Expect Novans to wreak havoc in D-II

Expect Novans to wreak havoc in D-II

Two Woon-socket High players who are expected to produce big seasons are senior quarterback Geraldi Paniagua, left, and sophomore tailback Logan Coles. The Novans will take on St. Raphael Academy in their season opener on Friday night. (Breeze photos by Eric Benevides)
Down from Div. I, football team seeks return to glory with deep, talented lineup

WOONSOCKET – Division I or Division II? This was a question that was posed to Woonsocket High head coach Charlie Bibeault on quite a few occasions during the offseason.

Stay in D-I for a third straight season, and the Novans, who went 2-5 with a young, talented team, would possibly be in the hunt for a playoff berth and a chance to compete for the RIIL’s biggest prize, the state championship.

Drop down to D-II, and WHS fans could be looking at a repeat of the team’s glory days from 2008-2013 when the Novans were the class of the division, posting a regular-season record of 29-13, playing in three Super Bowls, and winning two of them.

But Bibeault never had to answer that question. The RIIL answered it for him during its offseason realignment and decided to return the Novans to the second division.

“I only graduated five seniors last year, so I knew we were going to be pretty good this year, regardless of whether we’d be in (Division) I or II,” said Bibeault. “But going back down to II kind of gives us a chance to rebuild the program, get some wins under our belt, and get established again, and hopefully, in two years, we’ll go back up.”

Last fall, Bibeault, who is a 2008 graduate of WHS, and at 27, the youngest head coach in the state, took over a program that endured a winless season in its first year in D-I, but welcomed 65-70 players to its training camp, including a lot of young prospects that promise to be solid players this season and down the road.

And even though last season saw the Novans end up with a losing record for the fourth straight year, there were quite a few highlights. In its league opener at Barrington, the Novans shocked the state by defeating one of D-I’s longtime teams, 27-21. It was an emotional victory that saw the players triumphantly carry Bibeault off the field on their shoulders.

Two weeks later, the Novans nearly toppled another veteran program, East Providence, but despite playing well, they were dealt an 8-5 defeat by the Townies. Nevertheless, Woonsocket bounced back the following week to defeat St. Raphael Academy, 22-8.

The program picked up a bit of momentum, and Bibeault carried it into the offseason and did his best to spread the good word about his program, preaching it to middle school students and even visiting a couple of basketball courts in the city. And that’s not all.

“We were able to have 35-40 guys in the weight room everyday since December, so that was a big thing for us,” added Bibeault. “We’ve always had speed, but we’ve never had size, but this year, we have a good mix.”

Bibeault also had a tremendous turnout which, heading into last Friday night’s two-quarter Injury Fund game against Shea at Cumberland’s Tucker Field, saw 91 players in the program.

“My goal was to get 100, and I didn’t think we were going to come that close (to that) this quickly,” admitted Bibeault, whose 9th-graders will also suit up for a full freshman schedule this season. “When you have this many numbers, it’s a beautiful thing. And I should be getting a couple more players now that school has started.”

The top name back from last season is senior tailback Emmanuel Gomes, a three-year starter who was a First-Team All-Division selection last season and will again be the Novans’ workhorse out of the backfield. Despite missing one game and being banged up for most of the season, Gomes still rushed for 1,118 yards.

Back at quarterback is senior Geraldi Paniagua, who, in his first season as a starter, completed nearly half of his passes for 1,136 yards and 11 touchdowns. In a 46-40 loss to Rogers last year, said Bibeault, Paniagua threw for more than 400 yards.

“He looks a thousand times better than he did last year,” added Bibeault. “And we have all the weapons and speed, so we have to make sure it all stays together.”

Speaking of speed, senior Hezekiah Adeyeye, who is one of the top sprinters in the state, is also back as a wideout and a kicker, and he’s been extra impressive in the kicking department this fall, noted Bibeault.

Two of his classmates, Justo Colon and Zach MacIntyre, are also lightning-quick receivers, and senior Dwayne O’Hagan, who is best known for his talents on the basketball court, is a first-year player who will see time at wide receiver (as well as a defensive back) and should also create problems for opposing secondaries.

“We definitely have speed,” said Bibeault. “That’s one thing we’re not lacking.”

Another key returnee is sophomore Logan Coles, who saw valuable time last year and tied for the team lead in touchdowns with five. Coles, who had an exceptional freshman season as a hammer thrower for the Novans’ track and field program, will also be featured as an inside linebacker in the team’s 3-5 defense.

The tight end is junior Tim Wolters, and the offensive line is a very good group with senior three-year starter Logan Burda, two of his classmates Michael Dumont and Berto Cedeno, junior Angel Benzant, and sophomore Terrell Durden.

Most of the starters on offense will also start on defense, but junior transfer student Hayden Depault, who starred for the North Smithfield/Mount Saint Charles co-op team last season, will line up at inside linebacker, senior Baye Lo is at middle linebacker, and senior Charly Peralta and junior Corey Brown are the defensive ends.

Peralta, Burda, Coles, and Adeyeye were Second-Team All-Division selections last year.

Woonsocket, which posted a 6-0 victory over the Raiders in its Injury Fund game, will bus to Pawtucket for its non-league opener on Friday and take on St. Raphael Academy in a 7 p.m. game at Pariseau Field.

The Novans will begin their Division II-A schedule on Saturday, Sept. 15, when they host Lincoln in a 1 p.m. game at Barry Field. After that game, their other league contests will be against West Warwick, East Greenwich, Johnston, Classical, and Rogers, with a road game against Westerly on Friday, Sept. 21 accounting for their D-II crossover matchup.

Woonsocket senior tailback Emmanuel Gomes, who ran for 1,118 yards last season, shakes off a Shea lineman as he looks to pick up a first down during last Friday night’s Injury Fund game at Tucker Field, which was won by the Novans, 6-0.
Woonsocket senior wide receiver Justo Colon, right, manages to catch a pass in the middle of the field despite having two Shea defensive backs trying to pull the ball out of his hands. Woonsocket will visit St. Raphael Academy in its non-league opener on Friday at 7 p.m. at Pariseau Field.