On Sept. 28, Hendricken beat La Salle, 48-27, in a regular-season game. In last year’s Super Bowl, the Rams downed the Hawks, 22-21.
Those scores don’t matter. They’re not a way to motivate, or look for a strength or weakness to what you can expect when the Hawks and Rams play again.
The only thing either side cares about is how they play on Sunday at noon at Cranston Stadium when they meet for the RIIL state championship.
“Every year is very unique and very different. It’s a different cast of characters and strengths and weaknesses change,” Hendricken coach Keith Croft says. “As much as last year is a focus, it’s really a rivalry game.”
“What happened in the season doesn’t matter and what happened last year doesn’t matter,” La Salle coach Geoff Marcone says. “It’s the past and now it’s all about moving forward.
“It’s two good programs going at it and whoever has the better day usually comes out on top that day.”
In last year’s Super Bowl it was the Rams. They got a touchdown and 2-point conversion by Nate Lussier with 38 seconds left to give them their first state title since 2008, ending Hendricken’s seven-year streak.
This fall, the Hawks enacted a little revenge with their 48-27 win, taking advantage of some La Salle miscues and getting a dominant performance from their offensive line, which manhandled La Salle’s defense to the tune of 311 yards rushing on 42 carries.
But that game was months ago. Players have gotten injured and others have gotten healthy. La Salle lost nine of 11 defensive starters from last year’s title-winning team so its defense that night was still in its infancy.
“For us, it was kind of maturing,” Marcone says. “It was a great game to understand that we needed to get better.”
It was a great night for the Hawks, but the season didn’t exactly take off from there. They went undefeated, but they weren’t walking over opponents every week. Because of the scheduling, Hendricken hasn’t played a big game since that night and with no semifinals — the regular-season I-A and I-B winners automatically advance to the state championship game — it hasn’t had a chance to feel anything resembling pressure heading into the biggest game of the year.
“It’s a weird feeling,” Croft says. “I see positives and negatives to it, but I’m happy we’re here.”
The key to Sunday’s game will probably be whether or not La Salle has an answer for Hendricken’s offensive line. Yes, everyone knows about University of Georgia-bound Xavier Truss at left tackle and the really informed know that junior right guard Jake Picard is a monster as well. Those two, along with left guard Patrick Carley, center Jack Mailhot and right tackle Chris LoPresti have formed a dominating line.
“They have been good but quite honestly, we’ve seen things in them where we know they can be better,” Croft says. “Consistency with them is going to be key for their ultimate exam Sunday.”
The success up front allows Hendricken more balance on offense and the passing duo of Tom Comella to Angel Sanchez has been putting up numbers on everyone.
“I don’t know if you can stop them, but it’s trying to contain them,” Marcone says. “It’s not just one guy you can focus on; it’s a lot of guys, so you have to make them earn the field.”
La Salle’s offense will be at full health, unlike the September game when starting running back Jacob Gibbons was out, forcing Jamari Jenkins into full-time duty in the backfield in addition to his full-time spot on defense.
Lussier already has championship experience, but the junior and the rest of his teammates will have to take care of the football.
“We can’t give them any more opportunities than they’ve already had,” Marcone says.
Cranston Stadium will be packed on Sunday, as it should be for a state championship game. But with Hendricken and La Salle, fans would be showing up anyway for the state’s biggest rivals.
“If we’re playing Monopoly, La Salle vs. Hendricken, the gym would be packed,” Marcone says. “This game has such a magnitude that even if you don’t play a meaningful game for a couple of weeks, when you strap on a helmet and you play your rival, all that other stuff goes out the window.”
“It’s your biggest rival,” Croft says, “and it just happens to be on a bigger stage.”