PROVIDENCE—The Division I football season is just four weeks old but it is already shaping up to be a wild finish.
Friday South Kingstown (3-2, 1-2 D-I) – fresh off a thrilling win over Portsmouth (4-1, 3-1 D-I) the week prior – dropped a 27-16 decision at La Salle (5-1, 3-1 D-I), whose only loss of the season came to the Patriots in week one.
Given that Cranston West, East Providence and Tolman have started 0-4 – while Barrington 3-0 and Hendricken 4-0 – the stage is setting up for a potential battle for two playoff spots between the Rebels, Patriots, Rams and Cranston East.
“It could be a mess,” SK coach Eric Anderson said. “I don’t know what it’s going to look like. Any game you lose doesn’t help you in the tiebreakers. Every game is a swing game the way I see it.”
South had an opportunity to separate itself with a win over the Rams Friday and after trailing early, had a chance to win the game late.
After both teams punted on their opening possession the Rams began to pick up yards in bunches as La Salle had five plays of 10 yards or more as a part of an eight-play, 62-yard scoring drive that was capped off by an 11-yard rush from junior running back Don’Trae’ Odufunade.
For the games the Rebels struggled to keep Odufunade in check, as too many arm tackles led to a ton of extra yards after the initial hit.
“I told the guys at halftime we seemed to be getting to the point of attack but we just weren’t wrapping,” Anderson said. “One shot is not going to bring that kid down. We weren’t making sound tackles.”
After three more empty possessions La Salle pushed its lead to 14-0 early in the second as the Rebels had a number of chances to halt a long drive but couldn’t get the job done.
On a fourth-and-13 from the SK 29-yard line Ram quarterback Jace Pena scrambled his way to a 14-yard pick up and the first down.
Four plays later the Rams were down to the SK nine and appeared to pick up the first down but a late block in the back penalty marched the ball back to the 24-yard line.
Pena’s ensuing pass sailed well long of his intended receiver but South was flagged for a defensive holding penalty – which took officials approximately 15 minutes to sort out – and the ball was spotted at the nine-yard line on a replay of fourth down.
After the long delay the Rams needed just an instant to score as Pena hit his slot receiver Keon Wilson on a quick slant for the touchdown.
The Rebels would respond though as quarterback Ryan Worthington hit Andrew Benford on a 34-yard touchdown reception with 1:42 remaining in the second quarter to cut the deficit to 14-7 at the break.
After receiving the ball on the opening possession of the second half SK didn’t wait long to strike again as Worthington hit a wide open Nolan Reifsteck on the fourth play from scrimmage for a 65-yard touchdown to bring the score to 14-13 after Reifsteck’s PAT hit the upright.
Momentum at this point was squarely with the Rebels and – after stopping La Salle on its ensuing possession – they took a 16-14 lead with 44 seconds remaining in the third quarter as a 12-play, 55-yard drive culminated with a 27-yard Reifsteck field goal.
The Rebels’ defense once again held on the Rams’ next drive but SK would respond by putting its defense at a disadvantage as its ensuing offensive possession faltered, forcing South to punt on fourth-and-25 from its own seven.
The poor possession gave the Rams excellent field position at the SK 33-yard line and La Salle would take advantage, scoring in just five plays as a 38-yard pass from Pena to Wilson on third-and-15 set up a two-yard touchdown rush from Pena with a little over eight minutes to go.
Both teams went empty on their next two possessions but with four minutes to go SK had a shot after taking over on its own 38-yard line.
A two-yard rush from Rafael Pires, followed by a 10-yard completion from Worthington to Patrick Carlson brought the ball to midfield.
Worthington’s next two passes fell incomplete and on third-and-10 the junior quarterback tried to force the ball into double coverage.
His attempt was intercepted by La Salle’s Brendan Lippe, who brought the ball all the way back to SK 10-yard line.
One play later Pena scrambled into the end zone to seal South Kingstown’s defeat.
“We battled back and we actually came back to a lead at one point,” Anderson said. “We just didn’t hang in there long enough.”