The highs and lows of the past week


It was a wild week of high school sports playoffs and there was plenty to chew on both on and off the field.

Here are some of my biggest takeaways from the events I had the pleasure of covering:

I was present on Saturday night covering the girls soccer championships as we had both Johnston and Toll Gate competing. Unfortunately for our clubs, they came up short despite playing well overall.

The Panthers took on Rogers and fell 3-0. Johnston beat Rogers twice in the regular season, but this game was one of those examples of how tough it is to beat a team three straight times.

Although Johnston was the more successful team throughout the fall, and to be frank, was the better team overall, it was just not it’s night. Sometimes in sports, that happens. The best team doesn’t always win. That’s not taking anything away from Rogers, either, the Vikings pulled off an upset over top-seeded Providence Country Day then Johnston, but the Panthers should have won that game.

After a scoreless first half in which Johnston controlled the pace and field position, Rogers got a penalty kick opportunity and converted to take the lead. From there, the Panthers just could not recover.

Alexia DiLorenzo got injured shortly after, the Vikings gained the confidence, and the Panthers were not used to playing from behind considering how dominant they had been all season long. It was just a tough way to go out.

That being said, Johnston moved down to Division IV last season and immediately rose to the top of the rankings. Nine seniors are graduating, so it will be interesting to see what happens, but this program is in a great spot and had one heck of a run. Sometimes, you-know-what happens.

Toll Gate fell to No. 1 Westerly 4-0. It was a similar type of game as Johnston’s.

The Titans played strong defense in the scoreless first half, but in the final 10 minutes or so, it felt like the Bulldogs began finding their way.

Toll Gate keeper Alanna Pereira came up with a few big saves to close out the first half then stood on her head in the early going in the second. Eventually, Westerly broke through and poured it on in the final 20 minutes.

Toll Gate’s program is also in fantastic shape. The Titans have reached the playoffs the past four years, including three trips to the finals and one win. As always, there will be some roster turnover, but there were 15 seniors that graduated last season and look what happened. The Titans will be right there again.

Friday night provided another thrilling week of the football postseason and we had two more teams in action.

I made the trip down to Middletown to watch the Islanders host the Johnston Panthers. It was an awesome game, possibly the best game I’ve covered this fall.

Middletown took a 14-0 lead, but the Panthers hung in there and tied it. Middletown, though, pulled off a big time drive in the final two minutes to score a touchdown and secure the win.

The talk of the Johnston team this fall has been around its offense. Between Matt Clements, NeAri Vasquez, Michael Carlino, Steven Finegan, this offensive unit was a powerhouse that grabbed the headlines, and deservedly so.

Going into this matchup, I was fascinated to see how this Johnston defense would hold up, and it passed the test. It came up with two goal line stops in the first quarter and forced an interception in the second quarter to hold the Islanders to just seven points in the first half.

The only drive that the defense flopped on was the opening drive of the second half, when Middletown scored on three plays. To go 48 minutes against a team as good as Middletown and to only have one poor drive is impressive. This defense was prepared.

The players were devastated, as you could imagine. To enter the game on the road as underdogs, to erase a two-score lead, to have chances in the fourth quarter to take the lead. It was about as close of a loss as you’ll see. That’s why it was so thrilling as a viewer, but devastating as a player or coach.

Prior to the season, Johnston felt that it had a championship roster on its hands. Despite the loss, it proved that it did. The Panthers proved to be on the same level as Middletown, who enters this weekend’s championship as the favorite once again.

I will say, this game was not free of controversy.

In Middletown’s game-winning drive, it was aided by two 15-yard penalties. The second was on a facemask penalty that I did not get a good look at, but the first was a late hit call on the Johnston sideline which was an utterly disastrous call by the officials.

Middletown’s ball carrier was maybe a toe out of bounds, and was touched by a Panther finger. In the final minutes of a playoff game, the ref should have swallowed his whistle. That call was borderline at best … at the very best. You don’t make that call in a playoff game, you just don’t.

What was more unfortunate than the call though, was the behavior from the Johnston fans. It may have been the best game I covered this fall, and that may have been the worst fan etiquette I have watched as well.

For the remainder of the drive after the penalty, the fans were ruthless to the referees. Between hurling cuss words, insults, jabs, it just went too far. It was embarrassing.

I am all for some banter, I love some good viewer feedback. However, flat out cursing out a ref with some highly offensive language in public, it was low class in every sense.

One of my fellow media members turned to me and said, “well, we all know who’s side the refs will be on in the final minute,” and sure enough, moments later, the facemask was called. I’m not saying the penalty was manufactured, but if the refs were antsy to toss an additional flag against Johnston, you can do math.

In the soccer finals, the Johnston student section was heckling the referee, but did it in a way that makes those interactions lovely theater. One kid made a joke saying, “hey ref, you know your whistle works, right?!” Innocent poking that didn’t humiliate the official. I wish I could go deeper into what was said during the football game, but even speaking in code would be inappropriate for print.

It is never one call that completely sinks a team. Sure, some hurt more than others, and that late hit call was a tough one to overcome. But Johnston had chances before and after to win the game. Let’s not forget that.

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