Wizards edge Huskies in D-2 playoff quarterfinal
West Warwick ices game with late touchdown
By Steve Rogers
The playoff game was in doubt until there were 38 seconds left but there was no doubt who was the winner by the way the West Warwick players whooped and hollered and the way Mt. Hope players hung their heads, when the Wizards took a 35-26 decision from the Huskies in a quarterfinal Division-Two contest Saturday night at Mt. Hope High School.
West Warwick quarterback Kody Greenhalgh completed just eight of 22 passes, but four of them went for touchdowns. He tossed his final touchdown strike to Trevor Lawton on a fourth-and-five play from the Mt. Hope 10-yard line with 38 seconds remaining. Austin Paygai’s conversion kick widened the margin to nine points and effectively ended the contest.
“Give them credit,” Mt. Hope coach Brian Cote said. “When the game was on the line they made the plays and we didn’t today. But it wasn’t from a lack of effort from us.”
Mt. Hope, the No. 2 seed from Division II A, became the third team from its division to drop a playoff game to a squad from Division Two-B. No. 3 seed West Warwick heads to the semifinals where it will take on Division Two-B No. 1 seed Cumberland Tuesday, Nov. 27, at 6 p.m. in Cumberland.
Saturday night’s game was an evenly-matched affair with ebbs and flows favoring each team. The Wizards strung together three touchdowns in a little over six minutes spanning the second and third quarters to go from a 12-6 deficit to a 28-12 lead. Greenhalgh threw a pair of touchdown passes and Zach Auriemma rumbled 47 yards to the end zone with a fumble return.
“That big turnover when they got my quarterback on the option with the fumble, that obviously was the big play of the game,” Cote said.
But the Huskies showed their resilience. The very first play from scrimmage following the fumble return Mt. Hope workhorse Jesse Raiola, who plowed for 222 yards on 24 carries, turned the right-side corner and raced 56 yards to paydirt. Nick Murgo ran for the two points to make it a one-possession game at 28-20.
The Mt. Hope defense took its cue from the offense and kept the momentum on its side with a three-and-out series. The Huskies got the ball at their own 32 and started a methodical march to the end zone. Raiola carried four consecutive times and gained 31 yards to start the journey as the Huskies exploited a weakness in the middle off the West Warwick defense.
“We did a couple of things formation-wise that changed things up,” Cote said. “Then they adjusted a little bit. Then we had to run something different.”
Raiola was hurt on his fourth run of the drive when a Wizards player was penalized 15 yards for a late hit. With Raiola out, Murgo banged straight ahead for gains of eight and 24 yards and Bailey Ziobro churned for three yards and then got into the end zone from two yards to cut the lead to 28-26. Quarterback Kyle Valenzuela tried to run wide for the two-point conversion but was stopped by a horde of defenders at the five-yard line.
“Hindsight being 20/20, on the two-point conversion down there I shouldn’t have run the blast with the quarterback on the outside,” said Cote. “I should have stuck with what was working for us with the read with the fullback and triple option there. Every coach second-guesses himself afterwards.”
The Mt. Hope defense bent but didn’t break the next West Warwick possession. The Wizards worked their way down the field in a drive which started in the third quarter and ended in the fourth quarter when a pass in the Mt. Hope end zone fell incomplete.
West Warwick was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct for vociferously arguing the lack of a pass interference call on the play and the Huskies got the ball at their own 23 with just over eight minutes left.
Raiola returned to the lineup and the Mt. Hope offensive linemen and fullback Murgo exerted themselves and continually pushed the Wizards back. Raiola carried seven straight times as the Huskies moved just inside West Warwick territory. But on third-and-seven a completed pass gained nothing, and the next pass was caught for a two-yard gain turning the ball back to the Wizards at their own 46 with 3:52 left in the game.
“I thought when we were moving the ball on that drive that we had just enough time to be able to go and punch it in to win the game. But they made a couple god plays,” said Cote.
The Wizards picked up first downs on two consecutive plays and eventually moved the ball to the Mt. Hope 25. A penalty set them back to the 30 and a third-down pass was incomplete. West Warwick passed again on fourth down and the ball hit the turf with 2:15 left.
But the Huskies were penalized for a late hit on the quarterback awarding the Wizards a first down. Four plays later West Warwick got the game-clinching TD with under a minute remaining.
“Obviously the penalty there hurt. We could have gotten the ball back,” said Cote. “If we could have gotten it back we had a chance. We fought back and got it to two points but we just couldn’t make the plays at the end there.
“I’m awfully proud of the way we played today. I’m very proud of what our guys did. I think it was a tremendous game.”
The Huskies, who carried a five-game league win streak into the playoff contest, finished the league season with a 5-3 record and sit at 5-5 overall. They will host Division-One Barrington (3-5) in the annual Thanksgiving Day game.
“I’m happy with what we did this year overall,” said Cote. I’m not satisfied with it. But I’m happy with the way we played.”
•Valenzuela scored on a two-yard run and Raiola scored from 23 yards out to give the Huskies a short-lived 12-6 edge in the second quarter.
•Mt. Hope lost three fumbles while the Wizards had no turnovers.
•West Warwick had 233 total yards, just 11 more than Raiola’s rushing output.
•The Huskies finished with 310 total yards. Murgo ran five times and gained 41 yards.
•The teams combined for 21 penalties, good for 152 yards.