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NARRAGANSETT â€“ Saturday was meant to be a big day for the Narragansett football team. Not only was it senior day for 17 Mariners, but facing a similar two-loss Middletown team, it was a contest rife with playoff implications for both sides.
The Mariners kept it tight, but a late explosion by the Islanders helped them pull ahead and run away with a 27-7 victory.
â€śIt was really the fourth quarter,â€ť said Narragansett coach Dick Fossa. â€śâ€¦We were unable to stop them and I think we only ran seven or eight plays in the fourth quarter. They did to us what we like to do to teams. They controlled the clock, positive yards on just about every play. Today they were the better team.â€ť
The Islanders may have been the better team by the end, but early on the battle was low scoring and evenly matched.
Narragansett received the opening kickoff and were steadily moving the ball up-field on the legs of running back Reed Nelson.
The drive began to stall near midfield, however, and on third-and-eight from the Narragansett 48-yard line quarterback Kullen McGill dropped back on his first pass attempt of the day, went over the middle and was picked off by Kyle Donavan.
Middletown made the Mariners pay for the turnover, starting their drive at midfield and pounding the ball on the ground, scoring on a three-yard touchdown run by Connor Russ for an early 7-0 lead at 5:19 of the first quarter.
The two sides each turned the ball over on downs on their next possessions and then Middletown forced a punt before the Mariner defense came up with a costly turnover of their own to get themselves back in the ball game.
On a first down from the Islandersâ€™ 35-yard line, the Marinersâ€™ defense forced running back Ygor Maipira to cough up the ball and recovered it, giving the ball back to their offense deep in enemy territory. As Middletown had done to them, Narragansett made its foe pay for the turnover.
The drive almost stalled on the Middletown 15, but a great second effort on a third-and-one rush by Nelson kept the drive going and three plays later the Narragansett back bruised his way into the end zone to tie the game 7-7 at 9:24 of the second quarter following Christian Humulockâ€™s extra point kick.
Narragansett pinned Middletown deep on the kickoff, but armed with three timeouts and plenty of time on the clock, the Islanders set off in search of a backbreaking score to take the lead just before half. Starting on their own 16-yard line with 2:31 left in the half, a combination of Maipira, Russ and Michael Garvey rushed their squad into Narragansett territory. From there on in they went to the air for the first time in the contest as quarterback Jacob Francis completed a pair of passes to get Middletown down to the 13-yard line with 16 seconds remaining.
Following an incomplete pass, a sack for a 13-yard loss by Pete Durkin seemingly ended the threat and the half, but Middletown called a timeout with two seconds left setting up one final play. Francis heaved the ball into a host of Mariners and Islanders that had converged in the end zone, but the ball fell incomplete and the game went to the break still tied 7-7.
After scoring a touchdown on the opening possession of the second half, the Islanders had a 13-7 lead after the extra point attempt was blocked. The Mariners responded by driving deep when they got their hands on the ball, getting within the 10 for a first-and-goal, but beset by penalties, they were backed up out of the red zone and then came away empty after Humulock just pushed a 31-yard field goal attempt wide left. The tide was turning in Middletownâ€™s favor and the runaway was on.
â€śThey got the opening kickoff [of the second half] and had a long drive to score,â€ť Fossa said. â€śI was happy that we came right back and got it inside the 10, first-and-goal.
â€śWeâ€™re playing a little shorthanded and the guys got tired. We were moving them all during that drive, but then once we got to first-and-goal, they kind of blew us up at the goal line. Went for a field goal, had a penalty, didnâ€™t make it, so we came away with nothing. That kind of hurt us.â€ť
With Middletown driving on the ensuing possession early in the fourth quarter, Vinny Santos picked off Francis in the end zone to regain possession for the Mariners. That, however, was the final senior day highlight for Narragansett.
The Islanders defense forced a quick three-and-out and then the offense matriculated their way down the field, chewing nearly five minutes off the clock before Jeremy Jackson took a handoff and broke a 12-yard touchdown run. Middletown ran the same play with the same result on the two-point conversation to go up 21-7 with 2:36 left in the contest.
Narragansett still had life, down two scores with 2:31 to play as they started their next drive on their own 35-yard line. Middletown, however, had other plans and put an authoritative stamp on its victory on the very first play of the drive.
McGillâ€™s pass to Justin Cronin was tipped by the Marinersâ€™ receiver and intercepted by Trevon Gray, who returned it for a touchdown to bring the score to its final 27-7 and dash Narragansettâ€™s hopes of a happy ending to senior day.
Their hopes on the day may have ended but not their aspirations for a bid in the postseason. Despite the setback of the loss and how much more difficult the road has become following back-to-back defeats, the Mariners are still in the hunt for the fourth and final playoff spot in Division III and hold their playoff fate in their hands with three games left in the season.
â€śWeâ€™re 3-3 in the division,â€ť Fossa said following the loss, â€śClassical has two losses and East Greenwich has three. If we beat Classical [on Nov. 16], we have the tiebreaker with them. Then if we beat East Greenwich on Thanksgiving Eve, weâ€™ll get the No. 4 spot.â€ť