SMITHFIELD – After being unable to take the field for the Division IV playoffs because of COVID issues in its program, the North Providence High football team still had something to prove when the Cougars faced their longtime rival, Smithfield, in the 50th edition of their Thanksgiving Day rivalry last Thursday morning.
And the Cougars were able to conclude their season with one of the most thrilling victories in the rivalry’s history.
Leading by a point with two seconds left in the game, the Cougars were able to hold on for a 14-13 victory when North Providence senior C.J. Almagno got his fingers on a 25-yard field goal attempt by Smithfield junior kicker Jarrett Nappa, forcing the kick to fall short of the crossbar.
The non-league victory allowed the Cougars to finish their season with a 7-3 record, but the Sentinels, who came into the game with a 4-3 mark, still lead their holiday series by a 26-23-1 margin.
“The Thanksgiving game means a lot, especially to the alumni, to the seniors that are leaving, and for the future of the program,” NP head coach Glenn Williams said. “And that’s how I introduced the game to them.
“It was a close game. Smithfield gave us a good beating, but our kids hung in there. We didn’t have many practices because we were out for a week and a half, but we came to practice and put our effort in, and it showed today. My kids played a great game. And we still had missing starters.”
“We were close,” Smithfield head coach Glenn Castiglia said. “We just have to be better at finishing.”
It certainly came down to the wire, as the Sentinels got the ball back at their own 40 with 1:01 left in the game and the Cougars clinging to their one-point lead. After throwing two incomplete passes took 11 seconds off the clock, Smithfield junior quarterback Joey Smith hit junior wide receiver Chris Currie with a 26-yard pass.
After Smithfield spiked the ball at the Cougars’ 34-yard line to stop the clock at 33 seconds, he found senior wide receiver Mike Tartaglia down the field with a 25-yard pass.
Smith again quickly spiked the ball with 16 seconds on the clock and Smithfield sitting on the Cougars’ nine, and after he picked up four yards on a carry, he spiked the ball again to stop the clock with two seconds on it and set up Nappa for a chance to win the game with a field goal.
Nappa had unsuccessfully tried to boot a 40-yard field goal at the end of the first half, but before that attempt, as well as his last-second kick, Williams decided to call a timeout right before the ball was snapped, in essence, to ice Nappa.
On the game-winning attempt, Nappa set up again and the ball was snapped. But Almagno got enough of his fingers to deflect the ball as time expired and the Cougars held on for the win.
“I’ve never, in 46 years of coaching, used two timeouts to ice a kicker, and it worked,” Williams said. “I’m very glad about that.”
The Cougars received the ball to start the game, but were forced to punt on fourth down, and their punt was blocked by Tartaglia, giving Smithfield great field position at the NP 11.
Junior tailback Albert Hetu, who had scored three touchdowns in Smithfield’s 22-6 win over NP during the regular season, then did the rest on the ground, as he gained five yards on his first carry and then reached the end zone on his next handoff. Nappa kicked the extra point and the Sentinels were quickly on the board.
On their second possession of the second quarter, the Cougars tied the score, thanks to an eight-play, 52-yard drive that NP’s quarterback, Almagno, capped with a 24-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Vince Harris.
Almagno hit junior wide receiver Wahabu Kamara with two passes that picked up first downs before throwng his long pass to Harris, as the Smithfield defender slipped and fell and was unable to get a piece of Harris. Kamara tied the score by kicking the extra point.
With 3:12 to play in the third quarter, the Cougars took the lead for good on a fumble recovery by senior Jevon Melendez, who scooped up the Smithfield fumble and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. Kamara then tacked on the extra point, which turned to be the difference in the outcome.
“I told the kids this morning that this (game) is our playoffs – the playoffs got stolen from us,” Williams said. “Smithfield is a high-quality team that had a high ranking, and as far as I’m concerned, they were the team to beat. It was like a playoff game.”
In the fourth quarter, the Sentinels put together a 12-play, 76-yard touchdown drive that saw Smith throw a seven-yard TD pass to Currie with 3:36 left in the game.
The Sentinels then tried to take the lead, instead of tie the score, by going for the two-point conversion instead of kicking the extra point, but junior tailback Ryan Flynn was kept out of the end zone.