Despite loss, NP secures playoff berth

Despite loss, NP secures playoff berth

North Providence senior quarterback Zach Estrela accounted for 177 yards through the air and 64 yards on the ground during last Friday night’s 26-19 loss to Tolman at Max Read Field. The Cougars will take on Central Falls on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in the Division III semifinals at Johnston High. (Breeze photo by Eric Benevides)
Football team clashes with Central Falls in Saturday’s D-III semifinals at Johnston

PAWTUCKET – The bad news for the North Providence High football team?

In their regular-season finale against Tolman last Friday night at Max Read Field, the Cougars were unable to clinch the final seed in the Division III playoffs, no thanks to a 26-19 defeat that gave the host Tigers a share of the regular-season title.

The good news for NP?

Two nights later, the Cougars secured the last seed thanks to some outside help, namely Central Falls’ 36-10 win down in Wood River Junction over Chariho, which entered last weekend in a three-way tie for third place with NP and Pilgrim.

While Central Falls was busy putting away Chariho, Pilgrim was hard at work routing two-win Narragansett, 54-14, and improving its record to 4-3 to clinch the third seed.

As for the Cougars and Chargers, they ended their regular seasons with 3-4 records, but NP was awarded the fourth seed because it owned the head-to-head tiebreaker with Chariho – the Cougars took a last-minute 14-7 thriller from the Chargers on Oct. 19.

That means the Cougars will play in Saturday’s Division III semifinals at Johnston High and face top-seeded C.F. (6-1) at 3:30 p.m. Tolman (6-1), which suffered a 28-18 defeat to Central Falls in their game on Oct. 13, is the second seed and will take on Pilgrim at 3:30 p.m. at East Greenwich High.

The Super Bowl is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 17, at 4 p.m. at Cranston Stadium.

Two weekends ago, the Cougars were dealt a 36-14 loss to Central Falls, but last Friday, they were determined to put forth a much better effort against the Tigers, who had played in Division I the past two seasons before dropping down two divisions during the offseason.

And the Cougars certainly played much better, especially offensively, as they amassed over 400 yards. Four seniors produced at least 40 yards on the ground: tailback Luciano Zenteno (nine handoffs for 79 yards), quarterback Zach Estrela (7-64), fullback Lennox Estrada (4-44), and tailback Eric D’Ovidio (14-43), and 177 yards came from Estrela’s right arm. He completed only 12 of his season-high 34 passes, but he would have easily surpassed 250 yards had his receivers not drop a bunch of on-target passes.

“Tolman came down from Division I, and to be in it until the end?” said NP head coach Glenn Williams, whose team was whistled for a season-low one penalty, which came for having 12 men on the field for a play in the third quarter. “We played much better, and this gave us some momentum and confidence. And we were down players. We were missing two starters for most of the second half, and we were still giving a team like this a run for its money, so I was glad to see that.”

The Cougars appeared to be on the verge of a long night in the game’s opening minutes. After NP went three-and-out on its opening possession, the Tigers struck for their first points just 2:11 into play on a 92-yard pass play from quarterback Justin Klemanchuck to Isai Prince, who caught Klemanchuck’s long pass on the midfield logo and outraced two defensive backs to the end zone.

With 2:46 left in the first quarter, the Tigers scored their first touchdown on an 11-yard run by Zenteno, who earlier in the drive, had a 46-yard run that brought NP into the end zone. But the Tigers took a 20-6 lead into intermission by scoring two touchdowns in the final four minutes of the half, the first on a three-yard run by Klemanchuck with 3:59 on the clock and the latter on a 38-yard pass from Klemanchuck to Prince.

But the Cougars came out fired up for the third quarter, and after forcing the Tigers to go three-and-out on their first series, they sliced their deficit to 20-13 with 7:22 on the clock on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Estrela to Omar Vidal and the extra point by Tyler Muccio.

On the final play of the quarter, the Cougars scored again when Estrela hooked up with Vidal again in the end zone for a 15-yard pass, but NP was unable to tie the score on the extra point attempt, as Muccio’s kick just sailed wide left.

Another three-and-out by the Tigers at the start of the fourth quarter added to the Cougars’ momentum. They got the ball back at their 28, and on three plays, they brought the ball to the Tigers’ 45.

But facing a third-and-12 at the Tigers’ 47, the tide turned for the Cougars. Estrela tried to zip the ball down the field, but he was hit by defensive lineman Calvin Contreras as he released it. The ball was intercepted by linebacker Tim Hennigan, and he promptly rumbled down the other end of the field with it before getting hit out of bounds at the NP one-yard-line.

Seconds later, Klemanchuck crashed into the end zone for a touchdown, and with 7:39 still to play, the Tigers held a 26-19 lead.

The Cougars had two more opportunities to get back on the scoreboard in the remaining minutes, but both drives were halted at the Tigers’ 35. With 5:38 left, and facing a fourth-and-14, the Cougars elected to punt and try to pin the Tigers deep in their end of the field, and with 1:38 left, the Cougars couldn’t capitalize on a 41-yard pass from Estrela to Vidal and ended up turning the ball over on downs.