EAST PROVIDENCE — Sandy Gorham has the sentiment of the holiday season down pat – from a football perspective, of course. The veteran East Providence High head coach is thankful that his Townies don’t have the playoffs-at-stake drama that’s hovering over La Salle Academy heading into Thursday’s renewal of the longest running holiday sports rivalry between any two Rhode Island high schools.
The equation for La Salle, which comes into the Thanksgiving Day game with a 4-3 record in Division I, is simple. A win and the Rams are in the four-team playoff field, while a loss means they will be watching the postseason from the grandstands.
Gorham doesn’t have to bother with such worries. His Townies are postseason-bound, which he openly admits helps in removing some of the tension surrounding the 82nd encounter between East Providence and La Salle.
“They know their playoff lives depend on a win. They need to win in order to keep playing. That’s a lot of pressure,” Gorham said Monday night on his way to the La Salle campus, site of the annual Friendship Dinner held in conjunction with the holiday tilt. “Hopefully we can play a little looser because we know we’re going to the playoffs either way. It does take the pressure off, but we want to go into (the playoffs) with a win and some sort of momentum. There’s motivation for us to win this game also, but it’s a relief knowing that we’re in.”
It’s often said that a little slice of Rhode Island athletic lore is on display every Thanksgiving morning at Pierce Stadium. La Salle leads the all-time series (44-35-2) and has won eight of the last 10 meetings. East Providence’s last win came in 2006, a 12-8 triumph that spurred the Townies onto the Div. I Super Bowl.
It’s always a big deal whenever the Townies (5-2 Div. I, 6-3 overall) and Rams get together in a football setting, regardless of whether the game is attached with playoff ramifications or not.
“I expect to face a (La Salle) team that’s going to come out like caged dogs,” Gorham said.
While the Townies know they are in the playoffs, uncertainty abounds regarding who their opponent will be in next Tuesday’s semifinals. The third seed and a trip to Portsmouth would be secured with a win over La Salle. A loss would result in dropping to the No. 4 seed and facing undefeated and regular season champion Bishop Hendricken in Warwick. Both of E.P.’s league losses stem from falling to Portsmouth (24-12 on Oct. 2) and Hendricken (13-7 on Oct. 22).
“I don’t know if we match up better versus one team or another. We seem to play Hendricken very well and Portsmouth is so big that they can give any team trouble,” Gorham said. “I don’t think a No. 4 seed has ever beat a top seed to go to a Super Bowl, which would be a tremendous challenge.”
The feats turned in by the core of the Townies – quarterback Robbie Delgado, running backs Jalin Braxton and Dominic Leonardo and tight end/defensive end Dana Andrade – have been well-chronicled this season, the quartet representing a major reason why E.P. can talk about the playoffs at this point in time. To Gorham, the contributions of seniors Joe Faria and Ray Bennett can’t be underscored, especially since both had so much to overcome before football could enter the discussion.
“Here’s a kid (Faria) who didn’t play at all last year due to academic issues that he had to straighten out. He came out his senior year after having not played as a junior and realized how much he missed playing football and being part of the team,” Gorham went on to say. “It was really great to see him play and see how much fun he’s having. You realize how important it is for these kids to be part of something. He’s a success story that not too many know about.”
As for Bennett, another one of E.P.’s unsung heroes for 2010, Gorham said, “Ray lost his father a couple of years ago as a sophomore, and to see him develop into a starter as an offensive guard … he’s come into his own as a person. He’s overcome a lot of adversity and has been able to come into his own.”
With serious discussions about installing artificial turf at La Salle’s Cimini Field in time for the 2011-12 school year already underway, there may come a day when Pierce Stadium no longer solely hosts the state’s premier Turkey Day contest. What could be the dealbreaker is whether the upgrades for the Rams’ field include bleachers for the visiting fans, something that has helped Pierce Stadium’s cause in maintaining its status as the primary venue through the years.
La Salle will serve as the home team on Thursday.
“I think eventually they would like to get the game to La Salle,” said Gorham. “We haven’t talked about that, but there is an underlying affect that they would like to play their home game at home. I can appreciate that.”