Tolman High running back Mory Keita, shown running around a block by teammate Darion Stubbs, and his teammates will try to repeat as Division II-B champions tonight when they host West Warwick High at Pariseau Field.
Before Tolman can set its sights on a repeat Division II-B regular-season title, the Tigers are going to have to overcome a tall order tonight -- namely one of the biggest and best defensive teams in all of Division II in West Warwick.
The Wizards, who are 4-1 and a game behind Tolman (5-0) in the standings, boast plenty of size in their front seven with veteran linemen Aaron Koehler and Cesar Jimenez and two defensive ends that clearly have the attention of Tolman head coach Dave Caito.
âTheyâre very good defensively, probably one of the better defensive teams that weâre going to face,â said Caito. âTheir two defensive ends are big. No. 81 (Ryan) Lawton and 85 (Elijah Saintfleur) are basketball players. Theyâre about 6-4, 6-5, and itâs tough to get around them and throw on them too.â
The Tigers will shoot for their 13th straight division win, but more importantly, a victory that will lock up the II-B title and home-field advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs in a 7 p.m. showdown at Pariseau Field that promises to be a packed house by kickoff.
But the Wizards will try to mystify the Tigers, and in the process, move into a tie for first place. That would mean that if both teams finish the regular season tied, West Warwick would claim the division crown and home field advantage into the semifinals because they would own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
For those reasons, this game is the featured attraction in the Blackstone Valley this weekend, but it isnât the only one on the schedule that has playoff implications attached to it.
While the Tigers and Wizards have already claimed playoff spots, St. Raphael and Ponaganset could also punch their tickets to the postseason and end any drama in the battle for the II-Bâs other two playoff berths by simply capturing their games this weekend.
Ponaganset will bring a 3-2 division record into Warwick tonight for a 7 p.m. game against Pilgrim (2-3), which is tied for fifth place with Mount Hope (2-3) in the standings and clinging to some very slim playoff hopes.
As for the Saints, who are 4-1, they could also put a swift end to the Huskiesâ postseason hopes on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Pariseau Field.
Cumberland, which is 3-2 and coming off its big overtime win over Johnston last Friday, can also earn its first playoff berth in three years tonight when the Clippers clash with unbeaten Central (5-0) in a Division II-A game at 7 p.m. at Tucker Field.
In Division IV, two local teams can also move closer to the playoffs tonight. Central Falls (4-2) hosts on the Providence Country Day/Wheeler/Juanita Sanchez co-op team in a 6 p.m. meeting at Macomber Stadium, and North Smithfield (2-2) pays a visit to North Providence (3-2) for a 6:30 p.m. affair.
Also on tonightâs slate is a Division III game pitting Classical against Lincoln at Ferguson Field, a Division II-A contest at Max Read Field against Warwick Vets and Shea, and an interstate clash between East Providence and Foxboro, Mass. of the competitive Hockomock League at the Warriorsâ field. All three games are at 7 p.m.
Rounding out the weekend are Saturdayâs 12:15 p.m. game between Division III foes Burrillville and Narragansett in South County and the 1:30 p.m. battle of the Division II-Bâs winless teams at Barry Field between Woonsocket and Toll Gate.
Hereâs a look at this weekendâs 10 R.I. games:
West Warwick at Tolman
This is clearly going to be a difficult test for the Tigers, who not only have to deal with the Wizardsâ stout âDâ, but also a potent offense thatâs propelled by mobile quarterback Ryan OâKelly and one of the divisionâs best receivers in John Morrison.
âItâs going to be a challenge,â added Caito. âWest Warwick does some very good things offensively. They have some nice running backs, Lawtonâs a nice receiving tight end, and their quarterback can scramble.â
The Tigers are fresh off a 21-14 victory over Ponaganset that saw them battle back from a slow start to win the game. If they plan to top the Wizards, they will surely need to play four strong quarters of football, pretty much like SRA did three weekends ago in its 21-12 win over West Warwick.
âI know weâll be ready for West Warwick,â added Caito. âNo. 1, itâs at home and we play very well on Friday nights. And No. 2, it solidifies first place for us. We lock up first place no matter what happens next weekend against Toll Gate.â
Mount Hope at St. Raphael
Speaking of the Saints, they will also have their hands full when they contest a Huskies team thatâs still fuming from the news that it had to forfeit a Sept. 25 victory to Ponaganset for using an illegal player.
The Huskies took out some of their frustrations by defeating Woonsocket by three touchdowns last Friday, and they would love nothing more than to put a crimp in the Saintsâ playoff hopes.
Gian DiMezza (eight rushing touchdowns) is one of the offensive standouts for the Huskies. The Saints received big games in last weekâs win over Toll Gate from quarterback Julian Diaz (eight TD passes this season) and running back Charles Correa (12 TDs) and would love to see that duo deliver again.
While a win by the Saints puts them back into the playoffs, a loss means that next Saturdayâs showdown at âThe Reservationâ against Ponaganset will be a very huge one for them.
Ponaganset at Pilgrim
Pretender or contender? The Chieftains take on a Pilgrim team that may be 2-3 and alive in the hunt for a playoff berth, but beat the divisionâs two winless teams in Toll Gate and Woonsocket and had been outscored 142-76 in its five league games -- 115-28 in losses to Tolman, SRA, and West Warwick.
