The comeback kids, otherwise known as the Old Rochester Regional Youth Football 12-and-under team, are accomplishing something special, and a major ingredient to the team’s run of victories that has the Bulldogs in a Saturday, November 26, win-and-your-in (the Pop Warner Nationals) playoff against Hamden, Connecticut, is their rare ability to launch the ball through the uprights.
The Bulldogs’ kicking game is the envy of many high school teams, and these kids were age 12 or under on July 31.
“Gio (Scherer) has been kicking since he was eight years old. He makes five field goals before he leaves every practice. It’s such an advantage, every coach knows,” marvels ORRYF 12U Head Coach Dave Medeiros. “As soon as we get ahead of these teams … two touchdowns and two field goals, you’re really up three scores.”
That leverages the offensive game plan of the opponent and allows the defense to further pressure the quarterback and anticipate turnover opportunities like the two interceptions James Devoll made in a recent playoff win, along with multiple tackles. “We wouldn’t be here without him,” said Coach Medeiros.
“You don’t usually expect it, so when it happens, it’s really fast,” said Devoll of his two picks, the first two of his career. “We really played our hardest. We ran (sprints) a lot to get us focused, and we played best as we could and here we are.”
With great plays being made on both sides of the ball and at clutch moments, excitement is building around the ORRYF 12U squad.
“Really fun,” is how Giovanni Scherer, the Bulldogs’ quarterback and place kicker, describes the second season. “It’s also can’t-lose situations. We’ve all got to be smart with what we do.”
The ripple effect of the 12U’s kicking game is evident, but behind the scenes long before this 2022 season became something out of a storybook, it was a labor of love for participants.
A specialty built on dedication and discipline, ORRYF’s kicking game primarily involves three Rochester kids: Scherer, running back/linebacker Connor Nelson and outside linebacker David Medeiros.
“Connor holds, David snaps. It’s absolutely a unit,” said Coach Medeiros, who adds, “Gio’s field goals are what won us the next three games. … The timing is impeccable.”
David Medeiros estimates he has played together five years with Nelson and four or five with Scherer, focusing on field goals. “We kick field goals before practice, and every Saturday practice we get practice in the morning, and we go out to the field after practice is done and kick at least 10 field goals,” he said.
Five games into the 2022 season, Saturday’s upcoming regional playoff final in New Milford, Connecticut, was looking like the destiny of other teams. ORR had started its season by winning two, then losing three. One more loss, and the Bulldogs would be eliminated from playoff contention.
“I got with the boys and said, ‘Let’s just work at getting better, improving every day and competing,'” recalled Coach Medeiros, still flabbergasted, his belief in the team notwithstanding. “We just started working hard, and they came together. They started playing absolutely out of their minds.”
The Bulldogs won their next three games, 33-0, the maximum margin of victory regardless of what transpires on the field. ORRYF needed to beat Seekonk to make the playoffs and won that one, 33-0.
“We had a couple of bounce-back games (and) ran the table,” said Coach Medeiros.
Even so, four teams were tied in the 14-team RISMA (Rhode Island & Southern Massachusetts) League standings at 5-3, and names were drawn out of a hat. ORRYF was the first team drawn.
Seeded fifth in a six-team playoff field (the top two seeds had opening-round byes), ORR played a neutral-site game in Taunton against No. 4 Middletown, Rhode Island, winning 26-13.
“We got up 26-0, and they scored a couple (touchdowns.) It was really the next three games after that (in which the Bulldogs surged),” said Coach Medeiros.
The Bulldogs upended previously undefeated Dighton-Rehoboth, 15-6. Down 6-0 throughout, they tied the game when Nelson carried into the end zone with four minutes left and made a point-after catch to give ORR the lead. Then he scored a second rushing touchdown after ORR got the ball back on an interception. Scherer’s extra-point kick (worth two points) accounted for the final score.
“We believed that we could make it (to the RISMA playoffs), we were just down 2-3,” said Nelson, a point guard when basketball season starts. “We just believed, and we got further and further into the championship, and we just won.”
Nelson was recently recognized as Student of the Month at ORR Junior High. “We take (football) seriously, but we take school more seriously,” said Coach Medeiros.
An ORRYF player since age five, David Medeiros calls the plays on defense.
“I’ve been playing center almost my entire career … right after Covid, that year I started to get too small for center, but I still had that chemistry,” he said.
What the coach’s son lacks in size he more than makes up for in skill, smarts and compete level. In Pop Warner, a rule prohibiting hitting the snapper allows him to play center, where his skill and awareness can be effective on defense and on special teams.
“There was one game where we blitzed nine (pass rushers) because they couldn’t pass, they only ran,” he said. “It’s pretty complicated. As the year goes on, we play new teams, we have to put in new defensive plays – a lot of play calling and hand signals from the defensive coordinator.
“The fullback on the offense, wherever he goes is usually where the play goes because he’s always the lead blocker. Also, when they run out (of the huddle) and it’s a full spread and they don’t have a running back, they’re obviously going to throw the ball – unless it’s a QB draw.”
Tri-captain Logan Hiles is equally present on every defensive down, playing the middle-linebacker position when ORR is aligned in a 4-4 formation, defensive end otherwise, long snapper on punts and full back on the offense. That makes him the lead blocker.
“Make sure you’re not hitting in the back. You have to see the front of their numbers,” advised Hiles. “I just try to pave the path, unless my running back tells me ‘Block this guy, he’s making a ton of plays.'”
The RISMA Super Bowl pitted ORR against the Edgewood Eagles, a juggernaut out of Cranston, Rhode Island, that had not lost a divisional game in five years. The winner would enter the regional tournament.
After ORR beat the Manchester (Connecticut) Red Hawks last week in a seesaw game that saw the Bulldogs score three touchdowns before surrendering four before, Scherer took over with a touchdown and a field goal, paving the way to a 30-24 victory. With four minutes left, ORR was down 24-22, Scherer capped off a drive when he rolled out of the pocket and instead of throwing, broke a 30-yard run.
“We almost didn’t make our league playoffs, made it, beat two undefeated teams,” said Coach Medeiros.
A 15-6 winner over Revere, Hamden, Connecticut, is the only hurdle standing between the Bulldogs and an appearance in the national Pop Warner tournament in Orlando, Florida. Kickoff is 2:15 pm, Saturday at New Milford (Connecticut) High School.
“If we win, it’s going to take a community effort to get (to Orlando),” said Coach Medeiros, citing the daunting expense of travel. “I knew that we had a good team coming into this season. We underperformed for three games. But to get to the Pop Warner playoffs, nobody thought we were going to get there.”
For information on the team, visit their “12uORRBulldogs” Facebook page at facebook.com/profile.php?id=100087659065917&mibextid=ZbWKwL.
By Mick Colageo