Most folks around Pawtucket are expecting Tolman High to handle crosstown foe St. Raphael Academy with ease on Friday night in their Division II-B opener at Pariseau Field, and those people have their reasons.
They remember last season’s 37-0 regular-season stomping by the Tigers and Tolman’s two-touchdown triumph over the Saints in the playoffs. They know that the Tigers have a seasoned junior- and senior-ladened team and the Saints lost quite a few key players to graduation.
And while the Saints played and lost to one of the best teams in the state last weekend, the final score from their loss to Bishop Hendricken (51-12) didn’t sit as well as Tolman’s 19-13 defeat to their Division I opponent, Barrington.
Yes, most folks have their reasons for labeling the Tigers as the favorites and the Saints as the underdogs, but Tolman head coach Dave Caito isn’t buying what anyone thinks.
“Obviously, we want to win, but anything can happen,” said Caito. “It’s two different teams, and you just don’t know from year to year. We lost (tailback) Ousmane (Samb) and they lost their quarterback [Trevor Vasey] to graduation so it’s a totally different game right now.”
The Saints will surely hope that tomorrow’s showdown is a “totally different game” from last season’s, and SRA head coach Mike Sassi hopes his team will go into the game better mentally prepared than they were in the 37-point beating.
“Last year’s first loss to them was very difficult,” added Sassi. “It was a one-sided affair. They showed up hungry and ready to play and I think we kind of got a little awestruck. But this year, I think things will be different and we will be more prepared mentally.”
While both teams have their share of skill players who are capable of making big plays, Caito is especially concerned with two Saints in particular -- junior running back Charles Correa and senior tight end Davon Robertson.
“They have some very good players over there,” offered Caito. “Correa in the backfield, and when he’s a flanker, he’s just a good athlete, and Robertson’s a big dude who has soft hands for a big kid. Those kids are tough to cover.”
Both teams suffered tough non-league losses last week, and while the Saints couldn’t match the Hawks’ massive size up front and depth and were well on their way to a lopsided defeat, Tolman was a minute away from an impressive win over the Eagles.
The Tigers took a 13-12 lead with 1:07 left in the game, only to watch a long kickoff return by their visitors set the stage for their game-winning touchdown with 45 seconds on the clock.
“Last week, we had the game won, but we gave up that touchdown late in the game on special teams,” added Caito. “This week, we have to keep playing hard and be more disciplined in our pass defense and our special teams, and if we can do that, we’ll be fine.”
As the case with last year’s regular-season and playoff games, both teams are expecting a large turnout that should number several hundred fans.
“It should be a good game and I‘m sure both schools are looking forward to it,” added Sassi. “Almost 50 percent of our student body is from Pawtucket, which I don’t know if people realize that, so that makes (the game) special.”
While the Tolman-SRA matchup is the Blackstone Valley’s game of the week, tomorrow’s Division II-A battle between Cumberland and Shea at Max Read Field would be the week’s premier game on most weeks, but not this one.
That division opener is slated for 7 p.m., as is another nearby Division I game of interest that features North Kingstown and East Providence at Pierce Field. In Division III, Lincoln will visit East Greenwich and Burrillville will head to Newport to clash with Rogers, and in Division IV, Central Falls pays a nearby visit to Smithfield.
The action continues on Saturday with three more games, highlighted by two-time defending Division II champion Woonsocket’s II-B opener at 1:30 p.m. at Barry Field against Pilgrim High.
At 10 a.m., Ponaganset will visit Toll Gate in another Division II-B affair, and at 1:30 p.m., North Smithfield buses to Providence to play Hope in a Division IV encounter.
Here’s a look at the weekend’s other eight games:
Cumberland at Shea
The Raiders picked up a nice come-from-behind win over Lincoln last Friday, and they will shoot for their first 2-0 start in a number of years when they host the Clippers.
Cumberland will try to put last week’s 32-7 loss to Division I Cranston West in the rearview mirror. If the Clippers plan to accomplish that, they will need to contain Shea’s speedy backfield and get a strong game out of quarterback Mitchell Baxter.
If recent history in an indication, this duel could be one that goes down to the wire. Shea nipped Cumberland by a point last season, and the Clippers were a two-point winner over the Raiders the year before that.
