsmouth was ready for it. The Saints eventually found themselves in a 4th & 7 situation from Portsmouth's 30 yard line, and went for it. It was a failed attempt, resulting in a turnover on downs.
After a quick 3 and out by the Patriots, St. Rays go the ball back. They put the ball in the hands of their star player, Moses Meus, but still struggled to get anything going. On 3rd & 4, Meus got the ball again but this time he fumbled and Portsmouth recovered.
It seemed like a turnover that would come back to haunt the Saints later when it happened, but that was not the case. The Patriots were also continuing to struggle offensively as their run game was nearly non existent to start this one. They were eventually forced to punt on 4th & 12, and their defense had to go get another stop.
After a couple more empty drives from both teams, the first quarter came to an end. Portsmouth's run game started to show some life once the 2nd quarter started, as Neal Tullson broke off an 18 yard run for the Patriots. That was followed up by a 10 yard run from Dylan Brandariz and all of a sudden Portsmouth was moving the chains. That's when they were hit with a 4th &1 situation, and decided to go for it. St. Rays was up for the challenge, forcing a turnover on downs and ending the most promising drive the Patriots had all game.
The Saints didn't do much with it though, ultimately punting the ball back to Portsmouth and making it clear that this one was going to be a defensive battle. The trend continued, but not before Neal Tullson got another solid 11 yard run for Portsmouth. That was it though, as the Patriots turned the ball over again, failing to convert on 4th & 5.
St. Rays took over and Meus started their drive off with a 15 yard run, something the Saints offense desperately needed to show some life. A few plays later, St. Rays' quarterback Daniel Wulf threw a nice pass over the middle to Connor Curran. Yet again though, no points were scored as the Saints turned the ball over on downs.
Right before half time, Portsmouth's quarterback was sacked by the Saints' Ian Bing. Out of the half, it was still the Patriots ball and they started the drive off with a solid 16 yard run from Dylan Brandariz. That was the highlight of the drive, as once again Portsmouth punted and the score remained 0-0.
After a quick 3 & out for St. Rays, Portsmouth started their drive off with a 17 yard run, this time by Adam Coheeny. He later followed that run up with a 9 yard carry on 4th down. The Patriots continued to stick with the ground attack as Neal Tullson broke off a 16 yard run and got his team to a 1st & Goal opportunity. The Patriots weren't able to punch one home on their first 3 goal-to-go tries, so they turned to their kicker to put the first points of the game up for them. Kicker George Smith did just that and Portsmouth lead 3-0.
St. Rays and Portsmouth both came up empty on their next couple drives and eventually the Saints took over with a little over 3 minutes remaining, down 3-0. The game had not gone the way St. Rays had hoped up until this point, but they could erase all of that by executing in this spot. Portsmouth's punt was not a good one, resulting in St. Rays taking over at the Patriots' 43 yard line.
St. Rays got the drive rolling with a 7 yard pass to Ethan McCann-Carter after a short run. They were challenged with a 3rd & 1 opportunity when Aaron Julius took one for 13 yards and a first down. Then, on 2nd & 11, McCann-Carter caught another 11 yard pass for a first down. The Saints were now in the redzone, and eventually faced a 2nd & 6 try. Quarterback Daniel Wulf stepped back in the pocket and fired a pass in stride to Ethan McCann-Carter for a touchdown that sent the Saints' crowd into a frenzy.
Carter said "I saw the corner playing off the whole game, so it was just a long time coming" of the winning play.
After a game where neither team could score a touchdown, the Saints finally made it happen with 33 seconds remaining in regulation. The play call was perfectly timed by head coach Michael Stassi. It was perfectly executed by the players on the field. It was one of those moments that showed us in sports, it truly is never over until it's over.
Portsmouth took one last crack at it when they took over with 33 seconds remaining. Moses Meus put the icing on the cake with an interception on Portsmouth's first pass of the drive, and this one was basically over. Daniel Wulf kneeled down and celebration ensued as the Saints finished off a 7-3 comeback.
When asked about accomplishing his ultimate goal, McCann-Carter said "I feel happy. Two years in a row we didn't get it done, so this is just happiness all rushing through my body right now." He continued on, adding "We just grew as a brotherhood. We grew as teammates and grew as a family."
The St. Rays Saints are your 2022 RIIL Division II Football State Champions.