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Familiar playoff foes SRA, Woonsocket to meet in Division II football quarterfinals

November 14, 2013

SRA quarterback Emmanuel Leake (16) prepares to hand the ball off during last year’s playoff matchup against Woonsocket. For the second straight year, the Saints and Villa Novans will meet in the quarterfinals. This time, Woonsocket’s Barry Field will serve as the venue for Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. clash. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN

If last November’s riveting playoff result is any indication, the “rematch” 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’s crew took a 28-21 advantage in overtime, though Woonsocket later notched a TD to pull to within one.

The Novans’ 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. – taking a step closer to a berth in the D-II Super Bowl.

“Obviously, a few of the kids will remember, but a lot of my guys weren’t playing, so that has nothing to do with (this tilt),” 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. “That was one of the more painful defeats that I’ve experienced; I mean, we were up, 13-0, in the first quarter.

“That will have nothing to do with this one.”

Henderson, who has mustered a II-A slate of 6-1, took the same approach as his club prepared for the Saints this week.

“This is going to be a really tough foe for us; we’ve watched them on film, and they’re very athletic,” he noted. “They’re a disciplined group, and they’re very well-coached. It’s the playoffs, so we know we’re going to get their best for four quarters. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

While referencing the OT win last fall, Henderson added, “If they want to use that as a motivational tool, that’s up to them. Every football team enters the season with goals, and one of them is to make the playoffs. We’ve both achieved that goal, but last year was last year.

“There are some kids on both sides who recall what happened, and – of course – some of our (upperclassmen) don’t need to be reminded that St. Ray’s wants redemption. Still, I don’t think that has to be my sales pitch. We just want to focus on the task at hand and play well.

“This is a brand new season, and we have a group of guys who want to win and move toward another goal – reaching the semifinals.”


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’ makeup).

“They have a lot of great athletes, some kids who can run the football,” Sassi mentioned of WHS senior speedster Will Andino and junior bulldog Jaston Robinson. “They have so many good backs in the stable, but they also can throw and catch the football. They have multiple weapons offensively.”

Those include junior quarterback Miguel Raymond; and dangerous pass snatchers in junior tight end Austin Wolter and senior receiver Josh Trinidad.

“Another had thing for us is we haven’t seen them play this year because they’re on the opposite side of our division,” he stated. “I saw Carnell the other day and we traded films; I just looked at him and smiled, ‘Again, we meet.’

“Hey, it’s better than the alternative,” he continued. “I told him, ‘I’d rather be facing you guys. If we weren’t, then we wouldn’t be in the playoffs.’ We had to win four in a row just to get to this point, so this is great.

“I think we’re multi-faceted; we’ve been pretty difficult to defend because we can do a lot of things. We can slug it out or spread it out.”

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’s receivers, there’s plenty of talent around him in senior tight end Bob Bracken and classmate Steve Toetee on the outside.

“They have a lot of team speed,” Henderson offered. “St. Ray’s 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’re going to pose a threat like they do other teams. We’re just going to have to find something that works and stick to it.”

Among the defensive standouts for Woonsocket: outside linebacker Wolter; junior tackle Shawn (“Texas”) Ingram; and junior linebackers Nick Fernandes and Abdoulay Ceesay.

“It’s going to be really physical,” Sassi insisted. “They’re at home, and they’re the higher seed (as the ‘Novans are ranked first in II-A, the Saints fourth in II-B), but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Said Henderson: “It’s 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’re not going to have as many opportunities to succeed.”


As for the Clippers’ battle with the Knotty Oakers, CHS head coach Chris Skurka knows exactly what he’s up against with Gerry Zannella at the helm.

“Gerry 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),” Skurka said. “He’s the first one who ever hired me, so he’s been a mentor to me, and a good friend.

“Coventry is always extremely well-coached; heck, I’ve known that for a long time,” he added. “They’re sound in the running game and sound defensively. They’ve always been a tough opponent for Cumberland.”

He noted the Clippers’ 17-14 regular-season victory over the host Oakers in 2010, and a 10-0 positive decision at Tucker Field last autumn.

“If you go back to 2009, my first year as head coach here, we lost to them in triple-overtime; naturally, that was a thriller,” he explained. “Every time we play, it’s a great game, and this one should be, too.

“Offensively, we must control the line of scrimmage; we’re 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’t give up the big play. That’s something that’s been haunting us lately.

“It 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,” he continued. “(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.

“Our 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’t be minus five (in the turnover department) and expect to win.”

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