While there were some holes to fill in the trenches for the North Kingstown High School football team in the preseason, players at the skill positions returned with a lot of experience. Sure enough, they followed with a terrific season and were at their best in Saturday’s Division I Super Bowl.
Shane Kenyon, Matt Reilly, Tyler Pezza and Eddie Cardarelli were on the receiving end of quarterback James Osmanski’s big day, as the Skippers did almost all their damage through the air. The receivers starred with eye-popping catches and big plays.
“They don’t miss,” head coach Joe Gilmartin said. “The ball’s near them, they have unbelievable abilities.”
“I’ve got three four or guys that I know if I just give them a chance, they’re going to come down with it,” Osmanski said. “They run phenomenal routes and they’ve got great hands. It makes my job so much easier.”
Pezza made a splash last year as a sophomore and continued to be a dynamic weapon this season. Reilly, whose biggest previous impacts came in the defensive backfield, took on a starring role. Kenyon, who missed much of last year with an injury, was back with a bang in his senior year.
“I felt pretty bad last year, missing it all and missing the end of the season,” Kenyon said. “I just worked hard to get back this year and it was a great season.”
Cardarelli joined the football team this year after playing soccer in the last three fall seasons. Also a sprinter with the track team, he provided a home run threat on handoffs and throws to the flat.
It all added up to a unit that was difficult to stop. Somebody always seemed to be open.
“I think it’s the coaching,” Pezza said. “It’s always good combinations. We know exactly what they’re going to come out with you, so we know exactly how to manipulate them and see where the open spots are.”
“We just have great design and we work really hard at it,” Kenyon said. “We’ve been playing together for years and built a great connection.”
Defense makes the stops
Before Cranston West broke through in the second half of the Super Bowl, the Skippers had allowed just one touchdown in the first 10 quarters of the postseason. Barrington managed one score in a 50-7 loss, before North Kingstown shut out La Salle, then kept the Falcons off the board until the third quarter on Saturday.
“We just focused,” defensive lineman Michael Ciarniello said. “If we get that razor-sharp focus, we don’t think anybody can score on us, and we executed today.”
Ciarniello and Isaiah Proffit anchored a defensive line that lost some serious talent from last year with the graduation of Dylan Poirier and Ephraim Graham. Players like Billy Horlbogen filled in and a previously young linebacking corps led by Ben Gilmartin picked up the slack.
“These guys are really, really sharp,” Joe Gilmartin said. “Last year, with the two defensive ends we had, it allowed our linebackers to get some seasoning. They were very inexperienced last year. The defensive front really protected them. This year, those guys were playing lights out.”
Cranston West presented a challenge thanks to quarterback Cam Alves, who had almost single-handedly beaten La Salle in the Falcons’ signature regular-season win. Alves totaled 74 yards rushing on 24 carries on Saturday, never breaking a play longer than nine yards.
“We just tried to keep him in the pocket, not let him run,” Ciarniello said. “That’s what he does best. He’s a great player.”
Culture has been one of the most important elements of North Kingstown’s rise, and one of the primary manifestations of it is the work of young players in the program who take on scout team duties. The Skippers have the numbers on their roster to do it, and players who are willing.
When a bag of medals was handed to Gilmartin after the Super Bowl, he told the team to make sure those players got them first.
“I said, ‘Give them to the young kids first,’” Gilmartin said. “One, because our seniors already have two of them. But two, give them to the young kids because they’re the reason we’re here. When you come to a practice and watch two offensive huddles, and watch how quickly those kids get to the line of scrimmage and push our kids to get better – that’s the reason we’re good.”