Cranston East proved that it was the best public school football team in the state this fall, cruising past Portsmouth in the Division I Super Bowl on Saturday evening, 42-28, to secure the school’s first football title since 2005.
Senior quarterback Justin Neary was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after throwing for one touchdown and rushing for another.
“This feels great,” Neary said after winning the title. “This wasn’t our ultimate goal, but our goal was to get a ring, and this feels really good.”
East, which was known largely for its passing attack during the regular season, displayed a run-heavy game plan against Portsmouth, something that the Patriots may not have been ready for. And that game plan worked tremendously. The ’Bolts rushed for 279 yards and four touchdowns as a team, as opposed to just 77 yards and two touchdowns passing.
“We’ve always known that we have two great running backs, and maybe didn’t use them as often as we could’ve,” Neary said of going with a run-heavy offense. “Our offensive line dominated the front and the running game was just there. We won this game off the run game.”
That running game went to work right away. Just over midway through the first quarter, East’s long drive ended with a 6-yard rushing touchdown from Rayven DeOliveira and, just under three minutes later, Kei-Sean Felix got in on the action with a 42-yard dash to pay dirt to up East’s lead to 14-0.
But, Portsmouth answered behind a strong passing drive. Quarterback Kyle Bicho hit Peyton Robinson for a 29-yard touchdown with 14 seconds remaining in the first quarter to cut the Patriots’ deficit in half, 14-7. That connection between Bicho and Robinson would become a common theme in the game, with the duo linking up 10 times for 234 yards and two touchdowns.
With 7:57 to go in the first half, Bicho hit another receiver, Brian Hamilton, for a 31-yard score to tie the game at 14.
But, Robenson Antoine ran a punt return all the way to the Portsmouth 1-yard line, before Neary plunged in from one yard out with 1:21 left in the half to push the ’Bolts back in front, 21-14.
And, after the East defense forced a three-and-out, the offense went back to work with under a minute to go in the second quarter. East took it down to the Portsmouth 35 with just a few seconds left, leaving time for one last play. Neary dropped back and scrambled to the left before eluding defenders and moving to the right prior to heaving a pass to the end zone that was hauled in by senior Isaiah Hinds, giving East a 28-14 advantage at the break.
“I was originally just trying to get a couple yards, maybe just a quick play out of bounds,” Neary said. “The pocket collapsed a little bit and our offensive line did a great job blocking everyone that needed to be blocked. When I rolled back to the right side, I knew that time was probably out, so I threw it up to our tallest receiver and he just did his job.”
Robinson rushed in from 11 yards out for the first score in the second half to make it a seven-point game once again, but East’s offense couldn’t be stopped. The ’Bolts responded when Felix rushed in for his second score of the game, this time covering three yards, to make it a two-score margin.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, DeOliveira threw to Antoine over the middle for an 18-yard touchdown to double up the Patriots on the scoreboard, 42-21.
Portsmouth would try to rally late, as a 15-yard touchdown pass from Bicho to Robinson with 6:47 remaining trimmed the Patriots’ deficit to 42-28, but East used its running attack to drain the clock in the waning minutes.
A celebration ensued following the final buzzer, with East’s tremendous season ending in a proper fashion.
“You can’t cap the season off any better,” East head coach Tom Centore said. “You win the last game of the year, and it’s in December, so even better.”