Saints march to 2-0 in Div. II-A with 33-7 triumph over Tigers

Saints march to 2-0 in Div. II-A with 33-7 triumph over Tigers

St. Raphael Academy junior tailback Henrique Ross, #6, shows the ball to the official after scoring a touchdown on a 1-yard run in front of Tolman junior defensive lineman Devin Ward, #78, SRA senior guard Jack Majkut, #63, and SRA freshman guard Khamari Brown, #71, during the first quarter of the Saints’ 33-7 win last Saturday morning at Max Read Field. (Breeze photos by Eric Benevides)
Gray, Meus do it all, lead SRA past Pawtucket rivals

PAWTUCKET – As a former standout player for St. Raphael Academy in the mid-’80s and the head coach of the Saints’ football team for nearly a quarter century, Mike Sassi has encountered a healthy share of the 79 games that have taken place in the storied rivalry between his alma mater and its former Thanksgiving Day rival, Tolman High.

“I grew up in this rivalry,” said Sassi. “My five sisters and my brother all went to Tolman – I was the youngest of seven and I went to St. Ray’s. You can take the (Thanksgiving) game away from us, but whenever we play each other, I’m sorry, but I just think that there’s more excitement there than anybody else we play.”

Last Saturday morning, the two Pawtucket rivals stepped onto Max Read Field for a Division II-A showdown, with their sights set on jumping out to a 2-0 start and taking a step closer to earning a D-II playoff berth. And as they did during the tail end of their holiday rivalry (that ended in 2001), the Saints came away with a lopsided victory.

Junior quarterback Andre Gray delivered over 100 yards through the air and on the ground and scored a pair of touchdowns, and the Saints’ defense, which received a superb game from sophomore linebacker Moses Meus, collected three turnovers and limited to Tigers to 121 yards of offense en route to a 33-7 triumph.

The Saints, who dazzled on both sides of the ball in their previous weekend’s 43-6 win over West Warwick, seemed to pick up where they left off in that game, especially Gray and Meus, whose splendid performances highlighted an outstanding day for the Walcott Street school.

Gray led the way offensively by not only running for 133 yards on 14 carries, but also connecting on seven of his 12 passes for 113 yards, with 63 coming on a touchdown pass to sophomore Ethan McCann-Carter 31 seconds into the second quarter and giving the Saints a 13-0 lead.

“He still has some work to do on things,” Sassi noted of Gray, who also had an acrobatic interception on ‘D’ in the opening quarter. “He short-hopped a few throws today, and he knows it. But he’s a winner, and I told him that I trust him as much as any quarterback that I’ve had, as far as combining the intelligence with the athletic ability. It’s a great combination.”

Meus, meanwhile, did a little of everything for the Saints, especially on defense, as he led the way with 12 tackles, four resulting in a loss of yardage, and sacked Tolman quarterback Jordan Cooper twice for a loss of 15 yards. He also lined up as a tight end and caught a pair of passes from Gray for 22 yards, and he blocked two punts on special teams.

Two more juniors out of the backfield, Napoleon Debarros and Henrique Ross, teamed up to total 79 yards on the ground and each score a touchdown, and McCann-Carter ended his fine day with three catches for 82 yards.

“We rolled with these young guys the last couple of years and we had our growing pains a little bit, but we had those growing pains in Division I,” said Sassi. “And now they’re seasoned veterans. A lot of these guys are in their third year starting and they’re juniors because we had no choice and we had to play them as freshmen. We’re seeing the benefits now of kind of rebuilding over the last couple of years.”

The Saints quickly took charge of the game by grabbing a 7-0 lead 5:25 into the game on a 1-yard dive into the end zone by Ross and the first of three extra points by sophomore lineman Jonah Costa. The Tigers then went three-and-out on its opening series and was forced to punt from its 20, and that’s when one of the strangest plays in the rivalry’s recent history took place.

Tolman senior Leandro Depina saw his punt blocked by Meus, who along with Debarros, dove to get his hand on it. But while Meus and Debarros were on the ground, Depina wheeled around, scooped up the loose ball at the Tigers’ five-yard line, and returned it 27 yards for an improbable first down.

Six plays later, the Tigers had a first-and-10 on the SRA 34, but Gray snuffed out the drive by picking off Cooper in the end zone with an all-out diving grab.

After McCann-Carter’s second TD catch in as many contests gave the Saints their two-touchdown lead, they rolled into halftime with a 19-0 command on an 8-yard run into the end zone by Debarros with 1:35 on the clock.

Tolman scored its points on the opening drive of the second half, as an excellent 76-yard kickoff return by senior Alex Medeiros set the stage for a 3-yard touchdown run by senior tailback Jamarus Godette and the extra point by Depina.

Godette finished the game with 93 yards on 19 carries and a 13-yard catch, but the rest of the day belonged to the Saints’ defense.

“Our defensive coordinator, Nick Landry, did a great job putting a gameplan together,” said Sassi. “In our meeting last Sunday, we talked about it, and we thought they would have a lot of trouble with our movement. They’re bigger than us, so we were hoping to use our speed and try to move around a lot on both sides of the ball to create confusion.”

Gray scored his two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, with the first coming on a 5-yard run with 8:14 to play in the game and the other one on a 38-yard bootleg with 2:34 on the clock.

While the Tigers will look to bounce back on Saturday at 10 a.m., when they face winless West Warwick at Scituate High’s turf field, the Saints will visit also-winless Lincoln on Friday at 6 p.m. This matchup will pit two head coaches who were former players at SRA – Lincoln head coach Sean Cavanaugh starred for the Saints in the ’90s.

“I have a lot of respect for him and his staff – they do a nice job,” added Sassi. “I told the kids, ‘This is a nice win. Let’s enjoy it today, but tomorrow, it’s on to the next game.’ Ultimately, our goal going into the season wasn’t to beat Tolman. It was to compete for a championship.”

St. Raphael Academy sophomore linebacker Moses Meus, #7, shown sacking Tolman senior quarterback Jordan Cooper, #3, in front of teammate Napoleon Debarros, #34, ended the game with 12 tackles (four of them for a loss of yards), two sacks, and two blocked punts. He also added two catches for 22 yards.