CRANSTON – Up against a system that many in the state say is favorable towards certain private schools, the North Kingstown Skipper football team has still found a way to end each of the last three seasons with a championship win. The streak started in 2017 with a Division II state title, and continued on Saturday with the school’s second consecutive D-I Non-State title.
The Skippers have only lost one game in that span, and their 28-19 triumph over Cranston West last weekend put a nice bookend on that three-year dominance. Quarterback James Osmanski threw for two touchdowns and ran for another pair, and as a result was named the MVP for the second-straight Super Bowl.
“It’s just a testament to the entire team,” Osmanski said. “So many guys could have gotten this award. Shane [Kenyon] had two touchdowns in the Super Bowl, that’s just unbelievable. I’m lucky to get this, but it’s not just about me.”
“He’s pretty good at managing the game,” head coach Joe Gilmartin said of Osmanski. “We expect an awful lot of him. He’s been a starter now for two years. He could have played in [my son] Joe’s senior year as well.
“James learned as an underclassman, and now he has complete control of it. He knows where I want the ball to go, he knows the reads we’re looking at. I was happy for him today.”
Kenyon caught both TD passes from Osmanski, but the pass-catching corps was far from one-dimensional. Tyler Pezza, Matt Reilly, Eddie Cardarelli and Ben Gilmartin were just a few of the names out there making huge catches on Saturday at Cranston Stadium.
“It’s awesome,” Osmanski said. “I have three or four guys who I know if I give a chance, they’re going to come down with it. They run phenomenal routes and they have great hands. It’s just makes my job so much easier.”
“We don’t miss,” marveled Gilmartin. “We don’t miss a ball. If the ball is near them, they have unbelievable ability. [Pezza] comes back for another year, Justin [McCarthy] comes back. We’ve got some players.”
Pezza is a talented wide-out and McCarthy is the leader of the team’s wild-cat look. It was that pair’s defensive contributions that moved the needle in the Super Bowl, however. Pezza had a pair of interceptions while McCarthy stopped a sure touchdown drive with another pick.
“That was a great play by Justin McCarthy,” Gilmartin said of the end zone interception. “We had a bunch of ‘em. We had to make good plays. I told them, some people are going to make great plays today and be a hero. That’s the kind of kids we have.”
The offense naturally generates a lot of attention with all the passing and scoring they do. The Skipper defense was just as dominant this season, limiting opponents to right around 14 points per game in the regular season.
That level of success was somewhat of a surprise, after the Skippers lost talented defensive ends Ephraim Graham and Dylan Poirier to graduation. Graham is now at Ithaca College, while Poirier is at the University of New Hampshire.
“We’re pretty good,” on defense, said Gilmartin. “These guys are really, really sharp. Last year with the two defensive ends we had, it allowed our linebackers to get some seasoning, some experience. They were very inexperienced last year.”
“This year, [the linebackers] played lights out. I was super proud of Benny, he had an unbelievable game.”
Ben Gilmartin, Coach Gilmartin’s youngest son, lived in the backfield during the Super Bowl, making tackles for loss and keeping the defense focused.
“We just focused,” defensive lineman Mike Ciarniello said. “We [stressed] that all week, focus, focus, focus. If we get that razor-sharp focus, we don’t think anyone can score on us. We executed today.
“This year we just focused on doing our job. We’re not the biggest kids, not the strongest kids. We just want to do our job and play team defense. That’s how we got it done.”
The defense had their hands full with Cranston West quarterback Cam Alves. The shifty runner helped guide his team to a resurgent campaign, but the Skipper defense had the wherewithal to keep him contained.
“We wanted to keep him in the pocket,” Ciarniello said. “Not letting him get those vertical seams up the field. Keeping him in the pocket will prevent him from getting out and running. He’s a great player.”
The Skippers all credited their three-year run of excellence to the culture that has been building since Coach Gilmartin took the program over.
“We have the best group of kids,” Ciarniello said. “The seniors are so close. Tightest group of kids there is. Three championships, couldn’t ask for anything better.”
“Everybody just buys in,” Osmanski said. “It’s not just the in-season stuff that shows up. It’s the off-season stuff, the six months where we’re not playing. Everybody is committed, lifting weights.”
“This team has the best culture of any team I’ve been associated with,” Gilmartin said. “I’ve done this for a long, long, long time. They take care of the younger kids better than any group I’ve ever had. I don’t have to deal with anything. They teach them.
“That propagates itself. This group here will teach the younger kids next year. There’s no hazing anywhere in football anymore – and it doesn’t belong in football – but our culture is 180 degrees from that. They go out of their way to take care of the young kids.”
“Hardest working coaches in the state,” Ciarniello said. “No doubt about it. Love all of them. They push us everyday to be the best and that’s why we are.”
If a tweet by the North Kingstown Athletics page is any indication, the Skippers’ Thanksgiving Day battle against South Kingstown will be the last for Gilmartin as head coach. The tweet encouraged fans to come see Gilmartin’s ‘last game’.
The teams will continue their holiday rivalry on Thursday morning at Meade Stadium.