SMITHFIELD – The Ponaganset High football team made last Friday night’s battle of Division IV unbeatens with Smithfield High look like just another day on the gridiron.
Producing touchdowns on all seven of their possessions and playing lights-out defense from start to finish, the Chieftains were able to wrap up their second straight unblemished regular season by rolling to a 43-0 victory before a large crowd at the Boyle Athletic Complex.
“It feels great to win the division again,” said senior quarterback Chris Brennan, who for the second game in a row, scored four touchdowns to help fuel the Chieftains’ offense. “We’re just looking to get back to the Super Bowl and win it this time.”
The Chieftains, who own a 13-game win streak in the regular season that dates back to the 2019 season, will surge into the playoffs with a 7-0 mark that has seen them outscore their opponents by a 291-18 margin and win six of their games by at least four touchdowns.
Unfortunately for the veteran team, which is heavily favored to return to the Super Bowl since losing in it to Narragansett six months ago, it will surely have to shake off the rust from back-to-back bye weeks before they host their semifinal-round opener on Friday, Nov. 19.
While the Division IV’s regular season will come to a close this weekend, last week’s game was the final one on the Chieftains’ schedule, and the top two seeds in the playoffs earned a quarterfinal-round bye next weekend.
“It is going to be tough,” added Brennan. “But we’re a disciplined team, and we’re just going to stay focused and prepare for the playoffs these next two weeks.”
While the loss was a difficult one for the Sentinels to absorb, it wasn’t the end of the world for them in terms of earning a bye into the D-IV semifinals.
On Friday at 6 p.m., they will tackle another showdown when they visit the Juanita Sanchez/Providence Country Day/Wheeler co-op team, which is 5-2, at Classical High. If the Sentinels win that game, they will be the second seed in the playoffs, but if the co-op squad wins it, it will earn the second seed and Smithfield will wind up as the third.
“That basically is a playoff game to decide the (number) two seed,” said Smithfield head coach Glenn Castiglia, whose team dipped to 4-1. “That’s going to be our focal point for sure.”
The Chieftains drained all the drama out of this game by rolling to a 22-0 lead after a quarter of play. The Sentinels only had the ball five times on offense in those 12 minutes; on two plays, they fumbled the ball away to their visitors, and Ponaganset defensive lineman Nick Viner ended the quarter by sacking Smithfield quarterback Joey Smith for a six-yard loss.
“It’s not the start we wanted to get off to,” said Castiglia. “It’s not what we talked about all week, and we went in the opposite direction. But hats off to Ponaganset. They’re a great team and they showed it tonight, and if you look at their track record over the years, they’re an outstanding program.”
Ponaganset scored the only points it needed on the contest’s opening drive, which saw the Chieftains cap a nine-play, 76-yard drive with an 18-yard touchdown run by senior running back Marcus Carpenter, who ended the game with 86 yards on the ground on 19 carries.
With 4:00 to play in the quarter, and three minutes after senior linebacker John Zambarano made the defensive play of the game by ripping a handoff away from the Sentinels, Brennan scored his first TD by diving into the end zone on a one-yard carry, and with 14 seconds on the clock, Brennan struck again with another one-yard touchdown plunge.
Before the first half came to a close, Brennan helped give the Chieftains a 29-0 lead by capping a long drive with a two-yard touchdown run, and touchdown runs by Carpenter and Brennan in the third quarter sealed the outcome and saw the game continue with a running clock.
But the game abruptly ended with 5:42 to play in the final quarter. A few personal-foul penalties within a couple plays of each other prompted the officials to pull the plug on the rest of the night.
Ponaganset’s defense, meanwhile, turned in a strong performance that saw them not only limit the Sentinels to just 18 yards of offense, but also record four sacks, including a pair by Viner, and three fumble recoveries.
“Defensively, we played well,” said Ponaganset head coach James Cook. “Most of our defensive line and linebackers have been on the field for four years, so this is their hard work paying off.”