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Itâs hard to believe, but itâs true -- Shea and Central Falls, two teams who had traditionally appeared in the playoffs during the late â90s and 2000s, have not been in the playoffs in the last three seasons.
From 1998-2007, the Raiders qualified for the playoff nine times, making it as far as the Super Bowl on five of those occasions and winning it twice.
The Warriors also made five postseason appearances during that 10-year span time and won a championship in 2005.
Since then, times have been difficult for both sides, but the head coaches from both squads, Sheaâs Dino Campopiano and C.F.âs Mo Jackson, are optimistic that their teams can turn around their fortunes this fall.
Both teams, who are currently enjoying fruitful training camps, will face each other tonight at 6 p.m. in the opener of an Injury Fund doubleheader at Tucker Field, which will include a 7 p.m. affair between Tolman and Cumberland.
âIâve been very pleased with the effort,â added Campopiano. âDuring camp, the kids have been working really hard. Weâve had three scrimmages and I saw a lot of good things and some bad things, but overall, Iâm happy with the effort and the teamwork.â
âThis year, were optimistic,â said Jackson. âWeâre young, but we have more players returning than weâve had in quite a while. We still have a lot of work ahead of us, so weâll see what happens.â
For the Raiders, the 2010 season was laced with frustration. They went 3-4 in Division II-A action and missed the postseason by a game, as they suffered a couple of close defeats that were marred by penalties and turnovers and cost them a shot at the playoffs.
âWe had nobody to blame but ourselves,â said Campopiano. âWe did nothing to help ourselves in those close games. Last year, we averaged four turnovers a game, and it seemed like every one of our turnovers was in the red zone.â
Another thing that hurt the Raidersâ season was their lack of teamwork, but Campopiano has made it a point this year to get his players on the same page.
âThatâs been my biggest thing,â he said. âThe last couple of years, I think we lacked in playing as a team, and thatâs one thing Iâve been trying to stress in camp, and so far, the kids have been doing a nice job.
âObviously, we have to cut back on our mistakes, but we have to have better attitudes and we have to play as a team.â
Some of Sheaâs top skill players are back for their senior seasons, including quarterback Adilson Silva and running backs Jamal Tucker and Travis Gray.
Senior Adem Okubanjo will also see plenty of action in the backfield and at linebacker, junior John Santos saw quality playing time last year, and junior newcomer Dennis Lloyd is expected to contribute at running back, linebacker, and defensive back.
âDo I think we can make the playoffs?â asked Campopiano. âYeah, we have the potential, but we have to show up and play. Hopefully, this season, we get back there, but itâs going to be hard. I think our side of the division is going to be very tough, right down the line, so we have to play very good ball.â
As for the Warriors, they finished last season with a 2-6 record in Division IV play, but they may have had a shot at a .500 mark had penalties and turnovers not play a significant role in some of their losses.
âLast year was a tough year,â noted Jackson. âIf the ball bounced one way or the other, we probably would have had two or three more wins.â
Things are clearly looking up for the Warriors, who have eight returnees that saw extensive action on both sides of the ball and bring back two All-Division players in senior lineman and co-captain Sension Jimenez and senior tight end Joel Peralta.
Jimenez and classmates Nico Danielson and Cristian Romero give C.F. three talented, experienced linemen, and another veteran senior, R.I. track and field high jump champ Steven Vazquez, will play wide receiver after spending the last two years at quarterback and also play safety.
Senior Christian Brandon is also a dual threat at wide receiver and linebacker, and senior Amado Gonzalez plays fullback and linebacker.
At quarterback, Jackson plans to utilize a pair in junior Brandon Canuto and sophomore Tyshon Ashe. Canuto, who saw a lot of action behind center near the end of last year, is a solid passer, and Ashe is adept at running the option.
Also joining Gonzalez in the backfield are running backs Jevon Jimenez, Josh Brandon, and Julien Rivera and fullback Kenual Lopez.