Sunday’s Division II Super Bowl game between unbeaten (in league play) Tolman and defending champion Woonsocket needs no hype from the media. These two teams stand on their own merits.
Still, it’s going to be fun to talk about what may transpire until the opening kickoff occurs at high noon on Sunday. We have three days to sit around and let the tension build among the players. This game is, after all, about the players. This will be the most memorable day of their football lives for many of them, except perhaps for the few Woonsocket players who played key roles in last year’s Super Bowl conquest of Mount Hope.
Tolman coach Dave Caito, who has guided the Tigers into their fourth Super Bowl over the past six seasons, was asked on Wednesday to talk about the regular season game between the two teams. Tolman prevailed back on Sept. 24 by a narrow 6-0 margin at Barry Field.
“That was a great, entertaining high school game,” Caito recalled. “I remember Woonsocket had the ball and was driving in the fourth quarter. They had a kid wide open and he dropped the ball. Then our defense forced them to give the ball up on downs. It was a great game for the fans to see. For coaches, it’s a game where you want to rip your hair out. If that kid had caught the ball, and they kicked the extra point, we probably lose the game.”
Tolman and Woonsocket only got better after that game. Neither team lost to a Division II-B opponent. Tolman finished 7-0 in league play. Woonsocket remained on the Tigers’ heels with a 6-1 mark. Both teams won their two playoff games to reach the Super Bowl. Neither victory came easy. Tolman rallied from a 12-7 halftime deficit to beat St. Raphael Academy, 25-12, on Tuesday night. Woonsocket trailed 7-0 at halftime before pulling away from Chariho, 21-7.
“The Saints game was a gut-check for our offensive line,” Caito said. “We challenged them at halftime. We needed them to become more physical. We also ran a few more belly plays in the second half where our guards would kick out their tackle and we could get at the linebackers. I think it just came down to us executing better in the second half.”
Tolman’s O-Line opened big holes for halfback Ousmane Samb (17 carries for 165 yards) and quarterback Joselito Knapp (15-83). The Tigers ended up rushing for 283 yards, 220 of them in the second half. Samb and Knapp are fearless runners but they rely on their blockers: tackles Jared Battersby and Dion Rubio, guards Zach Delmar and Daniel Stubbs, and center Devan Bullard.
“Stubbs is a freshman,” Caito said, speaking of his young right guard.
Knapp only threw one pass in the game and it fell incomplete.
“We’re not afraid to throw the ball,” Caito said. “Josey threw the ball pretty well against Shea last week. We’re definitely a team that leans on the running game. What we try to do is give our quarterback a run-pass option. Josey has a choice to make when he drops back. If he sees an opening, he’s going to run the ball.”
Woonsocket presents a more balanced offense. QB Kevin Reyes threw the ball 18 times against a physical Chariho defense, completing nine for 148 yards and one touchdown. He was also picked off three times.
Woonsocket played the game without elusive wide receiver Jesse Charette, out with a sore shoulder. Charette hopes to play Sunday against Tolman.
“Woonsocket is the defending champion,” Caito said. “I think it’s going to be a great game again. We know they can throw the ball.”
Caito was still reflecting on Tuesday night’s win over St. Raphael before an estimated 1,200 fans at Max Read Field.
“The crowd last night was really amazing,” the coach said. “The best part for me is that there were no incidents in the stands after the game ended. The players on both teams were very cordial to each other and shook hands. This is a long rivalry with a lot of history. I thought the kids on both teams did a great job of upholding the tradition. These were two good teams that played a hard, physical game and then shook hands afterwards.”
The same thing figures to happen on Sunday when Tolman and Woonsocket meet for the Division II Super Bowl championship. Two tough football teams are going to play a hard, physical game and then shake hands afterwards. That’s about all we know for sure right now.