WEST WARWICK — It was hard to figure out which team was trying to snap a 12-game losing streak and which team came into the season with Super Bowl aspirations Saturday at Maznicki Field.
The South Kingstown football team, which went winless in the merciless meat grinder that is Division I last year, scored the first 28 points of its non-league contest against a very talented West Warwick squad, which reached the Division II semifinals last year.
The Wizards, behind All-State senior running back Austin Paygai, scored 27 points in the second half, but Rafael Pires, Andrew Benford and the Rebels escaped town with an impressive 35-27 victory.
“I think we had a pretty decent scheme against them,” South Kingstown coach Eric Anderson said. “We got in the film room, did our homework and tried to coach the kids up on their responsibilities. It’s great (to win). It’s been a while. The Rebels pulled it out at the end.”
“In the second half I was proud of my guys because we were down 28 going into the half,” West Warwick coach Shane Lagor said. “I told them I didn’t care if the score was 56-nothing at the end of the game, I just didn’t want to see us not fighting. The guys came out and made some plays and responded.”
South Kingstown (1-0, 0-0) struggled to move the ball in last year’s shutout loss to the Wizards, but Saturday the Wizards had no answer for the combination of Pires between the tackles and Benford on the edge. Pires carried the ball for 111 yards in each half to finish the contest with 222 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries.
Benford prove to be the big–play runner with four carries of 22 yards or more. The senior had touchdown runs of 26 yards in the first quarter and 23 yards in the fourth quarter as part of a 16-carry, 153-yard afternoon.
“I thought (Pires) ran hard,” Anderson said. “He’s got some good linemen in front of him, too, so keep that in mind. Up front I thought we did a nice job and Raf did a nice job of finding the holes and hitting them hard.”
West Warwick (0-1, 0-0) is going to go as far as quarterback Kody Greenhalgh and the offense. In the first half the Wizards produced just 113 yards of total offense to go along with two turnvoers. The Wizards moved the ball much better in the second half, as Greenhalgh completed nine passes for 141 yards and a touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Trevor Lawton.
Paygai, who rushed for just 41 yards in the first half, produced 88 yards of total offense in the second half, including rushing touchdowns of 20 and two yards in the third quarter.
“I learned that when we play as a team we’re going to be a tough team to beat,” Lagor said. “When we start worrying about individual things, it can get ugly quick. We don’t like to lose, but I like the way we fought back.”
For most of West Warwick’s opening drive it looked like the home side was going to score the game’s first points. Paygai had two long runs and Lawton caught a 19-yard pass to move the ball to the SK 21, but Greenhalgh fumbled the ball and the Rebels began attacking.
Pires converted a fourth-and-4 at the West Warwick 47 and then Benford scampered for a 26-yard touchdown on third-and-10. Kicker Nolan Reifsteck made the first of five extra points.
Another Wizard turnover on the next drive led directly to another South score. SK went on a nine-play drive which culminated in a Ryan Worthington 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down.
“It’s hard to watch. Our guys have to fill the holes at the line and our guys have to get off blocks,” Lagor said. “That’s something we’ve been working on over the last few weeks and we know that’s not a strength of ours. We’re going to continue to work on it. They’re a big, physical team, but we know we have to get better with our run defense.”
Pires scored a 37-yard touchdown with five minutes left in the opening half and then Worthington found Reifstick running a wheel route down the left sideline for a 71-yard touchdown just before the end of the half to extend the lead to 28-0.
West Warwick forced SK to punt to start the second half and then Paygai scored a 20-yard touchdown to get the home side on the board. Brian Moretti intercepted a Worthington pass later in the quarter and Paygai scored again to cut the deficit to 28-13.
“We said earlier in the week we heard kids talking about the Super Bowl and we had to make sure they understood that we haven’t won a game yet,” Lagor said. “It’s just too much too soon. Last year was last year. We had a pretty successful year last year, but the game is played on Saturday afternoon or Friday night. No one’s going to hand us anything.”
South Kingstown needed to respond to West Warwick’s two scores and the response came at the beginning of the fourth quarter when the Rebels went 59 yards in seven plays to increase the lead to 35-13. Benford scored a 23-yard touchdown to finish the drive.
“Every time you have the ball you try and score,” Anderson said. “That’s the objective. They did it when they needed to and that’s what I needed to see out of this group. Instead of getting nervous and forgetting things in pressure situations, they shined through and executed well.”
Lawton caught a 12-yard touchdown pass and Rezhaun Braddock recovered a Greenhalgh fumble at the 1-yard line for a touchdown later In the quarter to close the gap to eight points.
West Warwick couldn’t recover the ensuing onside kick and Pires picked up a first down on fourth-and-1 at the Wizards 41 to end the game.