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Tolman-Shea is a great football rivalry

November 21, 2011

The Tolman-Shea holiday football series has been evenly contested over the past few years. (BUTCH ADAMS file photo)

PAWTUCKET --- Some Thanksgiving series around this part of New England have usually been predictable, and often lopsided affairs year in and year out, while other series have been ones that you can actually throw out the records and expect competitive games.
The latter has certainly been the case with the Shea-Tolman series, which will celebrate its 10th game Wednesday when the two intracity rivals invade McCoy Stadium for a 7 p.m. showdown.
Five of their nine holiday meetings have been decided by seven or less points, and both head coaches are expecting another hard-hitting battle that should be decided by single digits again.
“It’s a great game for the city of Pawtucket,” Shea coach Dino Campopiano said. “It’s a good game for the kids -- it’s an all-rival game -- and like we’ve said in the past, no matter what the records are, this has always been a good, clean game and I don’t expect anything less this year.”
For both teams, this game will be their personal Super Bowl, because for only the second time in this series, neither team will have a semifinal-round playoff contest to worry about after this one’s in the books.
The Raiders (3-7 overall, 1-6 in Division II-A), who have won four of the last five meetings with the Tigers, were eliminated from playoff consideration last month, while the Tigers (6-4 overall, 6-1 in Division II-B) earned a spot in the Nov. 12 quarterfinals, only to lose to Cumberland, 13-9.
More than a month ago, the Tigers would have appeared to be a huge favorite in this holiday meeting. While the Raiders were struggling in the Division II-A ranks, the Tigers captured their first four Division II-B games and ruled the last three by a combined 134-30 score.
But then they hit somewhat of a slide and lost three of the next five contests, and no two losses were bigger than the setback to Cumberland and the 33-19 defeat to West Warwick that gave the Wizards the top seed in the Division II-B playoff bracket and the Tigers the No. 2 spot.
“We told our kids, ‘It’s all about pride now,’ ” said Tolman coach Dave Caito. “ ‘How do you want to end your season? As a senior, how do you want to go out?’ This is the 10th anniversary game, and we want to even this series up at 5-5 and get the trophy back.”
While the Tigers’ stock took a little dip over the past few weeks, the Raiders’ value began to rise a bit following back-to-back lopsided losses in September to Westerly and Chariho that saw both teams hammer Shea by more than 25 points.
A close defeat to powerful Central, a 26-7 victory in late October over league rival Warwick Vets, and a 14-0 shutout of Division II foe Ponaganset 11 days ago started turning around the Raiders’ fortunes.
“At one point of the season, we thought we were in trouble, as far as internal stuff, but we took care of some problems inside the program,” Campopiano said. “From then on, it’s been very enjoyable. The kids are working hard and playing well and I’ve been very pleased with their effort and the turnaround.”
While the Tigers will march out a heavy dose of seniors for tomorrow night’s contest, a group keyed by tri-captains Andre Gilbert, Darion Stubbs, and Dion Rubio, the Raiders will have just three senior starters, veteran tailbacks Travis Gray and Jamal Tucker and Divanir Pereira on defense.
“And that’s fine,” said Campopiano. “A lot of our younger guys have stepped up and done a great job. This group has rallied around each other, and for the last month and a half, the kids have practiced and played very hard.”
Neither coach offered any specific gameplans to topping their opposition, but the Tigers believe that their blueprint to success is what had been missing for untimely moments in their loss to Cumberland -- assignment football.
“That’s what we’ve been stressing all week,” offered Caito. “Do what you’re supposed to do. Against Cumberland, we didn’t play very good assignment football at times. We played good football, but at times, we had breakdowns in our assignments and that’s how they ended up beating us.”
Before taking the field tomorrow, the two teams will continue their pre-game tradition of meeting the night before the game for a friendly spaghetti dinner at 5 p.m. at Shea. It’s a tradition shared by very, very few holiday rivals, but one that both schools have maintained since their series began in 2002.
It’s an event both teams keep circled on their calendars, especially Caito and Campopiano, who played football together at Johnston High in the late 1980s, teach at Shea, and remain close friends to this day.
“I think our dinner is special,” said Campopiano. “I think that has to do a lot with (the athletic directors), Mr. (John) Scanlon and Mr. (Ray) McGee, and the way they approach the situation. We obviously want to win, but I think we keep it all in perspective. We’ll play a hard football game, but we’ll also look at the traditions and the friendships and be able to keep that on the field.”
“Our main goal is to keep it clean and keep it between the lines,” noted Caito. “Everybody’s friends, but once we step on the field, it’s all business. We want to beat the heck out of each other, but after that, we’re friends again, so that’s the whole theme of the dinner.”
Most of the time, a good pre-game dinner usually translated into a close game the following day that was worth the price of admission. Will that be the case again this week?
“I think so,” said Campopiano. “I think the only two times the scores were a little lopsided was the year Tolman had (quarterback Jeff) Costa [in ’04] and the year we had (quarterback) Jermaine (Cabagno), (tailback) Matt (Bryson) and those seniors [in ’06].
“I think the kids just come to play no matter what the situation is, and like I said, it’s usually a good game and I hope it’s the same way again this year.”
The only thing that could possibly put a damper on the game is rain, which is in the forecast for Tuesday night and most of Wednesday.
“I don’t know what’s going on with the rain coming,” said Caito. “If it rains, we’re going to try to get McCoy the following morning, and if they don’t let us in, we’re going to play at Max Read at 10 a.m. We’ll find out Wednesday afternoon what they’re going to do with the game.”

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November 22, 2011 by eyeofthetiger10 (not verified), 3 years 40 weeks ago
Comment: 176

Grew up and went to Tolman in the 80's. What happened to the annual Tolman-Saints game on Thanksgiving? As lopsided as it may have been at times, it's a shame its gone. Even if Saints did win for 10+ years in a row, so what, the tide would have turned for Tolman to win their own share again. What kind of message does this send to the players in breaking a 80+ year tradition? Tolman is located right down the street from Saints and the majority of students at the two schools grew up with each other playing youth sports together, running around in each other's back yards, and attending middle school together. Families who attended this rivalry for 20 plus years, whether or not they had a child at one of the schools, no longer have anything to attend.

Just because Shea is a public school and Caito is a phy-ed teacher there? Did the coach not have enough confidence in his team to take on the challenge of competing against Saints every Thanksgiving? Don't you think an incoming coach 10 years ago would have killed for the challenge to turn around Tolman's program and keep Saint's as our rival? It's too bad...the pep rally, homecoming dance, casket burning, and playing a a great football game on Thanksgiving against friends were alot of the best memories from my days at Tolman.

It's really too bad that thousands of Tolman/Saints alum and players of the old days really don't have their Thanksgiving football rivalry for them to enjoy anymore.

Tolman-SRA rivalry still lives!

November 25, 2011 by editor, 3 years 39 weeks ago
Comment: 180

SRA was also eager to begin a new challenge and pursued a series with Bishop Feehan, a private school like themselves. Lowell Kinch brokered the deal. Tolman made its arrangements with Shea at the same time.

SRA and Tolman have played three times in the past two seasons, with great turnouts and exciting games. The rivalry still lives, and there's even more at stake because now they can meet in the playoffs.
It's too bad so many alumni from the old days don't come to the game anymore. It's a lot warmer in September! -- TN


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