For Tolman, Woonsocket, and St. Raphael, the Division II’s ‘second season’ begins this weekend. For Burrillville and East Providence, their pursuit at a second season continues.
Five Blackstone Valley teams will try to extend their respective seasons past Thanksgiving this week when the Division II quarterfinal round takes place and the Division I and III regular seasons ramble down the home stretch.
All eyes will be on two local playoff games tomorrow at 7 p.m. that feature Tolman, the top seed out of the Division II-B ranks, hosting Westerly, the II-A’s fourth seed, at Pariseau Field, and Woonsocket, the defending Division II champs and II-B’s second seed, entertaining Central, the II-A’s third seed, in a Barry Field special that will be played under portable lights.
SRA, meanwhile, will have to wait until Saturday to take on Johnston in a 7 p.m. clash on the Panthers’ campus. The Saints, thanks to their strong finish, seized the II-B’s third seed, while the Panthers ended up as the II-B’s second seed.
Another game that will garner plenty of interest tomorrow is Burrillville’s 7 p.m. battle on Aquidneck Island against Division III foe Middletown. Both teams are 4-3 and battling for their division’s final playoff spot. The winner advances to the playoffs, while the loser calls it a season after Turkey Day.
East Providence, which is in a four-team battle for the Division I’s last three postseason spots, faces winless South Kingstown tonight at 7 p.m. at Pierce Field, but a bigger duel looms ahead in the form of their Thanksgiving Day slugfest with La Salle.
There are already two local clubs guaranteed of ‘bonus football’ on Nov. 30, Lincoln and North Smithfield, but the only thing not set in stone with either squad is what seed they will have in their respective playoffs.
The Lions, who are 5-3 in Division III action and sewed up their berth in the postseason last week, have a non-league test against crosstown foe Seekonk High tomorrow at 7 p.m. at Ferguson Field.
Meanwhile, their seed will be determined by the outcomes of the Broncos-Islanders game and tomorrow’s 7 p.m. contest between Moses Brown (5-2) and East Greenwich (2-4) at the Avengers’ field.
The Lions own head-to-head tiebreakers over the Quakers and Islanders, but the Broncos have the edge over them. The Lions could be as high as a No. 2 seed if the Quakers and the Broncos lose, or they could be as low as a No. 4 if the Quakers and the Broncos both win.
North Smithfield, meanwhile, needs just one win in its final two contests to nail down the No. 3 seed in the playoffs behind Exeter/West Greenwich and Mount Pleasant, who are both 7-0 and battle each other tomorrow.
The Northmen, who are 4-2 and clinched the first-ever playoff berth in their 43-year history last week, can either take care of business tomorrow against Central Falls (2-5) at 6 p.m. at Macomber Stadium or on Thanksgiving Eve at home against Scituate (1-5).
The rest of the local slate contains Division II crossover games tomorrow at 7 p.m. between Ponaganset and Cumberland at Tucker Field and Toll Gate and Shea at Max Read Field.
Here’s a look at the weekend’s top five games:
Westerly (4-3) at Tolman (7-0)
The Bulldogs and Tigers are quite familiar with each other, having spent the last six years together in the Division II-A circuit. And in their six meetings, five were decided by six points or less.
This could end up becoming another close contest, especially since Westerly rolls into it with a three-game win streak that includes victories over Central and Johnston.
Both teams have excellent defensive units, and not many has been as potent as Tolman’s ‘D’, which has shut out four opponents and surrendered only 28 points in its seven victories.
The Tigers are going to need another solid performance to top the Bulldogs, who boast two running backs, Ricky Doucette (team-high seven TDs) and Frank Alviani, near the 1,000-yard mark in rushing, and a quarterback (Alex Brown) who can pass the ball as well as run with it.
The ’Dogs, who allowed the Division II-A’s second-fewest points (86), will also have its work cut out in trying to contain the speedy Tigers and players such as quarterback Joselito Knapp, running back Ousmane Samb, and wide receiver/kickoff returner Shayne Taylor.
If the Bulldogs have an edge over the Tigers, it’s in the kicking game. While the Tigers have struggled mightily in this department all year long, Westerly features one of the division’s best kickers in Brandon Van Horn.
