Chieftains sew up D-IV’s top seed

Chieftains sew up D-IV’s top seed

Football team improves to 5-0 with 36-21 victory over Smithfield, hosts EWG/Prout co-op team in Saturday night’s semifinals

SMITHFIELD – The Ponaganset High football team earned a share of the Division IV regular-season championship and the top seed in the playoffs last Friday night, but Smithfield High didn’t make accomplishing those feats easy for the Chieftains last Friday night at the Sentinels’ Boyle Athletic Complex.

Thanks to an exceptional game by senior quarterback Corey Conlin, the winless Sentinels actually held a 7-0 lead over the undefeated Chieftains and set their sights on an upset victory during the third quarter. But Ponaganset, which also received a big performance from sophomore tailback Nick Baccala, battled back in the final two quarters and came away with a hard-fought 36-21 triumph.

The win locked up the top seed in the postseason for the Chieftains, who end their regular season with the same 5-0 record as Narragansett, but land the number one berth because they allowed fewer points than the Mariners in their matchups against four common opponents (EWG/Prout, Toll Gate, Scituate, North Providence). Ponaganset allowed just 18 points to those four teams, while Narragansett gave up 26.

The Chieftains will host their semifinal-round opener on Saturday at 6 p.m., playing an opponent that gave them fits in their season opener, the Exeter-West Greenwich/Prout co-op team. In that game, which was held on March 28, and on a rainy Sunday night at Johnston High, the co-op squad held a 6-0 halftime lead over Ponaganset, but the Chieftains came back to not only help send the game into overtime, but win it in the second OT, 18-12.

In that game, the Chieftains turned in a sloppy performance in the opening half, and that also happened in last Friday’s victory over the Sentinels.

“We probably played worse than we did against Exeter,” Ponaganset head coach Jim Cook said. “We have to go back to work this week during practice and fix all the mistakes we made tonight. If we play like we just did, (Exeter) will beat us this time, so we have a lot of work to do.”

Making life a bit more difficult for the Chieftains was losing their All-State tailback, junior Marcus Carpenter, to an injury early in the game, “and our split end/corner got hurt, and we were down two linemen,” admitted Cook, who hopes to have Carpenter back in action this weekend. “We had guys who had to play out of position during the game because other kids got hurt, but they did a great job.”

With Carpenter out of the backfield, Baccala received the lion’s share of the handoffs from junior quarterback Chris Brennan and ran for 160 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries. Baccala, whose TD runs went for 10, 15, and two yards, also had a key interception in the second half.

Conlin, meanwhile, capped his high school career in style by running for a career-high 164 yards and also scoring three TDs on nine carries, and according to first-year head coach Glenn Castiglia, “he had 43 yards called back on penalties.”

Conlin’s first touchdown run, which went for 35 yards, gave the Sentinels their halftime lead, and he added a 20-yard TD run in the third quarter, which also saw Brennan find the end zone on a 2-yard keeper.

Midway through the final quarter, the Chieftains were clinging to a 22-13 lead and the Sentinels were looking to move the ball past midfield, but Ponaganset senior tackle Anthony Bottella-Robshaw turned in the defensive play of the night by stripping the ball out of the hands of a Smithfield player and returning it to the end zone for a touchdown.

Minutes later, another turnover by the Sentinels soon resulted in Baccala’s third touchdown of the game, but with 53 seconds left in the game, Conlin gave his teammates and the home fans a reason to celebrate as he broke free on an 80-yard TD run down the Sentinels’ sideline.

In this week’s other D-IV semifinal-round game, Narragansett will host Toll Gate on Friday at 6 p.m. (The Mariners defeated the Titans two weekends ago by a 28-6 score.) The Super Bowl is scheduled for Sunday, May 9, at 3 p.m. at Cranston Stadium, and if the Chieftains win on Saturday, then they will advance to their first championship game since 2009, when they went undefeated and captured the D-III title.