It was a shame that one team had to come away with a loss after Cranston East and La Salle put on a show for a big crowd at Cranston Stadium on Friday evening. Unfortunately for East, it endured its first loss of the season as a late comeback effort fell just short in a 45-40 La Salle triumph.
The Rams’ victory overshadowed an outstanding performance from East senior quarterback Justin Neary, who torched La Salle’s defense, completing 19 passes for 353 yards and six touchdowns. Robenson Antoine and Isaiah Hinds hauled in two touchdowns apiece, while Rayven DeOliveira and Quinn Lanigan caught one each.
“He took some shots, but he kept getting back up,” East head coach Tom Centore said of Neary. “He’s very impressive. He does that weekly now. We just trust him so much to hit the right guy.”
East raced out to a fast start, opening the scoring just over a minute into the first quarter. A couple plays after a penalty on La Salle on a third-and-12 play extended East’s drive, Neary found DeOliveira down the seam for a 50-yard touchdown to make it 7-0.
But, four minutes later, La Salle would respond when senior Ethan Ennis rushed in from 15 yards out to tie the game at 7.
La Salle kept its momentum rolling when it recovered an East fumble less than a minute after Ennis’s score. That turnover ultimately resulted in Leroy DeOliveira’s first of three rushing touchdowns on the night, a 2-yard plunge that pulled La Salle in front, 13-7.
In the second quarter, La Salle couldn’t contain Neary and East’s dynamic receivers.
Neary dropped in a perfect throw to Hinds down the right sideline for a 64-yard score to tie the game at 13 with 10:22 left in the first half, and just over two minutes later, East went back in front, 20-13, when Neary connected with Antoine for a 53-yard touchdown.
From there, the two teams would trade scores for the remainder of the first half.
With 4:59 left, La Salle quarterback Nate Lussier took a keeper into the end zone from 10 yards out, before Neary found Antoine again for a 25-yard touchdown to make it 27-19 in favor of East.
But, La Salle would produce the equalizer before the half was up, as Lussier tossed a strike to Jake Ribeiro for a 27-yard touchdown. La Salle then added the 2-point conversion to tie the game at 27 going into the break.
The Rams would feed off that Lussier-to-Ribeiro score in the third quarter, as well.
While East’s offense stalled momentarily, La Salle’s kept its foot on the gas.
Less than three minutes into the third quarter, Ribeiro scored his second touchdown of the night on a 40-yard scamper. Leroy DeOliveira then scored on a 15-yard run late in the third quarter, and he found pay dirt on a 7-yard rush early in the fourth quarter, as well, pushing the Rams in front by three scores, 45-27.
But, East continued to battle down 18 with 7:19 remaining.
“We feel that the kids can score at any time and we’re not out of any game,” Centore said. “If we’re down in a game, we can always come back. The kids were talking on the sideline about it, and that’s something you can’t teach.”
East got its comeback effort started when Hinds hauled in a pass from Neary and weaved in and out through defenders for a 47-yard, highlight-reel touchdown to pull the ’Bolts within 11, 45-34.
Neary then tossed his sixth touchdown pass of the night when he found Lanigan open in the end zone with 3:28 remaining to trim La Salle’s lead to just five, 45-40.
And, after East’s defense earned a stop, the East offense took over possession in its own end with more than a minute to play.
Neary completed a couple short passes to start the drive, but a couple of deep heaves down the field fell incomplete as La Salle ultimately forced a turnover on downs to secure the victory.
In addition to Neary’s big night, Hinds also posted an impressive line of six catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite enduring the loss, Centore was proud of how his team battled and nearly came back from 18 down.
“It was quite a football game,” Centore said. “A couple of mistakes and a flat third quarter were costly.”
The Rams and ’Bolts are now tied atop the Division I-B standings with identical 3-1 records.
The ’Bolts will be looking to get back on track when they travel to Barrington (2-3) to take on the Eagles at 7 p.m. on Friday.