Rams top 'Bolts in battle of undefeated teams

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Cranston East is still the second-best squad in Division I-B, and possibly the most formidable public school in the state, but there’s still considerable work to do in closing the gap with La Salle.

In a tilt of the only undefeated teams remaining in the subdivision, the Rams left no room for doubt. La Salle raced out to a 35-18 lead at the half before scoring 21 more after the break to hand East its first loss of the year, 56-18. Rams tailback Leroy Deoliveira was nearly unstoppable, gashing East for four touchdowns on the ground.

“It’s not 38 points,” East head coach Tom Centore said of the ground between the ’Bolts and Rams. “They’re a good football team. They’ve got more than one weapon. We’re not 38 points not as good as them, I know that. We’ve got work to do, and hopefully we see them again or see somebody, but I think we’re in a good position playoff-wise.”

The Rams’ blistering assault in the first half could have been enough to shatter East’s morale, but it hung in there. East trailed 35-12 with just more than a minute to go in the first half before quarterback Justin Neary found Robenson Antoine on the left side of the end zone for a score.

The defense halted a La Salle drive in the final minute, providing a respite from the furious first-half attack. East missed every extra-point or 2-point opportunity in the opening 24 minutes as well, taking a total of five points off the board and bringing its deficit from two scores to three.

Nevertheless, the ’Bolts looked to have a chance to capitalize on a rare La Salle miscue in the second half. Quarterback Rayven Deoliveira faked a handoff and scrambled to the right, where he lost the football and East defensive back Malik Gavek scooped it up. His side took over at La Salle’s 22, aiming to make it a 10-point game.

East couldn’t move the ball, though, and the drive stalled. Neary was intercepted on fourth-and-9 at the Rams’ 21-yard line, stopping the comeback in its tracks.

“That one possession right there could have turned it around, and we just didn’t have a good series,” Centore said. “I’m not saying it would have turned the game around, but when you’re 35-25, it might be a different game.”

From there, La Salle converted the stop into its own momentum. Marquis Nickerson collected a pass over the middle and dashed to the end zone for a 76-yard touchdown. The crowd was chaotic, the game had shifted and it was La Salle in total control.

Leroy Deoliveira punched in two more touchdowns over the course of the rest of the half, draining the clock and helping his team earn the Ed Walsh Memorial Trophy in victory.

The Rams raced out to an early 14-0 lead in the first quarter. After forcing East to punt, the Rams embarked on a nine-play, 53-yard drive that finished with Leroy Deoliveira taking an 11-yard pitch to pay dirt.

He would notch his second of the night a few minutes later, surging up the middle for 60 yards on the second play of the drive.

East would cut into the deficit with some help from the La Salle defense. A personal foul and two pass interference calls set the ’Bolts up with a first-and-goal situation. Gavek slashed through the front seven from eight yards out. The extra point was no good, though, keeping East eight points out.

“This football team will not give up,” Centore said of the first-half resolve. “I think sometimes when we have the [bye] week off, it hurts you defensively more than it probably does offensively, and it did. We hadn’t tackled for two weeks and we hadn’t tackled a team of guys in space like that.”

Despite East’s best efforts, La Salle would never let it get too close. The Rams were faced with a fourth-and-27 scenario at the East 34-yard line and elected to go for it. The ’Bolts immediately got pressure, but a pitch out to Samuel Coleman caught the defense off guard. He slipped down the sidelines and got into the end zone to make it a 14-point game.

“Just a talented, talented kid,” Centore said of Coleman. “[He] can score at any time on the field and he’s just fast.”

East would never get within two scores again, as the Rams rode their torrid start to a 4-0 record.

The ’Bolts (3-1) slipped into second place, but they have the inside track to the No. 2 seed in Division I-B. They return home Friday to face Barrington (1-3) before taking to the road for a matchup with Rogers (2-2).

“We’re in a good position to have a home playoff game and just got to take care of business the next three weeks,” Centore said. “[Hopefully] we have a shot to play in the Super Bowl, that’s all you can really ask for, and I think we do. This’ll be a fun finish.”

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