PORTSMOUTH — Matt Sewall rushed for four touchdowns as the Patriots scored 27 unanswered points in the second half to dismantle Division 1 opponent La Salle Academy, 40-13, in the varsity football squad’s home opener Friday night at John F. Kennedy Field.
La Salle was the favorite going in. The team had beaten Portsmouth twice last year, first 42-25 in the regular season and then 42-14 in the Division 1 semifinals. But if the Patriots were intimidated, they didn’t show it.
Sewall, the senior quarterback added a two-point conversion to his impressive numbers, which included running for 164 yards and throwing for another 68.
He was all over the field the entire game. In the first half, he ran 104 yards on 10 carries and scored two touchdowns. He was also a slippery target for defenders; in one play he scrambled to avoid a sack and made a long pass from 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage to Christian Darden.
But when La Salle scored a touchdown to tie the game at 13 with only 1:17 left in the first half, it looked like the Patriots had a real dogfight on their hands. Portsmouth’s defense, however, completely shut down the academy in the second half.
“It starts there,” Patriots coach Ryan Moniz said of his team’s defense. “That’s been a focal point for us all camp: Special teams, play defense, get the ball back, go score — in that order. We may not do it every time, but that’s the focus.”
La Salle started with the ball in the second half, but Portsmouth forced a three-and-out. Sewell returned the punt to the La Salle 46, and on the next play, he handed off to running back Travis O’Brien, who took the ball all the way into the end zone.
O’Brien would add another touchdown on the Patriots’ next possession, which followed a fourth-and-nine pass by La Salle that was incomplete, setting up great field possession for Portsmouth. O’Brien ran the ball in from the 14-yard line on a drive that was also assisted by one of many penalties called against La Salle.
PHS then started putting more pressure on La Salle quarterback Jace Pena, sacking him on third down at the academy’s own 15 to take over the ball.
Even when the Patriots made mistakes, it didn’t seem to hurt them as much as the penalty-ridden La Salle team. When O’Brien fumbled the ball in the third quarter, for example, the Patriots not only recovered but they picked up a few yards.
Later in the period, Colin Tullson picked off a La Salle pass before a 15-yard penalty for a sideline violation went against the Patriots. Again, it didn’t faze Portsmouth, as Sewell then took the ball and made some slippery moves before finding the end zone.
After Sewell scored his fourth rushing touchdown, making it 40-13 with less than six minutes to play, the “It’s all over!” chants started up in the stands.
“That was a great effort, and great execution in the second half,” said Mr. Moniz. “In the second quarter we were a little frantic at times, but our kids composed themselves at halftime in preparation for the second half. In the second half we came out, got a stop early and a couple plays later we scored. From there I think we just kind of rode the wave of emotion.”
The team couldn’t have gotten off to a better start, having beaten Rogers High School the week earlier in a non-league game before squashing a powerhouse like La Salle in its Division 1 opener.
“Any time you beat somebody like La Salle, that’s a springboard game,” the coach said. “If you win, it puts us in the early driver’s seat. If we lose out of the gate, we’ve got some catching up to do. Right now, it puts us up there in the forefront, gives us at least a tie-breaker over La Salle. If you look at us last year, we were three points away from being a two seed rather than a four seed.”
The Patriots’ next game is on Homecoming on Saturday, Sept. 28, at 1:30 p.m. Portsmouth is pitted against Cranston High School West.
Check out our gallery of photos from Friday’s game below.