Central (5-2) at Woonsocket (6-1)
The lights are back on at Barry Field for what most folks believe is the first Friday night game at the complex and second night game since last season’s semifinal-round playoff game on Tuesday, Dec. 1 between the Villa Novans and Coventry.
And this game promises to be worth the price of admission, especially since it features the highest-scoring teams in each division. Woonsocket led all of Division II-B with 195 points in its seven contests (an average of close to 28 points per game), while Central led the II-A ranks with 187 points.
But if there’s one thing that the Novans possess that the Knights don’t, it’s a lights-out defense that blanked five teams and allowed just 20 points.
That ‘D’ will surely be tested by the Knights’ speedy offense, which features one of the fastest players in the league in running back Michael Washington (11 touchdowns), a 67 percent passer in quarterback Anthony Hem, and two quick receivers in Marquise Frazier and Jose Ortiz.
But expect the Novans to counter with their talented arsenal of quarterback Kevin Reyes, running backs Jalen Evans and Orlan Thomas, tight end Geo Heredia, and speedy wide receiver Jessie Charette.
St. Raphael (5-2) at Johnston (5-2)
Both teams will face each other twice in a 12-day span, but before they meet at McCoy Stadium for their first-ever Thanksgiving Eve matchup, the Saints and Panthers will have a far bigger score to settle in their quarterfinal-round duel.
The Saints march into Johnston with a four-game win streak in the division that has seen them step up their play defensively, make some changes in the offense, and dramatically cut down on their turnovers.
The Panthers promise to give the Saints’ ‘D’ a real run for its money behind their high-scoring offense that was third in the entire Division II in scoring (166 points).
Quarterback Dave Bubar threw 11 TD passes and led the division in passing yards with 1,186. Kody Fraser was the Panthers’ top running back, and Greg Doutre and Bret Simas, who each scored nine TDs, are threats running and catching the ball.
The Saints will also have the Panthers’ ‘D’ on their toes with an offense that has seen the team produce almost as many yards on the ground (1,208) as it has in the air (1,154) behind the arm of quarterback Trevor Vasey. Also look for contributions from Ricardo Pognon, Charles Correa, and Alex Collette.
Burrillville (4-3) at Middletown (4-3)
If the Broncos don’t make the playoffs this year, they will circle last week’s 30-27 loss at home to Tiverton as the No. 1 reason why they came up short. That setback saw the one-win Tigers outplay the Broncos for three quarters before holding off a fourth-quarter comeback by their hosts.
A victory would have put the Broncos in great shape to earn a playoff berth, but now they have to sweat out a battle with the Islanders for the last spot.
The Islanders also saw their playoff hopes take a hit last weekend when they endured a 29-16 loss to Lincoln that was their most lopsided setback of the year, but they will try to get back on track and deliver on their Homecoming Night.
The Islanders’ chief strengths are their ground game, keyed by fullback Rico McCray, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher who had scored 18 touchdowns this season, and a stingy defense that heading into last week allowed an average of less than 10 points per game.
The Broncos can also score points in bunches and beat team through the air behind the arm of Roger Blanchard and a splendid running game. Whoever ends up controlling the clock and staying away from the turnover bug will come away with a close victory and an extra game to play on Nov. 30.
South Kingstown (0-6) at East Providence (4-2)
The Townies picked up a very big victory over Barrington last weekend that beefed up their bid for a Division I playoff berth, but they’re far from out of the woods in their hunt.
Bishop Hendricken (7-0) is the only squad assured of a berth in the playoffs, while the Eagles (5-2), Portsmouth (5-2), E.P., and La Salle (4-2) are eyeing the other three spots.
The Eagles’ final division game is a tough one -- tomorrow’s 7 p.m. clash in Warwick against the unbeaten Hawks. Also tomorrow night is Portsmouth’s duel at home against Cranston West (2-4) and La Salle’s game on its campus against Cranston East (2-4).
That leaves one critical division game left -- the Townies’ Thanksgiving Day meeting with the Rams at Pierce Field. That contest should decide which of the four playoff hopefuls are left on the outside looking in.
But before the Townies can look ahead to Turkey Day, they have to set their sights on their clash with the Rebels, who are only averaging 7.5 points per game and have struggled offensively. If E.P. looks past this game, this could top Tiverton’s victory over Burrillville as the area’s upset of the season.