PORTSMOUTH — “We gave them all they can handle,” Ryan Moniz told his players after their Division-I semifinal loss to La Salle Academy Friday night. “We threw the kitchen sink at them.”
Indeed, the Portsmouth High football team battled all night, coming from two touchdowns down to tie things up at 21 in the third quarter and stealing the game’s momentum, at least temporarily.
In the end, La Salle pulled away for a 42-28 victory and a berth in the “State Championship Super Bowl” in two weeks.
The Patriots’ year is not over, however. They can still vie for the title of the best public high school football team in Rhode Island when they go up against Cranston East in the “Division I Super Bowl” in two weeks.
In the other semifinal matchup Friday night, the Thunderbolts lost to Bishop Hendricken, which advanced to play the Rams in one of two D-I title games. The split D-I system was instituted last year to account for private school’s enormous advantage in recruiting players from across town lines.
Playing at home Friday night, the Rams jumped out to an early 13-0 lead. It could have been worse, however, had it not been for a key intersection by Portsmouth’s Brian Hamilton, who snagged a pass from Rams quarterback Nathan Lussier at the Patriots’ 6 yard line in the first quarter.
Hamilton was strong on offense as well. He would later catch three straight passes from quarterback Kyle Bicho, ending with a five-yard touchdown reception to make it 13-7 with 4:15 left in the first half.
The Rams struck back immediately, however, with standout running back Leroy DeOliveira finding the end zone from 10 yards out. La Salle quarterback Nathan Lussier kept the ball for a two-point conversion to make it 21-7 with two minutes left in the half.
All night, the Patriots were fed a steady diet of DeOliveira and Lussier, who kept the ball for many gains.
“The tackling was an issue tonight,” said Mr. Moniz. “They’re huge up front; those big boys start leaning on you a little bit and it takes its toll. You can’t replicate that in practice and that definitely had an impact tonight.”
Patriots take mometum
Portsmouth never flinched, however. After being being pushed back to their own 4 yard line following the kickoff, Bicho went to work. Alternately passing the ball and keeping it for short gains, he eventually found Peyton Robinson for a 39-yard TD. The extra point was good, making it 21-14 at halftime.
The Patriots’ defense stopped the Rams’ first drive in the third quarter and Portsmouth took over on downs at La Salle’s own 36. A few plays later, Connor Stone scored after hauling in a 28-yard pass from Bicho. The point-after tied the game at 21 with 9:13 left in the third and all the momentum on Portsmouth’s side.
In the next series, the Patriots’ defense continued to put the Rams on their heels. Going for it on fourth down at the Patriots’ 19, a scrambling Lussier nearly got sacked before finding Marquis Nickerson in the end zone. The extra-point attempt was no good but the Rams were back up 27-21, taking some of the wind out of the Patriots’ sails.
“We did have them on the ropes,” said Mr. Moniz. “We talk about opportunities all the time in our program, and we gave ourselves a lot of opportunities tonight. We took advantage of some opportunities and we missed some opportunities at some key times. That was the difference and give La Salle credit; they capitalized and had some big plays. (Lussier’s) a playmaker and he made a play. We didn’t.”
La Salle would pull away but Portsmouth fought to the end. With just under four minutes left in the game, Bicho found wide receiver Zachary Nye, who snagged the ball away from two defenders in the end zone for a 19-yard haul.
“I can’t put into words how proud I am of our guys. They fought, they battled, they competed. The effort was there,” said Mr. Moniz. “We forced four turnovers. We thought it we forced four, we would have a chance.
“I’m not sure many people at the beginning of the year could foresee us being in the position we’re in. It’s a credit to our leadership, our seniors and really credit to the younger guys of buying into the process that we have here.”
Next up: Turkey Day game
Before they face Cranston East in the Division I Super Bowl, the Patriots play the annual Thanksgiving Day game against Middletown. That game starts at 10 a.m. Thursday at home.