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St. Raphael Academy has enough big-play weapons on offense to stick with the more potent teams in Division II this season.
Head coach Mike Sassi is most comfortable running a Wing-T offense. This yearâ€™s team has the personnel to make that formation work cohesively. It begins with quarterback Julian Diaz, an efficient playmaker who can throw the ball on the run and downfield when needed.
The Saints have a big fullback in Patrick Miranda who gets tough yards inside. Halfback Charles Correa can run inside or outside. Wingback James Berry also is a hard runner inside. Tight end Davon Robertson is 6-foot-4 and runs well, presenting a huge target in the middle of the field for Diaz to find. Wide receiver Zach Mays runs good patterns and can get open.
All of those weapons were on display Saturday when the Saints broke open a close game in the second half en route to a 30-0 conquest of winless Woonsocket.
The Saints are 2-1 in Division II-B, their only loss a 22-14 defeat against unbeaten Tolman, which has outscored its three opponents by a 112-26 margin this season.
â€śItâ€™s funny,â€ť Sassi was saying with a smile on Saturday. â€śWhen we used to play Tolman in the old days, we were the fast team and they were the big, slow team. But now Tolman is the team with all the speed.â€ť
The Saints are not lacking for speed, of course. Correa outran Woonsocketâ€™s contain people to the pylon on a nine-yard scoring run Saturday, showing the kind of speed that makes him an all-state point guard in basketball. The 5-8 junior also displayed his speed and good hands while catching a 33-yard touchdown pass from Diaz in the first quarter.
Robertson caught three passes for 45 yards during the game. The rangy senior wreaked havoc on defense, too, sacking Woonsocket QB Brian Bouchard once, and adding two more tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
The Saintsâ€™ defense started slowly but made adjustments at halftime that pretty much silenced Woonsocketâ€™s offense in the second half. Defensive end Thomas Hurley also picked up a sack, as did linebacker Chris Ventura. Miranda made several big plays from his inside linebacker post, blitzing effectively on several occasions to blow up running plays.
There is no letup for Division II contenders, as Sassi has quickly found out since moving his team down from Division I a couple years ago.
â€śWe visit (unbeaten) West Warwick on Saturday,â€ť the coach said. â€śItâ€™s their Homecoming game so weâ€™re going to have our work cut out.â€ť
The Wizards edged Ponaganset 14-12 on Saturday, erasing an early 12-0 deficit in the final eight minutes after freshman Kody Greenhalgh took over at quarterback. West Warwick relies on its defense to win games. The Wizards are averaging just 19 points per game compared to Tolmanâ€™s 37 and SRAâ€™s 27 per contest.
West Warwick beat a good Mount Hope team 22-20 at home in its league opener, then trounced winless Toll Gate before surviving Ponagansetâ€™s challenge. The Chieftains are 1-2 in league play but definitely remain dangerous. They will visit Woonsocket on Saturday afternoon in what could be a â€śtrapâ€ť game for Ponaganset.
The Villa Novans, who seemed on the verge of playing well against St. Raphael, could be primed for an upset this weekend.
â€śOur players are still learning what it takes to win games,â€ť Woonsocket coach Carnell Henderson said on Saturday. â€śBut they are sticking together and they believe in themselves. Thatâ€™s important.â€ť
Tolman High gets its second strong test of the season (after St. Raphael) on Friday night when Mount Hope visits Pariseau Field for a 7 p.m. game. Since losing its league opener at West Warwick three weeks ago, the Huskies buried Ponaganset 34-7 at home and then rolled over Toll Gate, 38-0, this past Friday night.
Tolman pounded Pilgrim 55-6 on Friday night, a onesided victory that means nothing when it comes to preparing for Mount Hope. The Tigers have to forget about last week and focus on a Huskies team that has been in playoff contention for the past few seasons in Division II.
The Tigers, who lost in the D-II Super Bowl last year to Woonsocket, have developed a passing game to complement their explosive running attack. Coach Dave Caitoâ€™s squad played Division I contender Barrington tough in its season opener last month. Next week, Caito has scheduled a non-leaguer against Cranston East, another D-I squad.
The schedule-maker did Tolman several favors this season. Both the Mount Hope and West Warwick games are home affairs for the Tigers, who also played St. Raphael at home in September. (The Saints, of course, also call Pariseau Field their home.)
This past weekendâ€™s games completed the first month of the football season. Division races are starting to take shape throughout Rhode Island.
In Division I, East Providence scored a comeback 26-22 victory over Portsmouth on Friday night that keeps the Townies among the top four teams in the D-I standings. EP is 2-1, losing only to unbeaten Cranston West 19-10 at Cranston Stadium.
This Friday, the Townies visit winless Cranston East.
In Division II-A, Cumberland gave a good account of itself in a 14-7 home loss to unbeaten Westerly, which had buried Shea 53-19 the week before. This Friday, the Clippers visit a 1-2 Warwick Veterans team that edged Coventry 14-8 last week. Warwick Veterans yielded 100 points in its opening two losses to unbeaten Central (54-0) and a 2-1 Johnston team that beat the Hurricanes, 46-6.
Cumberland should contend for a playoff berth this month but it needs to beat Warwick Veterans on the road to make that happen.
Elsewhere in D-II, Shea High dropped a 34-8 decision to a 2-1 Chariho team. The Raiders are 0-3 in league play for the first time since 1997. They have allowed 87 points in their last two games. Things donâ€™t get any easier this week as Shea hosts a 3-0 Central squad that is averaging 43 points per game.
In Division III, Lincoln High and Burrillville are off to slow starts. The Lions are 1-2 after Saturdayâ€™s exciting 18-12 victory over the Broncos that was decided on a 36-yard touchdown reception by Kyle Jackson in the final minute of the game. Lincoln has actually won two of three league games but gave one back due to the use of an ineligible player.
The Lions host a 2-1 Tiverton team on Friday night. Burrillville, now 0-3, hosts Moses Brown on Saturday.
Central Falls remains a playoff contender in Division IV despite suffering its first league loss on Friday, a 14-12 heartbreaker to Mount Pleasant, which improved to 2-0. The Warriors are 2-1 heading into Friday nightâ€™s home game against winless Scituate, which has been outscored 90-6 in its first two league games.
North Smithfield, which made the playoffs for the first time in school history last season, suffered a disheartening 28-7 loss to Smithfield on Friday night. The Northmen (0-2), who looked so good three weeks ago in a 55-26 non-league romp over Burrillville, host unbeaten Exeter/West Greenwich (3-0) in what amounts to a do-or-die game for the home side.