Wizards down Panthers to secure final playoff spot

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The Johnston and West Warwick football teams knew what was at stake in their league season finale last Friday night at Johnston’s Polisena Stadium – a berth in the Division II playoffs. Both teams played their hearts out, but it was the Wizards that would emerge with a 34-13 victory, as they pulled away early in the second half to notch the fourth and final postseason spot. The West Warwick victory also secured it a quarterfinal game against the top-seeded North Kingstown Skippers tomorrow night. The Wizards finished their Division II-A schedule with a 4-3 record, while the Panthers finish 2-5 for the third straight year in league play. It was also senior night for the Panthers, as the senior players and cheerleaders were recognized on the field in a pre-game ceremony.

The senior football players are Justin Alexander, James Baccala, John Bonilla, Ben Budway, James Cardenas, Spencer Dunham, Dylan Lavoie, Joe Najm, Alexis Rodrigues, Nick Saker, Zack Spinella, Jesse Vigeant, captain Ty Harriel, captain Evin Califano and captain Elijah Burgess. The senior football cheerleaders are Daijah Bennet, Alexis Lima, Taylor Mederois, Jillian Quick, captain Gabriella Costantini, captain Fallon Davis and captain Madison Paolucci.

A moment of silence was held before the game in memory of 16-year-old Gianna Cirella, the Toll Gate soccer player who passed away last week.

The Panthers would drive to the Wizard 35 yard line on their first possession of the game, but Mason Brunnette would intercept Panther quarterback Evin Califano at the West Warwick 12-yard line. Jaden Clark gave the visitors the lead on a reversal that covered 65 yards for the game’s first touchdown.

Shalyne Scott gave her team a 7-0 lead with the extra point at the 5:10 mark of the first quarter. The Panthers would answer that score on a Califano to Deremy Stubbs 19-yard touchdown pass. Bianca Robbins tied the game with a perfect extra point.

The Wizards’ Cody Stetson gave his team a 13-7 lead going into the half with a 1-yard touchdown run. The Wizards would chew up six minutes of the third quarter clock on their opening possession, but the Johnston defense came up with a big stop at its own 6-yard line.

A bad snap over the head of Califano was recovered by the Wizards’ defense in the Johnston end zone, resulting in a touchdown. Stetson ran in the 2-point conversion for a 21-7 lead mid-way through the third quarter.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Wizards continued to pull away from the Panthers on a Jared Shipley 1-yard touchdown dive, and Stetson’s 2-yard run put the game out of reach at 34-7.

The Panthers drove downfield, led by nice runs by Dylan Lavoie and Califano, that set up Elijah Burgess’s 14th touchdown of the year, a 4-yard run on a great second effort. Burgess would run for 90 yards on 16 carries.

“We moved the ball well on our first possession, and going into halftime we had opportunities, but we had some little hiccups here and there defensively,” said Johnston head coach Joe Acciardo. “We could have picked the ball off, and on third-and-long we gave up a big play. That first possession in the third quarter was big. We thought we stopped them and got the ball, but the wheels started to come off the wagon, something we tried to avoid. This is a game of momentum. When it’s going the other way, you have to make a big stop. Staying motivated is something we have to work on, maybe because of our inexperience or maybe because we have had a few bad years, but we have to get out of that funk. We have to play to win and not play to lose, and we have to be more aggressive. “ 

Acciardo believes that the future of the team lies with some of the younger players.

“Getting these young guys in is good. We just want it to be a good experience for them. Hopefully, the next two weeks are good and we can get fired up for next year.”

The Panthers will play a non-league game tomorrow night and finish the season with their second meeting with the undefeated Division III Juanita Sanchez/PCD/Wheeler Co-op team the night before Thanksgiving at Mount Pleasant’s Conley Stadium.

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