Hawks produce strong all-around effort in victory over Rams

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Many assumed that La Salle was the team to beat entering this season after Hendricken lost several key players from its championship-winning team a season ago. But, on Friday night, the Hawks proved why they’ve won the last seven state championships. It was truly next man up for the Hawks as many new faces seized their opportunity in the season opener against the rival Rams, with Hendricken cruising to victory, 21-7, in front of a packed home crowd.

Sophomore quarterback Tom Comella, fresh off leading the freshman Hawks to a state title in 2016, continued his success in his first league varsity start. Comella threw for 115 yards and one touchdown, in addition to rushing for 96 yards and another score, as he was unfazed by the big stage.

“Great poise, great leadership. He believes in himself and we believe in him,” Hendricken head coach Keith Croft said of his sophomore quarterback. “He was great. He's gotten better every week.”

Hendricken's star senior running back, Devin Rivet, started hot out of the gate with a couple big runs before exiting in the first quarter with an undisclosed injury. However, junior backup Israel Emmanuel stepped right in, and the offense didn't miss a beat, with Emmanuel rushing for 96 yards and a touchdown to help propel the Hawks to a win.

“Rivet, who's been everything for us, went down early with an injury,” Croft said. “It doesn’t look that good for him. He’s been the heart and soul of our team. But, Israel just stepped up big time.”

Hendricken's defense was stifling, as well. It held All-State running back Leroy DeOliveira to just 13 yards rushing, and Andrew Wright completed eight passes through the air, but nothing went for more than 18 yards, totaling just 29 passing yards for the game.

“It was just a tremendous team effort,” Croft said.

Hendricken’s defense set the tone early, forcing a three-and-out for La Salle on the first possession of the game.

The Hawks then struck first when Emmanuel rushed in from eight yards out with 5:31 left to give the home team the edge, 7-0.

Hendricken kept its momentum rolling.

After another stop, the Hawks got the ball back, and it didn’t take long for them to add another score.

Comella dropped back and threw a screen pass to fellow sophomore Angel Sanchez, who dashed 55 yards to the end zone to up the score to 13-0 with just a few seconds remaining in the first quarter.

That same score held going into halftime following a scoreless second quarter.

La Salle had a strong start to the second half. It looked as though Wright trimmed his team’s deficit on an 18-yard touchdown run, but that was called back on a holding penalty. However, a couple plays later, senior Jake Ribeiro rushed in for a 6-yard touchdown to cut Hendricken’s lead to 13-7 with 7:34 left in the third quarter.

The Rams were immediately thinking of striking again, too, as they recovered an onside kick after Ribeiro’s touchdown.

Hendricken’s defense would come up big once again, though, stalling La Salle’s offense and forcing a turnover on downs.

That was a critical sequence because Hendricken’s offense would capitalize on the ensuing drive.

A 54-yard pass from Comella to Angel Santana set the Hawks up inside La Salle’s 5-yard line, and Comella would cap the drive when he plunged in from one yard out. Comella then rolled out to his right and found Santana again for the 2-point conversion to stretch the lead to 14, 21-7.

La Salle was looking to swing the momentum back in its favor when it got the ball back, but Dylan Gardner recovered a DeOliveira fumble near midfield early in the fourth quarter to keep the Rams’ offense frustrated.

Hendricken wouldn’t tack on any more points down the stretch, but its defense remained stingy to keep La Salle’s offense at bay.

“It’s a tremendous win,” Croft said. “Those kids played great. It’s a battle, it’s a rivalry game. We’re hopeful that we’re going to see [La Salle] again. When two big teams go at it, a lot of guys are dropping and guys have to step up. I’m proud of everybody.”

The Hawks will get right back to work to prepare for another tough matchup this week, as they’ll travel to take on South Kingstown (1-0) at Curtis Corner Middle School at 7 p.m. on Friday night.

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