WESTERLY — Clayton Minnich came shooting up from the secondary to deck Silvio Antonelli on a sweep — a play Coventry ran that hurt Westerly High’s football team several times in Friday night’s Division II-A game at Augeri Field.
Minnich was as excited as he ever is when he scores a touchdown, and he had three of those to help the Bulldogs beat the Oakers 33-22 after letting a 21-7 lead evaporate.
The stop came on fourth down and 3 at the Coventry 27-yard line and followed two other big defensive plays in a series that was so important.
Westerly was leading 27-22 at the time but the Oakers had already scored on two long second-half passes and there was still 5 minutes and 50 seconds remaining when the series started.
“The entire game they kept going into motion when they were doing their sweep. So coach told us about that to make the adjustment, for me to come up,” Minnich said. “And (Matt) Moretta and our defensive kept it going out perfectly and I read it, came up and made the hit.”
Two plays earlier Minnich broke up a pass on a play that looked eerily similar to the two that were completed to Jose Santos for touchdowns in the third quarter.
In between the Minnich plays, Joe Hill batted down a third-and-3 pass to the right sideline.
“Bend but don’t break,” Westerly coach Chris Wriedt said of his defense. “We made some adjustments. We went to a 5-2-4, which we don’t normally do. It just paid off, that’s when Clayton picked the ball. It was just a great job by the kids.”
Minnich said his play on pass defense was on the first play the Bulldogs were in the 5-2-4 instead of their customary 5-3-3.
“I didn’t know that our linebacker didn’t have to go out there so it was kind of like a late adjustment for me. But it ended up helping because it was already so deep. He (the receiver) just kept going on a streak so I read it pretty good. Their quarterback was looking so I just made the play. It was a little bit of luck, though.”
Westerly (3-5, 3-3 Division II-A) took over on downs and scored four plays later when Minnich ran through a seam on the right side and went in from 14 yards out to give the Bulldogs a 33-22 lead with 3:01 remaining.
Minnich went 35 yards on the same-looking play to set up the go-ahead touchdown. Minnich was cut down at the Oaker 8, but got the ball three times in a row and scored from 3 yards out to put Westerly in front 27-22.
“This is very big,” Minnich said. “We haven’t had a good Senior Night win in a couple years or at least since I’ve been here. And I love helping out our seniors to win this, it’s so big for them, and it’s a great feeling.”
Westerly took a 7-0 lead with 9:53 to go in the first half when Minnich capped a 10-play, 64-yard drive with a 2-yard scoring run. Fullback Tom McGuire had four carries for 27 yards on the series.
Coventry (4-4, 3-3 Division II-A) tied the score 7-7 early in the second quarter, but the Bulldogs responded with two more touchdowns to take a 21-7 halftime lead.
McGuire scored the first one on a 5-yard run — his fourth straight carry. He went for 4, 4 and 10 on the previous totes.
The second touchdown was a beautiful 53-yard pass from Scott Liguori to Jacee Hamelin on the left sideline. Hamelin got away from the defender to haul in the pass at about the 10-yard line.
Westerly finished the first half with 215 yards, one week after gaining just 132 in a disheatening 7-0 loss Warwick Vets on the same field.
“It’s simple,” Wriedt explained. “They finally listened to us in practice when we told them you have to do this and they did it, and it shows. It worked.”
The offensive line is center Ryan Young, guards Charlie Elliot and Aaron Murphy, tackles Brandon Swain and Michael Henson, and tight end Moretta.
Tyren Gamble and Ryan Algiere come in with the Bulldogs go to their unbalanced power formation.
Coventry made it 21-14 on a 65-yard slant pass from Joseph Foley to Santos and pulled within 21-20 when the tandem hooked up on a 32-yard pass. Westerly was called for encroachment twice with the Oakers lined up to attempt a game-tying PAT. After the penalties moved the ball to within half a yard of the end zone, Foley sneaked for a two-point conversion giving the visitors a 22-21 lead.
Westerly turned the ball over on downs, but got the ball back at its 45 when the Oakers fumbled.
“Heck of a third quarter, wasn’t it?, after a great first half. But we got our composure back, made some plays in the fourth quarter,” Wriedt said.
Westerly and Coventry are tied for fourth in the league at 3-3 with one game remaining. Westerly plays at Johnston on Friday at 7 p.m. The top four make the playoffs.
Westerly played without senior Anthony Garro , a two-way starter. Garro has a torn posterior cruiciate ligament in his left knee. He suffered the injury a couple of weeks ago but tried to play through it.