This game could surprisingly turn into the blowout of the week if Ponaganset shakes off last weekâs loss to Tolman by bringing its âAâ game and getting big performances out of quarterback Chris Larrabee and fullback Scott Peterson. Larrabee is on the verge of his second straight 1,000-yard season passing.
A victory by the Chieftains not only eliminates the Patriots from the playoff picture, it gives them the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Huskies, who even if they beat St. Raphael and Pilgrim in their last two games and the Saints top the Chieftains next week, would be the odd team out because of their forfeit loss to Ponaganset.
A win also means that the Chieftains would merely be vying for a higher seed in next weekâs meeting with the Saints. Ponagansetâs two defeats have come at the hands of the Tigers and West Warwick, a 14-12 loss back on Oct. 1.
Central at Cumberland
This may be the Clippersâ toughest test to date. The Knights are awfully fast, averaging 36 points per game, and have surrendered just 57 points in its five division victories.
Plus, they have one of the stateâs most talented football standouts in tailback Mike Washington, a speedy 1,200-yard rusher with 18 touchdowns that add up to more points than the Clippers have tallied this year (88).
But the Clippers have allowed the fewest points in the division (55), and four of their games have been decided by a touchdown this year. If this battle with the Knights turns out to be another six- or seven-point affair, win or lose, this could be a game the Clippers and their fans talk about for a long time.
If the Clippers lose this game, they can still get into the playoffs with a win at Coventry (1-4) next Saturday at 4 p.m. They own the head-to-head tiebreaker with Johnston (2-3), and the only way the Panthers would squeeze past them is by capturing their final two contests against Westerly and Shea and hoping Cumberland loses its last two.
PCD/Wheeler/Juanita Sanchez at Central Falls
After allowing just 26 points in their first five games, the Warriors laid an egg last weekend in their 35-32 shootout loss to North Providence.
But they should be able to right their ship this weekend with their co-op rivals coming to town. The Knights are 1-4, and if you toss out their season-opening rout of woeful Scituate, they have been outscored 124-60.
The only way the Warriors could earn a playoff berth this weekend is if they beat their co-op foes and Hope (2-3) defeats Smithfield (2-2).
This would mean that even if the Warriors lost to North Smithfield in their next game in two weeks and Exeter/West Greenwich (3-3), Hope, and Smithfield won their remaining league games to finish in a four-way tie at 5-3, C.F. would go to the playoffs because they would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with those teams.
North Smithfield at North Providence
Games donât get any bigger than this for these two longtime foes, who if they lose, would probably need to win their remaining division games and then get some outside help in order to grab the fourth and final playoff berth.
While the Northmen will try to wrap up a perfect October (3-0), the Cougars will look to carry the momentum from last weekâs win over the Warriors into this showdown.
One of the bright spots for the Northmen this year has been the play of their defense, but this promises to be a challenging test for that unit as it deals with a team that averages 36 points per game and is led by its two big weapons.
Quarterback Joel Diaz has 1,100 yards passing, 13 touchdown passes, and a team-best 500 yards and six TDs on the ground, and his favorite target, wide receiver Jeff Malloney, is among the stateâs leaders in touchdown grabs with 10.
But if the Cougars have a flaw, itâs in their defense, which has allowed 27.6 points per game, the second-worst average in the division. If the Northmen can get big games out of quarterback Dan Jordan and tailback Paris Correia, this could end up turning into a shootout.
Toll Gate at Woonsocket
A battle of 0-5 teams, and the Villa Novansâ best chance to break into the win column this year. The Titans come into this game a banged-up unit, and itâs unclear if star quarterback Mitchell Howkins, who left last weekâs loss to the Saints with an injury, will be back behind center for this game.
Both teams have given up almost the same number of points (Toll Gate 166, Woonsocket 130) and scored nearly as many (Toll Gate 34, Woonsocket 31), but if the Novans can continue their steady week-to-week improvement and ride their home-field advantage, this could be their weekend to shine.
Warwick Vets at Shea
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Classical at Lincoln
Burrillville at Narragansett
Like the Villa Novans, all the Raiders, Lions, and Broncos can do is play for pride, try to grab a win or two over the next handful of weeks, and hopefully knock off a team thatâs trying to reach the postseason.
Of these three teams, the Raiders (0-5) may have the best chance of winning this weekend. They are hosting a Warwick Vets team thatâs 1-4 and struggling offensively (just 34 total points scored) and defensively (a Division II-worst 180 points allowed).
The Raiders have played awfully tough in their last two league losses, falling to Central by just 10 points (17-7) and losing a 12-6 nailbiter last weekend to Coventry. Will this be the week they break out and grab that elusive âWâ?
Of all the teams in the area, none has struggled more offensively than Lincoln, which has totaled just 30 points (and six in its last three games) en route to its 1-5 record.
Can the Lions play the role of the spoiler tonight when they entertain a Purple team thatâs won three in a row to improve to 3-2? Classical is coming off an impressive 27-20 road victory over mighty Rogers and is sitting behind the 4-1 leaders (Moses Brown, Rogers, and Tiverton) in the standings.
Tied with Classical for fourth place in the division at 3-2 is Narragansett, who will welcome the Broncos and their hour-plus bus ride to South County. The Broncos are 0-5 in the division, but could easily have two or three more wins had they not lose three straight close games at home.