JOHNSTON — Everything the No. 1 Burrillville and No. 2 East Greenwich football teams have been working for since the hot summer days of July – a berth in next week’s Division II Super Bowl – came down to a yard.
The Broncos, trailing by three points, drove all the way from their 11-yard line down to the Avenger one with just 11 seconds left in Saturday’s Division II semifinal at Johnston High School.
With no timeouts left, Burrillville coach Gennaro Ferraro put the ball in the hands of the player who has piloted the Broncos to so much success over the last two years, senior quarterback Jake Gelinas.
East Greenwich stuffed the sneak attempt at the one-foot line and the Avengers secured a 31-28 victory to advance to the Super Bowl.
“We just didn’t really deserve to win the game,” Ferraro said. “They played better than us and we made way too many mistakes and they don’t make any mistakes. We came up short. I gave the ball to my guy, he’s been my guy for the last two years. I don’t regret that call. The referees made the call and we have to live with that.”
“It was a great game and our kids battled them all day,” East Greenwich coach John George said. “They were a very good team and they made some plays. We just kept our heads down and kept going. They drove the length of the field and we stopped them at the end.”
East Greenwich, which will face Woonsocket in next Sunday’s Super Bowl at Cranston Stadium, trailed by as many as 14 points in the second quarter, but lefty quarterback Conrad Swanson engineered 24 points in the final 24:10 to advance.
Swanson accounted for all four touchdowns, including three touchdown passes on 16-of-32 passing for 219 yards. He also carried the ball for 76 yards and a touchdown.
“I’m so proud of this team,” Swanson said. “We’ve been out here since July 5th in captains practices and we’ve worked out butts off. This game shows how hard we’ve worked. We’ve been playing against these guys [Burrillville] all year, we just played our game and won.”
Burrillville sophomore Bobby Thatcher rushed for 136 yards, while wide receiver Aidan Tupper caught five passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. Standout wide receiver Ryan Lockwood suffered an injury in the first quarter after he fumbled the ball. The Broncos turned the ball over three times, while the Avengers didn’t turn the ball over once.
“Penalties and turnovers,” Ferraro said. “We didn’t deserve to win because of that.”
When the Broncos held on to the ball and didn’t commit a penalty, they were tough to stop in the first half. Burrillville opened the scoring with 5:27 left in the opening quarter when Thatcher scored on a
three-yard run to cap off a 12-play, 56-yard drive.
Swanson answered with a six-yard touchdown pass, but then the Broncos took complete control of the game thanks to Gelinas and Tupper.
The senior quarterback, who threw for 203 yards and ran for 98 yards and a touchdown, fired a 65-yard touchdown pass down the left seam to Tupper 3:29 into the second quarter.
Tupper caught a 39-yard touchdown pass a few minutes later, but East Greenwich responded with an important touchdown drive just before halftime.
Running back Kevin Liccardi caught a screen pass and rumbled 17 yards with 10 seconds left in the half to cut Burrillville’s lead to just seven.
“That drive at the end of the first half was key, but it turned out every point was key,” George said, “It gave us some momentum going into halftime and kept us in the game rather than being down two scores. We started the second half with a field goal, so that was a 10-point swing in that period of time.”
Sophomore John McMullen, who picked off a pair of Gelinas passes in the second half, kicked a 29-yard field goal to start the second half to cut EG’s deficit to just four. The Avengers took their first lead of the afternoon 35 seconds into the fourth quarter when Swanson scrambled and found Liccardi for a 22-yard touchdown.
Gelinas answered on the ensuing possession when he scored a 46-yard rushing touchdown and Shea Foisy kicked the extra point for Burrillville’s final points of the afternoon.
Burrillville had a chance to put the game away with another score, but McMullen picked off a Gelinas pass and brought it back to the EG 36-yard line.
East Greenwich drove to the 1-yard line where Swanson plunged into the end zone to put EG up three with 3:12 left.
Gelinas hit Tupper for receptions of 22 and 12 yards on the ensuing drive to move the ball to the EG 30. Gelinas and Thatcher rushed the ball down to the 1, but the Broncos were forced to use their final
timeout with 11 seconds left because they only had 10 players on the field.
Ferraro put the game in the hands of Gelinas, but the Avengers met the senior at the line of scrimmage to secure the win.
“They were out of timeouts, so we knew it was going to be the last play of the game,” George said, “We just told everyone to pinch and drive the line of scrimmage and keep them out of the end zone.”
The loss ends Burrillville’s four-year run of Super Bowl appearances, while the Avengers are in the Super Bowl for the first time since winning the 2015 Division III title.