SRA quarterback Emmanuel Leake (16) prepares to hand the ball off during last year‚Äôs playoff matchup against Woonsocket. For the second straight year, the Saints and Villa Novans will meet in the quarterfinals. This time, Woonsocket‚Äôs Barry Field will serve as the venue for Saturday‚Äôs 1:30 p.m. clash. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN
If last November‚Äôs riveting playoff result is any indication, the ‚Äúrematch‚ÄĚ between St. Raphael and Woonsocket in a R.I. Division II quarterfinal at Barry Field on Saturday should be a wild one.
The Villa Novans had trailed the Saints, 13-0, at the break, but rallied for 21 points in the second half, including 14 in the final quarter, to knot it at 21-21 at Pariseau Field.
In the end, SRA veteran mentor Mike Sassi‚Äôs crew took a 28-21 advantage in overtime, though Woonsocket later notched a TD to pull to within one.
The Novans‚Äô chief, Carnell Henderson, stunned the fans when he opted to try a two-point conversion try to win it outright. When it succeeded, it was his contingent that celebrated a crazy 29-28 victory and moved on to the semifinals.
Still, neither coach believes that amazing finish will play much of a role when the two meet again with the same collective want at Barry Field at 1:30 p.m. ‚Äď taking a step closer to a berth in the D-II Super Bowl.
‚ÄúObviously, a few of the kids will remember, but a lot of my guys weren‚Äôt playing, so that has nothing to do with (this tilt),‚ÄĚ stated Sassi, whose squad finished in a five-way tie for first place at 5-2 in D-II B, and had to do so with four straight triumphs. ‚ÄúThat was one of the more painful defeats that I‚Äôve experienced; I mean, we were up, 13-0, in the first quarter.
‚ÄúThat will have nothing to do with this one.‚ÄĚ
Henderson, who has mustered a II-A slate of 6-1, took the same approach as his club prepared for the Saints this week.
‚ÄúThis is going to be a really tough foe for us; we‚Äôve watched them on film, and they‚Äôre very athletic,‚ÄĚ he noted. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre a disciplined group, and they‚Äôre very well-coached. It‚Äôs the playoffs, so we know we‚Äôre going to get their best for four quarters. We‚Äôre looking forward to the challenge.‚ÄĚ
While referencing the OT win last fall, Henderson added, ‚ÄúIf they want to use that as a motivational tool, that‚Äôs up to them. Every football team enters the season with goals, and one of them is to make the playoffs. We‚Äôve both achieved that goal, but last year was last year.
‚ÄúThere are some kids on both sides who recall what happened, and ‚Äď of course ‚Äď some of our (upperclassmen) don‚Äôt need to be reminded that St. Ray‚Äôs wants redemption. Still, I don‚Äôt think that has to be my sales pitch. We just want to focus on the task at hand and play well.
‚ÄúThis is a brand new season, and we have a group of guys who want to win and move toward another goal ‚Äď reaching the semifinals.‚ÄĚ
In another quarterfinal, this one slated for 7 p.m., Friday at Tucker Field, Cumberland (5-2) will host Coventry; that also has a couple of interesting sidelights. The victor of each will battle in a semifinal (due to the brackets‚Äô makeup).
‚ÄúThey have a lot of great athletes, some kids who can run the football,‚ÄĚ Sassi mentioned of WHS senior speedster Will Andino and junior bulldog Jaston Robinson. ‚ÄúThey have so many good backs in the stable, but they also can throw and catch the football. They have multiple weapons offensively.‚ÄĚ
Those include junior quarterback Miguel Raymond; and dangerous pass snatchers in junior tight end Austin Wolter and senior receiver Josh Trinidad.
