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Hendricken vs La Salle Wasn’t Always RI High School’s Main Gridiron Event

Kwity Paye
2016 Super Bowl Hendricken’s Kwity Paye with the ball – Photo Courtesy Bishop Hendricken

Catch the La Salle @ Bishop Hendricken football game on YurView LIVE this Friday evening October 4 at 7:00pm on Cox Channel 4 and streaming on YurView.com.

They are the two largest Catholic high schools in the state with the most densely-Catholic population in the country. So, it makes sense Hendricken and La Salle would be a great football rivalry.

But surprisingly it took some time for a Hendricken-LaSalle gridiron clash to become a “must see” happening.

La Salle Academy opened as a high school in Providence in 1871 and by 1908 La Salle students were playing high school football. In fact, when the R.I. Interscholastic League was founded in 1932, its first Division I football champion was La Salle.

Hendricken, on the other hand didn’t open its doors in Warwick until 1959 and the Hawks didn’t start playing in the state’s top football division until the mid-1960s

But even when the Hawks and Rams started meeting regularly on the gridiron in the 1970s the annual Hendricken-La Salle game wasn’t always the biggest contest on the schedule for both teams.

When Hendricken ran a string of three consecutive state championships from 1994-96, Portsmouth or East Providence were the teams the Hawks defeated in the state Super Bowls. Hendricken also earned Super Bowls berths in 1997 and 1999 and once again Portsmouth and East Providence were Hendricken’s primary challengers for state supremacy with Portsmouth defeating Hendricken in 1997 and East Providence besting the Hawks in 1999.

2016 Super Bowl – Hendricken’s Chris Hindle #10 – Photo Courtesy Bishop Hendricken

When, in 2000, La Salle finally won its first title in the 29-year history of the state football playoffs, the Rams defeated Portsmouth in the Super Bowl and the following year the Rams beat East Providence in the title game. La Salle also appeared in four other Super Bowls between 2002-2005, but Hendricken wasn’t the Rams opponent in any of those state title games.

But even if they weren’t meeting in the actual state title game by the mid-1990s there was no doubt the annual La Salle-Hendricken regular season game had become a showdown between two of the top teams in the state. For 17 consecutive years, between 1994- 2010 either Hendricken or La Salle played in the state’s Major Super Bowl game.

Like every great football rivalry, through those years both schools had some superstars who brought added fan interest to the game. Will Blackmon may not have been able to lead Hendricken to a state title while he was wearing a Hawks uniform from 1998-2001 seasons, but he delivered some running performance the likes of which Rhode Island high school football fans hadn’t seen in decades.

Blackmon went from Hendricken to Boston College where he was one of the NCAA national punt and kickoff return leaders for three years as well as being an outstanding defensive back. He was drafted in the fourth round of 2004 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers and went on to play 11 years in the NFL for five teams. Today he is a commentator on the NFL network.

Liam Coen became La Salle’s starting quarterback in his sophomore year in 2001 and by the time he graduated he had set just about every Rhode Island high school football passing record. He went on to Division I UMass where he passed for over 11,000 career yards, setting just about every UMass passing record. Today Coen is the assistant wide receivers’ coach for the Los Angelis Rams and has helped the Rams become one of the most explosive teams in the NFL over the past two seasons.

It’s all part of what now is the lore of the La Salle-Hendricken football rivalry.

But even then, it wasn’t until 2011 that Hendricken and La Salle met for the first time in a state title football game.

So, while it may have taken a little longer than some people might have expected for La Salle-Hendricken to become the top high school football rivalry in Rhode Island, there’s no question these days a Hawks-Rams showdown is Rhode Island’s biggest high school game in town.

Combined in the 21st century Hendricken and La Salle have won 12 of the 19 major Super Bowls state titles contested since 2000 including the past nine consecutive titles. Since that first Super Bowl meeting in 2011 Hendricken and La Salle have been the opponents in seven of the eight Major state Super Bowls.

Not surprising there have been classic games in those Rams-Hawks Super Bowl showdowns, but none more thrilling than the 2017 game when La Salle ended Hendricken’s string of seven consecutive state titles with a 22-21 overtime victory. The Rams, trailing by one in OT, elected to go for the two-point conversion and successfully converted for the margin of victory.

The Super Bowl match-ups may have been the most important games for the Interscholastic League record books, but it has been the La Salle-Hendricken annual regular season meetings that have actually drawn the biggest crowds in the rivalry.

That’s really not surprising. The Super Bowls are played late in the season when New England weather can be fickle. The regular season game normally has been played in perfect football weather in September or October.

Hendricken vs. La Salle on a football field under Friday Night Lights has become the biggest Rhode Island high school sports event of the school year in any sport. It’s the type of game that not only brings out the student bodies of both schools, but also attracts people who don’t have a direct connection with the players on either team. That’s something you don’t see too often in any high school sport these days.

Throughout the years the fans have packed the house no matter where the Rams and Hawks play. A few years ago, officials at Hendricken were declaring it was the largest crowd to ever see a football game at Hendricken field when the Hawks and Rams met in their regular season opener. A few years earlier an SRO crowd showed up at the La Salle Field even when the Hawks and Rams were only playing a non-league, 24-minute Injury Fund scrimmage.

If Mother Nature co-operates it will be another SRO crowd this Friday night when the Hawks and Rams meet at Hendricken.

It’s Hendricken vs. La Salle – there doesn’t need to be a title on the line to pack the house. But you need to get there early if you want a seat.

Catch the La Salle @ Bishop Hendricken football game on YurView LIVE this Friday evening October 4 at 7:00pm on Cox Channel 4 and streaming on YurView.com.