North Kingstown at East Providence
The Townies and star tailback Jalin Braxton ran roughshod in last weekend’s 42-0 victory over Woonsocket, and they could be in for another monstrous night when they host the woeful Skippers.
The Skippers, which come into the game with a 16-game losing streak in the division, surrendered five touchdowns and well over 200 yards on the ground to Division II Westerly last weekend, and life doesn’t figure to get any easier for them when they bus to Pierce Field.
While Braxton ran for 243 yards and three touchdowns against the Novans, the Townies also received a solid game from first-year quarterback Brandon Peters, who almost totaled 100 rushing yards in his first varsity start.
Lincoln at East Greenwich
A tough game down Route 95 could get a lot tougher for the Lions if they end up missing a few key players that suffered injuries in last week’s defeat to the Raiders. Quarterback Anthony Palombo suffered a leg injury in the game, but he should be good to go for this Division III opener.
If the Lions plan to bus home with a win, they will have to find a way to stop the Avengers’ talented tailback, Carney Crawford, and quarterback, Andrew Miner. They had big nights in last week’s season-opening 26-21 loss to tough Division IV Exeter/West Greenwich.
The Avengers’ weakness this season may be in the inexperience of their lines, and the Lions will try their best to exploit that and bring home a hard-fought victory.
Burrillville at Rogers
The Broncos take their longest bus ride of the year to Toppa Field to take on a Rogers squad that has displayed a solid passing game in the season’s initial weeks behind the arm of Cody Platt.
The Vikings, who won the regular-season title last season, also have weapons in wide receiver Trevor Morgera and tight end Devon Bailey.
The Broncos, who are fielding a young team this season, will do their best to come back from last weekend’s 55-26 setback to North Smithfield. If injured fullback Kevin Deschamps can return to action, that would be a big help.
Central Falls at Smithfield
Last fall, the Warriors opened their Division IV season with a victory over the Sentinels, and this weekend, they will seek another 1-0 start at the expense of Smithfield, which was 1-7 last year, but brings back 17 seniors from that club.
The Warriors had to be very encouraged with their play in last Friday’s 27-12 loss to Division III Middletown, a team that gave C.F. fits during its previous stay in the division. The Islanders scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to break open a close game.
Pilgrim at Woonsocket
Last weekend’s 42-point blowout to the Townies was a tough pill for the Villa Novans to swallow, but they have a far easier opponent to deal with this week in Pilgrim.
The Patriots, who suffered its second winless Division II campaign in the last four years last fall, lost their non-league opener last weekend to Classical and could be staring at another long season. Quarterback Lee Verrier and fullback Brian Ledo are their top two players.
Despite losing to the Townies, the Novans proved that they can move the ball effectively against difficult competition. Running back Jalen Evans (76 yards rushing) was able to move the chains, and quarterback Brett Bouchard shined in his first varsity start.
Ponaganset at Toll Gate
The Chieftains were the state’s highest-scoring team last weekend, thanks to their 60-6 crushing of Scituate High that saw quarterback Chris Larrabee and running back Connor Mathieu put up fantasy football numbers offensively.
But remember, Scituate is a Division IV squad. A real test for the Chieftains comes when they continue their long season-opening road trip at Toll Gate’s complex against the Titans, who boast one of the division’s best quarterbacks in senior Mitch Hawkins.
The Titans won an overtime thriller in their Division II crossover opener last weekend against Warwick Vets, but as the case with most of their games last year, they didn’t play particularly well defensively. If their ‘D’ doesn’t come to play this weekend, the Chieftains could find themselves throwing 30-plus on the board and coming away with a win.
North Smithfield at Hope
Another team that dominated offensively last week was the Northmen, who amassed more than 400 yards of offense in their win over the Broncos and received a 100-yard rushing, four-touchdown afternoon from tailback Paris Correia.
This weekend, the Northmen will see how close they can match last week’s success when they face a rebuilding Blue Wave team that was pummeled by a Tiverton High team that may be the favorite to claim the Division III title this season.
Senior quarterback Dwayne Jeffries is the key to the Blue Wave’s offense and can hurt opposing teams with his arm and his legs.