‚ÄúAnother had thing for us is we haven‚Äôt seen them play this year because they‚Äôre on the opposite side of our division,‚ÄĚ he stated. ‚ÄúI saw Carnell the other day and we traded films; I just looked at him and smiled, ‚ÄėAgain, we meet.‚Äô
‚ÄúHey, it‚Äôs better than the alternative,‚ÄĚ he continued. ‚ÄúI told him, ‚ÄėI‚Äôd rather be facing you guys. If we weren‚Äôt, then we wouldn‚Äôt be in the playoffs.‚Äô We had to win four in a row just to get to this point, so this is great.
‚ÄúI think we‚Äôre multi-faceted; we‚Äôve been pretty difficult to defend because we can do a lot of things. We can slug it out or spread it out.‚ÄĚ
Sassi was speaking of junior quarterback Emmanuel Leake, who is a threat with his feet as well as his arm; junior running backs James Kelly, Josh Alves and Alfred Dorbor.
As for Leake‚Äôs receivers, there‚Äôs plenty of talent around him in senior tight end Bob Bracken and classmate Steve Toetee on the outside.
‚ÄúThey have a lot of team speed,‚ÄĚ Henderson offered. ‚ÄúSt. Ray‚Äôs is very explosive, and they have the ability to score in bunches. They run the ball well, and throw it well, too. They have a smart quarterback, so they‚Äôre going to pose a threat like they do other teams. We‚Äôre just going to have to find something that works and stick to it.‚ÄĚ
Among the defensive standouts for Woonsocket: outside linebacker Wolter; junior tackle Shawn (‚ÄúTexas‚ÄĚ) Ingram; and junior linebackers Nick Fernandes and Abdoulay Ceesay.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs going to be really physical,‚ÄĚ Sassi insisted. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre at home, and they‚Äôre the higher seed (as the ‚ÄėNovans are ranked first in II-A, the Saints fourth in II-B), but we‚Äôre looking forward to the challenge.‚ÄĚ
Said Henderson: ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs all going to come down to discipline: Offensively, defensively and special teams. If you play disciplined football, then that automatically cuts down on the amount of mistakes you make. When you play a team that explosive, and you play smart, they‚Äôre not going to have as many opportunities to succeed.‚ÄĚ
As for the Clippers‚Äô battle with the Knotty Oakers, CHS head coach Chris Skurka knows exactly what he‚Äôs up against with Gerry Zannella at the helm.
‚ÄúGerry gave me my first opportunity to coach on the high school level back in 1996; he made me the freshman coach here at Cumberland (when he was leading the varsity team),‚ÄĚ Skurka said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs the first one who ever hired me, so he‚Äôs been a mentor to me, and a good friend.
‚ÄúCoventry is always extremely well-coached; heck, I‚Äôve known that for a long time,‚ÄĚ he added. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre sound in the running game and sound defensively. They‚Äôve always been a tough opponent for Cumberland.‚ÄĚ
He noted the Clippers‚Äô 17-14 regular-season victory over the host Oakers in 2010, and a 10-0 positive decision at Tucker Field last autumn.
‚ÄúIf you go back to 2009, my first year as head coach here, we lost to them in triple-overtime; naturally, that was a thriller,‚ÄĚ he explained. ‚ÄúEvery time we play, it‚Äôs a great game, and this one should be, too.
‚ÄúOffensively, we must control the line of scrimmage; we‚Äôre going to have to run the ball well (with junior signal caller Tyler Calabro, senior Mike Stock and junior Jared Talbert). Defensively, we just can‚Äôt give up the big play. That‚Äôs something that‚Äôs been haunting us lately.
‚ÄúIt happened to us against North Kingstown, where we gave up two big, fourth-quarter runs for TDs in the fourth quarter, and again to West Warwick,‚ÄĚ he continued. ‚Äú(The Wizards) had a fourth-and-10 pass for a TD in the first, and they scooped up a fumble and ran that in later.
‚ÄúOur defense needs to have its (collective) head in the game for a full 48 minutes. Against West Warwick, we turned the ball over seven times, and only got two ourselves. You can‚Äôt be minus five (in the turnover department) and expect to win.‚ÄĚ
View more articles in: