WEST WARWICK- As he lined up for the game-winning kick, Charlie Tashjian had no doubt that the ball would successfully split the uprights. The senior, who serves exclusively as the team’s kicker when he’s not guarding the goalposts on the soccer field, was a perfect five for five on the night, saving the best for last, as his extra point in double overtime gave the Wizards a dramatic 43-42 win over Division I South Kingstown on Friday night.
“It was my first football game ever,” Tashjian said after the game, soaking up the thrill of victory along with all of his teammates.
The senior practiced with the team last year, but had yet to get in on any actual playing time until this past Friday. The win was not only a thrilling one, but a memorable one for West Warwick, who played their first ever game under the lights. A moving halftime ceremony was dedicated to the late Jim Williamson, whose dream it was to see a Friday night game in his hometown become a reality.
Cody Stetson scored each of the Wizards’ first three touchdowns on the night, while Jared Shibley had the second three, including two in the overtime sessions, as both sides fought all the way to the finish. The Rebels were led by star running back Anthony Shepard, who crossed the goal line twice in addition to going two for three on two-point conversion attempts, including one with just second remaining in regulation that sent the game into overtime.
Austin Hedglen had a pair of scores himself, while junior Paul Gonsalves and senior Michael Rios also recorded a touchdown each on the night. For the Rebels, despite the crushing defeat, head coach Eric Anderson was proud of the way his team fought until the end, sending a game that appeared to be over into bonus time.
“I was proud of the way we were resilient. We were down eight, come flying back, double overtime and just couldn’t make a play (at the end). They made a play and we didn’t,” he said.
Though it was a non-league contest, Anderson said that his club suited up for it with the same mentality as any other.
“The game’s a game. We prep for it just like we would any other one. We knew it was going to be a tough game. We just came up one play short,” he said.
While he certainly would have liked to have seen his team close out the game in regulation, Wizards’ head coach Dave Caito was proud.
“I’m so proud of the guys. I’m not going to talk about anything negative because it was such a great high school football game. Under the lights, we couldn’t ask for anything better. I’m very proud of Brogan Guilmette. He had a great game. He’s a field general now. He throws the ball well and he’s in command out there. You can’t say enough about special teams too. This week they were outstanding," he said, citing the fact that they successfully overcame their struggles from the week before against East Greenwich in the Injury Fund game. Everybody in his mind, played an outstanding game.
“They really sucked it up and showed what kind of character and heart they have,” he said. He had high praise for SK’s Shepard as well, a player that has hurt them in the past. “He killed us last year and almost killed us this year,” he said.
The Wizards pounced on the Rebels early, blocking a punt, before scoring on just the second play of their opening offensive series. Beginning at the SK 27-yard line, Guilmette found and open Stetson, who took the ball to the house for the early score, one that would hold for the remainder of the opening quarter.
The Rebels answered back early un the second, as they capped a drive beginning at their own 46. With 9:46 to go and facing 3rd and 5 deep in West Warwick territory, Blessing flipped the ball to running back Paul Gonsalves who crossed the goal line, evening the game at 7-7. Each side would score once more over the course of the remaining opening half.
SK took their first lead of the night following a 69-yard drive that ate up 5:49 off the clock, as Gonsalves once again carried the ball into the end zone, this time from the 11-yard line. With just under two minutes remaining until the break, the Wizards did not let their offensive drive go to waste. Stetson returned the kickoff to the SK 41-yard line. A 21-yard pass from Guilmette to Shibley set up first and goal, with Steston taking the ball in five yards on second and goal to tie the score 14-14.
The Wizards started the second half with the ball and needed just 3:28 to reclaim the lead, as Stetson once again found himself with the ball in the end zone, this time catching a pass from Guimette from the opponent’s 34-yard line, before breaking free from defenders.
The Rebels responded with their third score of the night as Shepard broke free himself for a 38-yard touchdown run, but the score was dampened by the fact that the Wizards were able to successfully block kicker Riley Barrett’s extra point attempt, as West Warwick maintained a slim 21-20 advantage.
Shibley extended the lead to eight just seven seconds into the fourth, as he took the ball in six yards for the score, as Tashjian’s extra point made it 28-20. The score remained unchanged up until the very end of the quarter, as the Rebels put together a last ditch effort in an attempt to send the game into overtime.
With 2:21 to go, SK rode Shepard’s offensive talent once again, as the running back broke free for a 35-yard gain, bringing the ball deep into Wizards territory. With just 5.9 seconds remaining, Blessing connected with Hedglen for a 12-yard pass in the end zone.
There was still work to be done though, as the Rebels needed to convert the two-point play in order to force overtime, but Shepard managed to do just that, as a stunned home crowd simply looked on. The overtime period, which closely mirrors that of college football, would prove to be a test of resilience and determination for both sides. SK began with the ball first at the Wizards’ 10-yard line.
After advancing the ball 6 yards, Shepard then scored on second and goal, before once gain successfully completing a two-point conversion, as the Rebels jumped out to a 36-28 advantage. The Wizards answered right back on a 10-yard touchdown pass on second and goal, caught by Chris Gaipo, before Shibley caught a pass from Guilmette to complete the two-point play and keep the game alive.
Blessing threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Michael Rios to make it 42-36, but the team’s attempt to go for the two-point conversion was unsuccessful, as Shepard was stuffed by the Wizards’ defense. Jayden Clark carried the ball seven yards on the team’s first play before Shibley finished it off with a three-yard run, tying the game at 42-42, before Tashjian came on to kick the game-winning extra point, as the entire team rushed the field in celebration, capping a truly thrilling opening night of Friday night football in the town of West Warwick.
West Warwick will be back in action this Friday, as they host Johnston at 7 p.m. The Rebels will travel up north to Woonsocket for a Saturday afternoon showdown against the Villa Novans beginning at 1 p.m.