By any measure, it’s been a successful season for the Bishop Hendricken freshman football team. The Hawks went 8-0 in the regular season and will play on Saturday for the Division I state championship.
They’re also finishing the year with 65 players on the roster, which is a victory in its own right.
“They just work hard,” said head coach Jonathan Stringfellow. “We go game-to-game. The goal at the beginning of the season is to finish with as many kids as possible. We started with 77 and we have 65 right now. That’s the success. They’ve bought into that, and they’ve worked to stick with it.”
On Saturday, the Hawks are hoping to get their reward.
They earned a spot in the championship with a 33-16 victory over Portsmouth last Friday. They’ll play second-seeded Barrington on Saturday at 3 p.m. at Cranston Stadium for the title.
The Hawks have been gearing up for that game all week, but their approach hasn’t been any different. The program has won two straight championships but the goal of winning a third has taken a backseat to just getting better.
“You don’t really know how good you are,” Stringfellow said. “You just keep practicing. We correct our mistakes and we don’t worry too much about who we’re playing. We just try to keep getting better. We can only worry about ourselves, and the kids buy into that. They’ve done a great job with that.”
The results reflect that.
The Hawks won their season opener 30-8 in September and haven’t looked back. They’ve averaged almost 35 points per game and have allowed just 11 per game.
“We’ve been pretty consistent,” Stringfellow said. “Our first group didn’t let up a touchdown until the last game of the season, so they’ve played really solid defense. And the offense has been good.”
The offensive unit is led by quarterback John Toppa, who’s excelled at running the option. Fullback Power Kanga and running backs Gary Gibbs, Terrence Gibbs and Jehvine Quaweay have handled the bulk of the carries. Receiver Matt Duffie has also played well, while tight end Lee Moses has shined as a kick returner.
“He’s special,” Stringfellow said. “Teams have actually stopped kicking to him.”
With so many players, getting snaps for everybody is difficult, but Stringfellow thinks the team has handled it well.
“You always have a little bit of ego, but for the most part, they do their job and they’re happy for each other when things go well,” Stringfellow said. “Every week, it’s a different guy stepping up and doing what we need.”
On the defensive side, it’s been a strong team effort.
“We play a lot of different bodies and we’ve been pretty solid,” Stringfellow said. “It’s been fun coaching this group of kids.”
The Hawks are hoping to have a little more fun on Saturday.
In a regular-season meeting on Oct. 20, they beat Barrington 33-14, but it wasn’t an easy task. The Hawks blocked a punt and also recovered a key fumble to help their cause.
“We had some balls bounce our way,” Stringfellow said. “They’re tough. Barrington does some different things. They shoot from the hip a little bit. They’ll do some trick plays. We have to be prepared for that kind of stuff, so it’s a little different week of practice than normal.”
But the Hawks will keep working.
“This is a good group of kids,” Stringfellow said. “You never know who’s going to go to the next level, but if they stick together, they’ll do well.”