In North Kingstown, you have last year’s Division II Super Bowl winner: hungry to prove itself in Division I.
In Bishop Hendricken, you have a team that’s held a monopoly on the D-I landscape for quite some time, winning seven of the past eight state titles. The lone exception came last year when the Hawks’ bid for another championship came up one-point short.
That brings us to tonight and an early-season stirring matchup of programs with grand aspirations and the means to reach them. The Skippers will visit the Hawks’ Ferrick Field at Hayden Stadium for a 7 o’clock kickoff. Last week, each team passed their respective test with flying colors to get off to a 1-0 start in Division I-A; Hendricken rolled to a 35-0 win over Cumberland while NK took care of Moses Brown, 34-7.
“They’ve got a lot of talent … a lot of receivers and running backs,” said Hendricken head coach Keith Croft when asked about North Kingstown earlier this week. “They’re a very well-balanced team and fundamentally sound. It’s going to take a lot for us to beat them. Hopefully we can put it all together.”
“We are definitely an underdog, but what we’re hoping is that we can control the ball long enough to shorten the game and be there in the end when maybe something happens,” said NK head coach Joe Gilmartin. “You get a penalty or a turnover that ends a drive and maybe you’ve got a chance, but we’ve got to play virtually perfectly.”
The respect factor in both camps is clearly there, but who should fans keep an eye on? Ask and you shall receive. Below is a checklist to help breakdown Friday’s matchup.
When Hendricken passes
Junior quarterback Tom Comella is the conductor behind the Hawks’ spread attack that will be minus a key piece against NK. Junior all-state wideout Angel Sanchez won’t be available, but it’s not like Comella’s cupboard will be completely bare. Senior Ethan Worcester, junior Helio Sousa, and sophomore Andres Andujar will be looked upon to make up for Sanchez’s absence; Sousa is more of a slot receiver while Worcester and Andujar are listed at six feet or greater.
“A lot,” said Croft when asked about Sanchez’s absence and how it’ll impact the game-plan. “He’s our best player on both sides of the ball. Other guys have to step up, but they’ll be ready.”
When Hendricken runs
Sophomore running back Hezekiah Emmanuel was a mixture of power and elusiveness last week against Cumberland, scoring two touchdowns that covered 50 and two yards, respectively.
“He’s got good speed, but when he gets in the open field, he’s tough to tackle,” Croft said about Emmanuel.
Senior Evan Rinaldi and junior James Gobewole are the primary backups with senior Carlos Greene representing another option for Croft. The Hawks feature one of the biggest offensive lines in the state with senior/University of Georgia commit Xavier Truss leading the charge.
“We’ve got a lot of options in the backfield,” Croft said.
When Hendricken is on defense
The Hawks feature a 3-4 alignment but at times will flash a 4-4 look. Truss and junior Jake Picard are tasked with getting to the quarterback. Croft is pleased with the progress of varsity newcomers Jachai Armand, a sophomore, and Cam Bailey, a junior.
Nicholas Comella, a junior and brother of QB Tom, and Rinaldi are the linebackers who will be asked to play close to the line with the Hawks signal for six in the box. In the secondary, you have Greene, Worcester, senior Andre De Los Santos, and senior Ahnyia Phrasathane-Estacio.
“Really good group, very solid,” Croft said about his defensive backs. “They’ve played together the last couple of years.”
When Hendricken is on special teams
Junior Cole Peterson will handle the punting and field goals while sophomore Daniel Rice will be out there on kickoffs. With no Sanchez, the Hawks on punt and kickoff returns figure to turn to a group that includes Worcester, Sousa, and junior Jordan Robbins.
When North Kingstown passes
The Skippers plan to air it out a bit more than they’ve shown over the first few weeks. That should be music to James Osmanski’s ears. The junior is in his first year as the starting quarterback, a spot previously manned by 2017 first-team all-state quarterback Joe Gilmartin, the head coach’s son.
“All I stress to James is to make sure the ball comes out on time. You won’t see him move around a lot when he’s in the pocket,” Gilmartin said. “We expect to see some off-man coverage so then it becomes a matter of matchups. We hope that some of our guys can get loose a little bit.”
Senior James McGovern is North Kingstown’s primary deep threat with seniors Andrew Zarrella and Bryce Durney also in the pass-catching mix.
When North Kingstown runs
A running back crops that’s deep and diverse has been on task and on target through the first two weeks. The unit is bolstered by the 1-2 punch that features senior Gabe Sloat, who scored five touchdowns in a game against Portsmouth earlier this month, and senior Tyler Khalfayan. Osmanski is a bona fide threat to make things happen with his feet – he ran for over 100 yards against Portsmouth.
“They’re pretty good, but they’ll get tested this week,” Gilmartin said. “For the first time this season, we will not feature the biggest offensive line on the field.”
Anchored by seniors Dylan Poirier and Nicholas Iden, the Skippers’ line runs three-deep at each position.
“We’re able to get people off the field and keep everyone relatively fresh,” Gilmartin said. “That’s a product of our numbers [which between freshman, junior varsity, and varsity, we’re talking 105 contributors].”
When North Kingstown is on defense
In anticipation of facing Moses Brown and star quarterback Michael Walsh last week, the Skippers planned to feature a heavy dose of nickel coverage. Walsh wound up missing the game with an injury to his non-throwing hand, yet Gilmartin opted to keep the nickel scheme in heavy rotation throughout the first half before switching back to a base defense.
“That’s predicated on our defensive line being pretty good. You can’t play nickel coverage and defend the run well unless your line can play,” said Gilmartin.
Iden and Poirier, a first-team all-state selection last year, are joined in the trenches by senior Ephraim Graham and junior Michael Ciarniello. The secondary includes senior Andrew Zarrella, junior Sebastian Sloat, junior Matt Reilly and senior Bryce Durney.
When North Kingstown is on special teams
The recent stretch of unpredictable weather – hot one day, rain the next – has made it next to impossible for Gilmartin to get a proper read on this unit. For now, the Skippers plan to keep things pretty basic.
Sophomore Max Rome has nailed all but one of his point-after tries to date, and that lone miss was a blocked kick. He’ll handle field goals and kickoffs while Durney is on punt duty. Khalfayan and sophomore Justin McCarthy will be deep to field kickoffs and punts.