WOONSOCKET — The outlook for Westerly High’s football team was hardly promising at halftime of Saturday afternoon’s Division II-A game against league-leading Woonsocket.
The Villa Novans scored on the fourth play of the day, and again in the second quarter, and had a 12-0 lead at the break.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs offense was going nowhere fast. Westerly gained only 41 yards in the first 24 minutes and failed to cash in on favorable field position.
The Bulldogs started first-half possessions at the Villa Novan 41-yard line, their own 41, their own 46, their own 36, and at midfield.
But things changed dramatically in the second half, and it turned out to be very much a game Westerly could have won with a little more offensive sock.
Westerly scored on the opening drive of the second half but could not reach paydirt again and fell 12-7.
Bulldog coach Chris Wriedt obviously would have liked to have won but was encouraged.
“I just told them, if that’s the best team in the division we’re not too far behind,” he said. “I think we’ve improved every week. That’s what I told them. You go from Barrington to where we are now? We’re a lot better football team than we were three weeks ago, and hopefully next week we’ll be that much better again.”
Quarterback Scott Liguori did not seem too upset by the loss either.
“Well, that was a good team and we played really hard. The line did great, the backs did great. I don’t know, just a couple of big plays that they had and that was the difference in the game,” Liguori said. “And if that’s the best team in the division, then we’re just that close.”
A win would have put Westerly (1-3, 1-2 Division II-A) in a six-way tie for first place in the eight-team league. As it turned out, Woonsocket (4-0, 3-0 Division II-A) is alone in first place. Johnston, Coventry, Mt. Hope and Warwick Vets are tied for second at 2-1.
Liguori made sure Westerly’s opening drive of the second half did not go to waste when he scrambled for a 5-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal.
“The play kind of broke down. I looked back and I could get the corner and I did,” he said. “I kind of went around the defensive end; they came up, I went around. And then the halfback stayed with (tight end) Tyren (Gamble) so I just went for the pylon and ended up getting it.”
Liguori initally rolled right looking for a receiver. Pressure came, so he turned and ran the other way, diving into the left corner of the end zone.
Liguori saw a lot of defensive pressure, as did his Woonsocket counterpart Miguel Raymond.
Liguori was sacked five times for 34 yards. The Buldogs got to Raymond five times and D’Andre Thomas once for 54 yards worth of losses.
Gamble had two sacks, forcing a fumble on one of them that was recovered by Jacob Lacerte. Lacerte also had a sack, as did Matt Moretta. The sixth was a team sack.
Moretta suffered a leg injury with 7:59 left in the first quarter and did not return.
“Defensively. They put two on the board early and I thought this might get ugly and yet the kids sucked it up and played really well after that,” Wriedt said.
“And losing Matt was hard for us. He’s your tight end, he’s your defensive end. He’s a big part of what we do. He’s another receiver across the middle.
“We had Tyren go in and he hasn’t played there (tight end) all year and he did a great job because we ran over him for the touchdown. He’s not a tight end, but he played tight end today because we needed somebody to block.”
After Liguori scored with 3:29 to go in the third periord, lady luck shined on the Bulldogs.
Riyan Lennon shanked the ensuing kickoff toward the Bulldog bench, but Clayton Minnich caught the ball with a lunging effort.
All of a sudden Westerly had the ball back, and at the Woonsocket 30 to boot.
The Bulldogs did not score. On second-and-22 from the Woonsocket 42, the Bulldogs had a pass go through a receiver’s hands and bounce off his chest at the 14. Westerly ended up punting.
Anthony Garro’s fine punt went out of bounds at the home team’s 6 and the Bulldog defense allowed only 1 yard in four plays.
Westerly took over at the Woonsocket 42 with 31.3 seconds left in the third period. The Bullogs reached the 28 before being repelled once again.
Westerly’s earlier 16-play, 62-yard touchdown drive was in part the result of a change to an unbalanced offensive line. Woonsocket adjusted and contained the Bulldogs the way they had in the first half.
“The defense has been making big play after big play, week after week,” Woonsocket coach Carnell Henderson said. “Even the time they scored, it takes them four plays to get in — off a great scramble by the quarterback. So nothing was easy for them, and our defense has kept us in the game. I’m just hoping the offense can catch up.
“Our front four does a great job of applying pressure; and our linebackers are very disciplined, they run the lanes very well. We’re a very seasoned group, they play well together, and we just try to get after it.”
Woonsocket took a 6-0 lead with 10:24 left in the 12-minute first period when William Andino got to the edge way too easily and scored on a 57-yard run.
Moretta blocked the point-after kick.
Westerly was in a four-man front at the time of the touchdown instead of its customary five-man front and fared much better.
Andino had only 52 yards in his 14 other carries and the Novans finished with 59 rushing yards.
Raymond hurt the Bulldogs with his arm. The junior QB finished 10 of 18 for 175 yards. He connected with Josh Trinidad on a 59-yard scoring play in the second quarter that proved to be the difference in the game.
Raymond pump-faked and Trinidad got behind the Westerly defense. Bryce Lombardo tried to get to Trinidad from the middle of the field but was late arriving.
“Pump-fake and he got behind him, what are you going to do?,” Wriedt said.
“You’ve got to give them credit, they’re a good football team. Don’t take anything away from them, they’re good.”
Westerly’s next game is Saturday at Toll Gate, 10 a.m. Toll Gate is 0-3 in league play.