A close up photo of an american football.

RI High School Football: Central-LaSalle – John Cardullo

by John Cardullo, sportswriter

The 2023 high school football season is now in full swing, with most of the top teams playing teams from out of state to begin their seasons. Many of our local teams either traveled to or hosted teams from southeastern Massachusetts or eastern Connecticut. This gave our local teams a small change of pace and it allowed the teams in the State Championship Division an opportunity to measure themselves against some of the other team’s best school with a higher level of football programs.

As the teams began playing their normal divisional schedule it was going to be interesting to see how the elite programs prepared for the weekly battles that were ahead. One of the most anticipated on the early schedule was the Central Knights taking on the defending State Champions, the LaSalle Rams. Central was determined to show LaSalle why repeating is a very hard thing to do. Before a capacity crowd at Providence’s historic Conley Stadium on Friday, September 22nd, the Knights jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the 1st quarter on their first possession. Central’s quarterback Avani Rodrigues ran 4 yards into the end zone to give the Knights the early lead. Both teams failed to make any ground on the other throughout most of the first half, but LaSalle’s Terrence Campbell, scored the tying touchdown with less than a minute left in the first half and kicker Maxwell Wallace put the extra point through the uprights to give LaSalle the 7-6 halftime lead.

LaSalle came out of the halftime break determined to establish control, But Central’s defense kept frustrating the Rams offense. LaSalle made the score 14-6 when Amari Monterio ran what was to be a short flair pass, 80 yards for a touchdown. Then LaSalle’s defensive back, Grover Moran, intercepted Central’s long pass down field and ran it all the way back for a LaSalle touchdown pushing the score LaSalle 21- Central 6. The Central homecoming crowd did everything they could to rally the Knights and somewhere in the chill of the late September air, Central began to come alive!

Seemingly having the game in command in the 4th quarter, LaSalle went entirely to a running game with hope to run out the clock, but the Knight’s defense rose to the occasion and held the Rams offense. With 6 minutes to go in the game, Demetrius Outland of Central scored a touchdown bringing the Knights closer. The 2-point conversion failed, and the score was 21-12. The sold-out crowd at Connelly Stadium which had spilled along the outside fence around the entire field. The crowd was loud, but well behaved. This was what all high school “Friday Night Lights” games are all about!” said Central’s Athletic Director Michelle Rawcliffe. “The crowd got a little rowdy, but the crowd kept themselves in control”.

Then with just over a minute left in the game, Central created a turnover and then converted into a Touchdown. Central made the 2-point conversion making the score LaSalle 21- Central 20. LaSalle ran the clock out to seal the win. For Central, they may have lost the game, but they served notice to LaSalle and the other teams in the State Championship Division, that they come to play hard, they do not give up until the final second is gone. As for LaSalle, head coach Geoff Marcone said, “Central played a great game, they had a solid game plan and they executed very well”. He went on to say, “We have been coaching our team to expect everyone’s best game every week! Our schedule is hard and every team in the division are very good. Believe it or not these are the games that are fun to be part of, when both teams are so good and so prepared, it’s a shame that someone must lose.” He concluded, “We will see Central again down the road, they are well coached and a very good team.”

As for the Friday Night Lights promotion of high school football, rivalry games are expanding past the same old, same old. Teams such as Johnston, Coventry, Burrillville, Mt. Pleasant, Classical and St. Ray’s are choosing to play tougher teams in their non-league part of their schedule and the dividends are starting to payoff. The teams looking to improve their standing in high school sports, particularly in football are aiming high and taking on teams that may play a division (or two) above them. While teams whose programs are down or are in a rebuilding process continue to either drop to a lower level to re-boot their programs and start making the climb back up!

The more pressing problem facing all sports at every level is the shortage of officials. The shortage has gotten so bad that more games are being spread out. Some teams may find themselves scheduled to play on a Thursday or on a Saturday, instead of just on Fridays. There are many theories of why there is this issue, but for whatever the reason is, it is a national problem, and it is affecting every sport, from youth sports to high level amateur sports. But that is an article for another time.

Either way the high school football landscape in Rhode Island is healthy and competitive and most of all, fun to watch. As the teams settle into head for the finish line, fans of high school football are in for a treat. So, strap on your helmets, put on your favorite teams’ colors and get out to go see your old school football team play. You may even enjoy yourself!


John Cardullo
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