SOUTH KINGSTOWN — With both teams needing a win to secure a postseason berth, Friday’s football matchup between South Kingstown and East Greenwich felt like a playoff game.
The way it went left the Rebels one step short of the real thing.
The Rebels led early and went in front again in the second half but watched East Greenwich rally with 21 unanswered points en route to a 35-21 victory at Curtis Corner Middle School.
South Kingstown was without starting quarterback Cam Holland due to a back injury, with the sophomore only playing late in the game when the Rebels were in desperation mode. Without him, the Rebels leaned heavily on their running attack and made it work for much of the game. Brothers Rory and Ryan Hazard were tough to bring down and broke one touchdown run each. Trey Young also had a touchdown. The Avengers eventually slowed the Rebels down and got their high-powered offense in gear.
“It was unfortunate,” South Kingstown coach Gerry Zannella said. “Cam tweaked his back around 4:15 on Wednesday. We haven’t done the things we had to do today pretty much throughout the season. Given the hand that was dealt to us, we were able to execute. We put 21 points on the board against a pretty good team. When they got the wind and they started throwing the ball, we were in trouble. We had a tough time matching up with them on the outside.”
East Greenwich senior Jack McMullen did much of the damage for the Avengers in a spectacular performance. He scored four touchdowns, intercepted a pass, recovered a fumble and was a perfect five-for-five on PATs. The performance helped the Avengers make the playoffs in their first year in D-I.
“It means everything,” McMullen said. “First year in D-I, we didn’t know how it was going to go, but we really work hard in practice. The coaches put in a great game plan. We trust each other. We come together as a team. We want it so bad and we fight for each other.”
The Rebels went up 7-0 as Young capped a long drive with a touchdown, before McMullen made his first big play. He made a one-handed catch of a Parke Hardesky throw then weaved through the defense 80 yards for a touchdown. On the next play from scrimmage, McMullen intercepted a pass. Hardesky spread the ball around on the ensuing drive before McMullen raced in from a yard out on a direct snap to give East Greenwich the lead.
Ryan Hazard broke a 33-yard run on a fake punt for the Rebels on their next drive, setting up a 19-yard touchdown by Rory Hazard that tied the game. It remained 14-14 into halftime.
“They played with a lot of heart, they really did,” Zannella said.
The Rebels struck first in the second half with a 54-yard touchdown run by Ryan Hazard, but it was all Avengers from there. Hardesky completed three straight passes to Andrew Plympton to rack up 66 yards on the next drive, with the final toss going for a 41-yard touchdown that tied the game.
East Greenwich came up with stops on each of South Kingstown’s next two drives, then took the lead on two more big pass plays to Plympton and a 4-yard touchdown run by McMullen.
South Kingstown fumbled on its next drive and McMullen emerged from the bottom of the pile with the ball. Two plays later, he took a direct snap and raced 38 yards for the exclamation point touchdown.
“When you play station to station football, you can’t make mistakes, you’ve got to stay on schedule, you can’t have a penalty, let alone a turnover,” Zannella said. “For a while, we were able to stay on schedule. We knew it was going to be tough. East Greenwich is good. They don’t make mistakes. They don’t turn the ball over. They don’t put themselves in trouble. They’re sound in everything they do. You can’t make mistakes against a team like that.”
The Hazard brothers were a big bright spot for the Rebels. Rory totaled 147 yards rushing in his final game and Ryan finished with 140. Young also chipped in, taking snaps for most of the game and finishing with 36 yards rushing.
South Kingstown’s seniors were saluted after the game, departing to fist bumps from a line of their teammates. The group is led by captains Luke Palazzetti, Trey Young, Chris Nhem, Tyler Pearce and Rory Hazard.
They’ll leave behind a group that should be well-positioned for success, thanks to a step in the right direction this spring.
“We had the five captains, but the majority of the team is still underclassmen,” Zannella said. “With the philosophy that we’re going with, we’re hoping to attract more athletes to come out for the team and have some fun.”