Cougars' defense comes up big, fuels 8-0 victory over Sentinels

Cougars' defense comes up big, fuels 8-0 victory over Sentinels

North Providence senior defensive back Darian Acosta, #21, breaks up a pass intended for Smithfield senior wide receiver William Hawkins in front of his teammate, junior C.J. Almagno, #7, in the end zone during last Friday night’s Division IV game on the Cougars’ campus. The Cougars posted a season-opening 8-0 victory that extended their win streak over the Sentinels to five games. (Breeze photos by Eric Benevides)
NP controls clock, watches 'D' limit Smithfield to 78 yards

NORTH PROVIDENCE – During the past few years of its rivalry with neighboring Smithfield High, the North Providence High football team had seen plenty of points flash on the scoreboard, with both rivals teaming up to score at least 38 points in seven of their last eight meetings.

But last Friday night, with temperatures hovering in the low 30s at North Providence High, the fans who gathered on the hill to watch the two Division IV rivals witnessed a low-scoring matchup that saw the Cougars control the clock – and the outcome of their season-opening contest.

Junior quarterback C.J. Almagno’s 47-yard touchdown pass to his classmate, tight end William Wrage, late in the opening quarter turned out to be the lone points the Cougars needed in their 8-0 triumph – a game that saw NP possess the ball for slightly over 32 minutes of the 48-minute contest and its defense limit the Sentinels to just 78 yards of offense and two first downs.

The victory was the fifth in a row by the Cougars over the Sentinels, who were coming into last week’s game looking to even their record after suffering a 19-11 defeat at home to Toll Gate in their opener on March 26, and the shutout was NP’s first since its 39-0 victory over Smithfield on the Cougars’ Homecoming Day last season.

“Our defense played tremendous tonight,” added NP head coach Glenn Williams. “You can’t pick one kid and say he did a great job. (Smithfield) is a much better team than they have been in the past, but we were able to shut them down.”

While the Cougars’ defense shined in that 2019 triumph, it turned in an exceptional performance last Friday. Not only did NP sack Smithfield senior quarterback Corey Conlin three times and intercept two of his passes, but they were able to recover from three bad snaps to their punter that gave the Sentinels the ball on or inside the NP 30.

“We like to bring pressure on punts,” said Smithfield’s first-year head coach, Glenn Castiglia. “We caught them a few times, but we just couldn’t take advantage of (the bad snaps).”

“That’s something we have to obviously work on,” admitted Williams. “We have two rookie guys in there, and we’ll have to go to work and clean that up. It shouldn’t have happened – it hasn’t happened during practices – and I was very surprised.”

Offensively, only three players touched the ball out of the Cougars’ backfield, but teamed up to compile 174 yards on the ground and help NP collect 11 first downs and keep the chains moving. Junior tailback Jevon Melendez led the attack with 65 yards on 20 carries; sophomore Miguel Santana added 56 on 10 handoffs, and junior quarterback C.J. Almagno had 53 on nine runs.

Speaking of Almagno, who was making his first varsity start at quarterback, he completed three of his 10 passes for 75 yards, with no pass bigger than the one he tossed to Wrage on NP’s second possession of the night.

After seven carries by the Cougars brought the ball from their 20 to the Sentinels’ 47, Almagno fired his pass to Wrage that he caught at the Smithfield 28, raced around a couple of blocks by his teammates, and sprinted down the NP sideline and into the end zone for a touchdown. Santana then ran in the two-point conversion, and NP had its eight-point lead.

“C.J. played a tremendous game at quarterback,” added Williams. “He knows when to run and he knows when to throw. We still have to make a couple of more connections on his passes, but he did a great job tonight.”

Almagno, who also played in the Cougars’ secondary, added an interception late in the first quarter and broke up a key pass on the Sentinels’ last drive of the game, which came after NP’s third botched snap to its punter.

The Sentinels’ best chance to break on the board came after the Cougars’ first botched snap gave them the ball on the NP 15 just 1:53 into the contest. But after the visitors were unable to pick up any yards on their first three plays, they marched out junior Jarrett Nappa to boot a 32-yard field goal, but his kick fell short of the crossbar.

While the Cougars were unable to work the ball inside the Sentinels’ 30 after their TD, Smithfield had its two more opportunities to cash in on NP’s punting woes. Both times, the Sentinels had the ball on the NP 30, but after turning the ball over on downs midway through the third quarter, they saw an interception by Melendez at the Cougars’ 12 wipe out their last drive of the night with 7:29 to play.

Melendez brought his interception to the NP 25, and from there, the Cougars burned off the game’s final seven-plus minutes with a 12-play, 43-yard drive that saw Almagno take a knee in the final seconds.

Also making key contributions on ‘D’ in this game were senior linebacker Frank Tseytlin, sophomore lineman Adedamola Owode, and Santana, who each had a sack near midfield, and senior lineman Jacob Turner.

The Sentinels. to their defense, suffered a tough break in the first half when senior tailback Keith Beck, who was their leading rusher in their game against Toll Gate, suffered a lower leg injury that forced him to the sidelines and required him to use crutches on his way to the team’s bus after the game. But Castiglia refused to use his early exit as a reason why his team suffered its close loss.

“We’re still making mistakes at critical points and we’re not able to sustain drives because of them,” added Castiglia. “Right when we were in position to convert a third-and short, we jumped offsides, and I think that happened at least twice tonight. One time came after a timeout after we talked about what we were going to do.”

The Cougars are back at home on Friday at 6:30 p.m. with a game against always-tough Narragansett, which kicked off its season with a 51-0 thrashing of Hope and last weekend’s 21-14 win over the Exeter-West Greenwich/Prout co-op team. Smithfield will also be at home on Friday at 7 p.m., playing a Division III team, Coventry, on its Senior Night.

North Providence junior quarterback C.J. Almagno, shown running toward the first-down marker during last Friday night’s season-opening 8-0 victory over Smithfield, ran for 53 yards on nine carries and also completed three of his 10 passes for 75 yards, with 47 coming on a touchdown pass to junior tight end William Wrage in the opening quarter.