CRANSTON — There have been great years. There have been good eras.
On Saturday, the North Kingstown High School football team continued to break new ground.
For the third straight year, the Skippers left Cranston Stadium with a championship trophy, this one after a 28-19 victory over Cranston West in the Division I Super Bowl.
Before this ride began with the D-II title in 2017, the program had never won a Super Bowl. They followed up the breakthrough with a championship in their move to the state’s highest division last season, and the excellence was sustained this year. Along the way, in the three-year span, the Skippers have lost only two games.
“We talked about the historic significance of it,” head coach Joe Gilmartin said. “I’ve got a pretty good concept of North Kingstown football history, and this is unprecedented. It really is unprecedented.”
The only thing missing is a top-division state title, but the current playoff system has hindered those hopes, with September losses to Hendricken each of the last two years sealing their fate. North Kingstown responded to the defeat this season by scoring 35 points in the first half of its next game, a sign of what was to come. In remaining perfect the rest of the way, the Skippers never felt like anything was missing, even without the title shot.
“It’s just one game. It’s a long season,” quarterback James Osmanski said. “We couldn’t let one game distract us. Obviously, it would have been nice to compete for a state championship, but once we didn’t have the opportunity anymore, we just had to refocus. We knew that this was our goal.”
It was a dominant regular season, outside of the loss to the Hawks, with the Skippers out-scoring the opposition by an average of 39-9 in their league victories. They were even better in the playoffs, blasting Barrington 50-7 and La Salle 35-0.
The highest hurdle remained, with Cranston West looming in the final round. The two teams also met in last year’s D-I final, which the Skippers won by six points. This time, they raced to a 13-0 lead before finding themselves in a battle. Cranston West intercepted Osmanski on the first play of the second half and scored soon after. The Skippers answered for a 21-7 lead, and after a Falcon touchdown, responded one last time with a touchdown early in the first quarter that made it 28-13. Cranston West scored with 4:42 remaining but the two-point conversion was no good, keeping it a two-score game, and the Skippers held the line from there.
“They’re good,” Gilmartin said of Cranston West. “They had no quit in them. I thought maybe we would put them away early, but we just couldn’t do it. They’re good.”
Osmanski won MVP honors for the second year in a row. He completed 20 of 30 passes for 306 yards yards and added 65 rushing yards. He threw two touchdowns and ran for two more.
“James learned for a year within that system and now he has complete command of it,” Gilmartin said. “He knows where I want the ball to go, he knows the reads we’re looking at, what we’re looking at in terms of defense. I was really happy for him today.”
He also had help, with the receiving corps making several highlight-reel catches. Shane Kenyon led the charge with seven catches for 115 yards and two scores.
The aerial act started early, with the Skippers needing just three plays to take the lead. Osmanski hit Kenyon from 39 yards out with 9:21 left in the first quarter, and Max Rome’s extra point made it 7-0.
After punting on their next possession, the Skippers found another quick strike late in the first quarter as Osmanski rolled up three completions for 32 yards, then ran it in himself from 8 yards out. The extra point was no good, keeping it 13-0.
Cranston West finally got a drive going in the second quarter, but on second-and-goal from the 10-yard line, North Kingstown’s Justin McCarthy won a jump-ball battle with Matthew Carvalho for an interception in the end zone.
“That was a great play by Justin McCarthy,” Gilmartin said. “Just a great play, and we had a bunch of them. We talked about it – we had to make good plays and some people here today are going to be heroes. They’re going to make great plays. That’s the kind of kids that we have.”
The Skippers ended up snagging two more interceptions, both by Tyler Pezza, and they kept the Falcons off the board in the opening half. But the Falcons’ defense also stood strong, pitching a shutout in the second quarter and intercepting Osmanski twice. The second one set up a fourth-down touchdown run by Alves from the 1-yard line early in the third quarter.
Needing an answer, the Skippers faced fourth-and-two from the Falcon 26-yard line. Instead of trying to power their way to a first down, Osmanski rolled to his right and lofted a pass to the front corner of the end zone. Kenyon hauled it in and got a foot down inbounds for the score.
“We knew we had to answer, get the momentum back in our favor,” Kenyon said. “I saw the sideline out of the corner of my eyes. I just knew I had to slow down and get my feet down.”
The score touched off a back-and-forth stretch, with Alves hitting Carvalho for a 33-yard touchdown, and the Skippers responding again. They converted two third-and-long situations with passes from Osmanski to Kenyon and Eddie Cardarelli, then converted fourth-and-9 on a leaping catch by Pezza at the 1-yard line. Osmanski ran it in from there.
Alves scored from 5 yards out to make it 28-19, but Brennan Stetson grazed the sideline on the two-point conversion, just before he found the end zone. The Skippers recovered an onside kick, gave the ball back on a punt, but came up with a stop, thanks to a holding penalty on the Falcons, a sack by Michael Ciarniello and three incompletions.
Soon after, the Skippers were taking a knee and counting down the final seconds to another championship.
“I can’t even explain it,” Ciarniello said. “We have the best group of kids. The group of seniors are so close. We’re the tightest group of kids there is. Three championships – couldn’t ask for anything better.”
“This is a really special group,” Gilmartin said. “I’ve known all of them since they were about 8 years old. We’re just blessed to have that athletic ability come and stay, the fact that those parents trust me with their kids. It’s been awesome.”
Before the seniors’ last ride, Gilmartin wasn’t sure about the vibe he was getting from them – but he realized he should have known better.
This group wasn’t going to miss the chance for unprecedented success.
“They were quiet all day,” Gilmartin said. “I was wondering how they were going to play, but I don’t have to worry about this team at all. It just doesn’t matter. When it comes time to compete, they come out and compete. I’m proud of them.”