PORTSMOUTH — Coach Ryan Moniz gathered his players into a circle for one final huddle at Bishop Hendricken’s field Tuesday night. In front of him was the scoreboard, which read 36-15 in favor of the Hawks in the Division 1 playoff match-up.
The Patriots’ season was over.
“Right now is the worst feeling you can have on the playing field,” Mr. Moniz told his players, most of whom took the loss hard. He advised them to take a little time, then step back.
“Then you’ll feel proud of everything you’ve accomplished as a team,” he said. “You had nine wins this season. We talked about how this could be a special season, and it was.”
Portsmouth fought hard, but never could catch Hendricken in a game that, up until the fourth quarter anyway, always seemed closer than the score indicated. The Hawks took an early 3-0 lead on a field goal, then later connected on a 95-pass play from Hawks quarterback Pat Gill to Michael Scarcella to make it 9-0 with 6:30 left in the half.
Late in the first half, Gill connected again, this time to Mitch Lucci who stretched out with the ball to just barely break the goal line. That made it 15-0 at the half.
Portsmouth had several opportunities to score, but couldn’t cash in due to the Hawks’ tough defense. Passes into the end zone by Patriots quarterback Matt Sewall to Sam McNally (tipped away) and then Travis O’Brien (knocked down) were both incomplete as the clock ran down to end the first half.
The Patriots came to life at the start of the second half, with Sewall keeping the ball for several rushes before scoring on a 17-yard run. The drive took less than 90 seconds and brought the Patriots to within eight points.
But as soon as the Patriots seem to build a little momentum, Hendricken answered right back, with a Gill-to-Scarcella 50-yard TD reception to make it 22-7 with 6:27 left in the third quarter. Late in the quarter, Gill kept the ball for a 60-yard run up the middle and into the end zone, increasing the Hawks’ lead to 29-7. Bishop Hendricken would finish its impressive offensive performance with Gary Gibbs running 35 yards for a touchdown to make it 36-7.
With 3:13 left in the game, Sewell kept the ball and took it up the middle for Portsmouth’s second touchdown. The quarterback took the ball again for the successful two-point conversion.
“The scoreboard says 36-15, but we competed really hard. I thought we played physical and did some things that we wanted to do,” Mr. Moniz said, noting that the Patriots faired well in trying to contain Hawk running back Remy Blue.
Slowing down quarterback Gill was a harder task, he said.
“Gill went off a little bit,” he said. “He’s a good player and he hurt us with both his arms and his legs tonight. But on the two long balls, there was pretty good coverage. Our corner and safety on each of them fell down. We were playing a lot of man coverage and when that happens, there’s no help behind them.”
Patriots senior running back Travis O’Brien, who had an outstanding year, was held in check by the Hawks’ defense. Mr. Moniz said O’Brien’s ankle, which he sprained in a game against Barrington a couple of weeks ago, was not a factor.
“He played and was healthy,” he said. “Give credit to Hendricken and what they have done. They played great defense. We couldn’t sustain our drives long enough. I think that was part of their game plan — limit the big plays. For the most part they did that with Travis.”
‘Best four years of my life’
After the game, a dejected O’Brien lamented the loss. “We just didn’t come to play,” he said. “We got off to a bad start in the first quarter. We tried to get back into it, but just didn’t do it in the second half.”
He added that his time in the PHS football program has been “amazing — the best four years of my life. I think it’s going to be better than college. These guys are my family.”
Portsmouth is losing 19 seniors next year, but the coach is keeping a bright outlook.
“Each year has its own identify. I’m not ready to look forward to next year yet. But I think with the commitment level that we have … the future is always bright. We’ll always be competitive.”
In that last huddle, he told his older players that what made him most proud was how they’ve matured over the past four years.
“You’ve grown up as men,” he said.
But there’s plenty of talent among the underclassmen to lead the squad into next year, he said. “We’ve built some great momentum to move forward,” said Mr. Moniz.
Matt Sewall agreed, telling his younger teammates to always work hard. “This program is bigger than you and me,” he said.
Added the coach, “Once a Patriot, always a Patriot.”