EAST GREENWICH - Last weekend the undefeated East Greenwich Avengers took on the Middletown Islanders in their first game of the 2019 postseason. In what could have been the coldest game of the year at twenty-eight degrees at kickoff, the Avengers withstood the freezing temperatures and prevailed to remain undefeated by a score of 34-26.
The highly efficient star-studded offense, led by senior quarterback Conrad Swanson III, did not disappoint the East Greenwich faithful. Swanson walked the Avengers downfield on his opening drive completing a three play forty-one yard trip to the endzone for the first touchdown of the night, which came at the hands of his favorite target, wideout Grant Driscoll.
The Swanson-Driscoll connection was only getting started, after the Islanders suffered a quick three-and-out by the Avenger defense. The ball came back to the hands of the East Greenwich playmakers. This time the drive stemmed mostly from the ground attack, and the Avengers rode on the shoulders of their multi-purpose running back, Mathew Licciardi. Licciardi bullied his way through the Islander defense into the red zone, before Swanson fired another bullet to Driscoll in the end zone to put the Avengers up two possessions at the end of the first quarter.
Things seemed all but taken care of, when the East Greenwich and their undefeated offense had a chance to drive the length of the field, and put the Islanders down three possessions in the first half. With the ball buried in their own zone, Swanson dropped back to pass, and under pressure from the Islanders, stepped up in the pocket to avoid the sack. When he stepped up, he met a mob of white, and the Islanders defense managed to pry the ball from the hands of Swanson, and fall on it for their first turnover of the game.
A rarity for the likes of the Avenger offense, their defense was back on the field to try and protect the two possession lead early in the second quarter. This time the Islanders managed to punch it in on their second trip to the red zone to make the score 13-7, and brought life back to a previously dormant Islander rushing attack.
With just under three minutes left in the half, the Avengers were threatening to make it another two possession game when Swanson looked to take a shot downfield. For the first time all year, Swanson’s pass went off the hands of his receiver, and into the clutches of the Middletown secondary. Swanson’s first interception gave the Islanders the ball deep in their own territory, and ignited the spirits of the Middletown underdogs.
The half ended with a score of 13-7, but things were only getting started for a contest that saw most of its scoring in the second half. After Swanson’s number one target Grant Driscoll went down with an undisclosed injury in the first half, he was forced to win this game without his most effective target. Driscoll left the game with two receiving touchdowns, and the stage was set for an unlikely hero to step up in a big way.
The Avengers kicked off to begin the second half, and the Middletown rushing attack immediately went to work. They found the end zone to tie the game at thirteen, after a 44-yard dash by the quick feet of their veteran running back, Tyson Francis.
Middletown’s special teams’ play carried the momentum from the game tying score, into the following kickoff where they were able to recover an onside kick and reclaim possession of the ball.
Focus then shifted to the Avenger defense to step up in the clutch. Middletown kept the ball on the ground, and rushed into Avenger territory. They seemed to put their foot on the gas until they hit a roadblock, and the Isles opportunity for late game points relied solely on their offense’s ability to convert on a fourth-down attempt in the red zone.
Although the Avengers assembled. Their heavy-hitting ball hawks in the secondary locked in, and their pass rush forced Middletown’s senior quarterback, Freddie Killian, out of the pocket just as he floated a pass to a seemingly wide open target in the back corner of the end zone. Killian’s fourth down pass had just graced the fingertips of the Islanders wideout, when senior defensive-back, Joey Allen, rushed over and blew up Middletown’s chances to establish a late game lead.
“I saw the quarterback let go of the ball, and I don’t know what happened after that.” said Allen, “We knew big plays were going to happen (from our defense) and everybody stepped up.”
The Avengers went back to the air, and Swanson’s swagger seemed to be at a maximum as he settled back into a tightly contested postseason battle. Rather than shying away from the air attack, Avengers Head Coach John George, kept his trust in his quarterback’s ability to drive the field, and they quickly took back control of the game.
“He’s a smart quarterback.” said George, “ I have a lot of faith in his ability as a leader, he’s easy to trust, he’s just a very smart player.”
Swanson lead the charge as he took big chunks of yards through the air as he seamlessly targeted his big man Plympton, and deep threat junior, Jack McMullen. George’s offense looked as dangerous as ever as he mixed in Licciardi to keep the pass rush guessing. The go-ahead score came again in ‘pitch and catch’ fashion as Andrew Plympton found the end zone for his first score of the game from a beautiful pass from Swanson through a tight window. The Avengers had taken the lead 20-13.
The Avengers defense stepped up again, as they forced a fumble and stole the ball from the trailing Middletown offense. Swanson was rewarded with another chance to put the game on ice, but uncharacteristically threw his second interception of the game (and year).
Middletown’s offense desperately needed a big play, and their slippery running back delivered on a sixty-six yard rushing touchdown to even the game at 20, in the early stages of the fourth quarter.
The Avengers desire to win was finally being tested, and their commonly efficient offense executed on their following opportunity with a score from their running back, Matthew Licciardi. His first score of the game put them ahead, 27-20, with just over eight minutes remaining in regulation.
Although the Avengers had regained the lead late in the game, Middletown still managed to trudge downfield, and pound in a late-game score with just over a minute remaining.
With the score 27-26, Middletown knew better than to let the opportunity to take the lead go to waste, and put their trust in their defenses’ ability to force a turnover. Middletown took a chance, and left the offense on the field to attempt a two point conversion with 1:26 left in the game.
The Avengers home crowd erupted when the attempt failed, the home team’s offense was positioned to run the clock and carry their one point lead to victory. Middletown’s season relied on the special teams’ ability to recover another onside kick.
This time, the Avengers hands team was prepared. The speedy McMullen, scooped up the last ditch effort from the Islanders, and ran it back sixty yards for the final score of the game.
“With the cold and tricky bounces, we struggled early in the game, but we worked on it at practice all week,” said McMullen, “One of our best receivers, Grant Driscoll, went down so we knew somebody would have to step up.”
The Avengers compiled a complete team win in their first look at the postseason this year.
“We played really well as a team today.” said George, “When the defense made a big play the offense was able to pick them up and respond.”
The Avengers take on Woonsocket this Saturday, November 16, in East Greenwich. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.