They’ve spent the past eight weeks working hard and overcoming some tough league opponents for the right to play in a meaningful game on Veteran’s Day weekend.
For neighboring schools Tolman, Cumberland, and St. Raphael, that weekend has finally arrived, and the meaningful games that they will participate in will be their quarterfinal-round games of the Division II playoffs.
Of those three local entries, two have the potential to reach the semifinals on the Tuesday night after Thanksgiving. That’s because someone will be ousted when the Tigers, the No. 2 seed from the II-B circuit, battle the Clippers, the II-A’s No. 3 seed, on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Pariseau Field.
As for the Saints, the II-B’s third seed, they will take their longest bus ride of the year to Westerly to tackle the II-A’s second-seeded Bulldogs tonight in a 7 p.m. showdown.
The other two quarterfinal-round games feature Division II-A champ Chariho hosting the II-B’s fourth seed, Mount Hope, tonight at 7 p.m., and the II-B’s top seed, West Warwick, entertaining the II-A’s Central tomorrow at 1 p.m.
As far as the regular season goes for the rest of the area, another duel to keep an eye on is East Providence’s Division I showdown with South Kingstown tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the Curtis Corner Middle School complex. Both teams’ playoff lives will be on the line in this must-watch battle.
Also, tonight’s Division IV meeting between playoff-bound Central Falls and North Smithfield at the Northmen Athletic Complex is also worth checking out. Both teams will duel for a higher seed in the postseason and in what may be a preview of an opening-round matchup.
The rest of tonight’s local schedule features Shea’s non-league contest against Ponaganset in a rare home game for the Chieftains at Smithfield High’s Boyle Athletic Complex, and a non-leaguer for Lincoln across state lines at Seekonk against the Warriors. Both games are at 7 p.m.
On Saturday, Burrillville entertains Middletown at 10:30 a.m. in a Division III affair, and Woonsocket hosts Warwick Vets in a 1:30 p.m. non-leaguer.
Here a look at the four local games of importance:
Division II playoffs
Cumberland at Tolman
St. Raphael at Westerly
This will be the second time that the Tigers and Clippers battle each other this season. The first was back on Labor Day weekend in a 24-minute Injury Fund game that saw both sides play to a scoreless tie.
The Clippers enter the contest with a six-game win streak that includes a non-league victory last month over Toll Gate, and while they are playing their best football at the right time of the season, head coach Chris Skurka isn’t ready to label his team as this weekend’s favorite.
“There’s no question Tolman’s a good football team,” he added. “I’d say that they’re the favorites for this game because they’re the returning state runner-up, so my kids have nothing to lose playing this game. I think they can just go out, relax, and play based on the fact that they have nothing to lose.”
The Tigers are a very fast team and can put up points on the board in a hurry, and thanks to performances from players such as running backs Elvis George, Andre Gilbert, Darion Stubbs, and Mory Keita, they have averaged a league-best 34.3 points per contest en route to a 6-1 record.
But the Clippers (5-2) have quietly established themselves as the division’s best defensive team and surrendered just 73 points in their seven II-A games.
Mitchell Gaboury (team-high 85 tackles), Joe Fine, and Joshua Pizzarelli lead a potent linebacker corps, and Tom Lazarus and Micthell Baxter have teamed up to snag nine interceptions.
“The defense plays hard, no question about it,” remarked Skurka. “Our base defense has been very successful for us. It’s a lot of what I’ve brought over (as an assistant coach) from St. Ray’s and Dean College. The kids have really bought into it, and any time you do that, you’re going to have success.”
Of course, neither team is a slouch on the other side of the ball. The Tigers were one of six teams in the division to allow fewer than 95 points (91), and the Clippers have a fair share of players who are capable of a big offensive performance, starting with running back Ryan Gaumond (seven TDs).
“Their quarterback (Brendan Guerin) throws the ball extremely well and they have some good wide receivers,” reported Tolman coach Dave Caito. “Their running backs are good. They’re a tough team that’s played everybody tough, and it’s going to be a very good game.”
A key to the game is whether both teams can bring four excellent quarters of football to the showdown. Both Tolman and Cumberland have been accused of taking a quarter off here and there in games during the year and they won’t be able to get away with that in this encounter.
“I think whoever plays four full quarters of football is going to win,” added Caito. “We’ve had some games this year when we didn’t do that, and if we don’t play four full quarters this weekend, we’re going to be in trouble.”
The Saints, meanwhile, have won some big road games over the past couple of years, such as last year’s 56-50 quarterfinal-round slugfest with Johnston, a 21-12 win over previously-unbeaten West Warwick earlier this year, and last weekend’s 29-23 barnburner with Ponaganset that got them in the playoffs.
Another big road game awaits them in Westerly, which one local head coach once referred to as “the other end of the world.” The ’Dogs have had a lot of success there over the years against Blackstone Valley teams, and five of the last six teams to play there came back home saddled with a loss.
While that’s one advantage the Bulldogs boast over the Saints, another is their depth. While Westerly has one of the biggest rosters in the division and subs a lot of players over the course of a game, the Saints usually depend on a lot of two-way players and enter the postseason with a somewhat banged-up unit.
The Saints, meanwhile, boast a bit more size than the Bulldogs, and while the Bulldogs have some solid offensive players, the Saints pose the two biggest weapons in quarterback Julian Diaz, a 1,000-yard passer with 10 TD strikes, and dangerous tailback Charles Correa (18 touchdowns).
The Bulldogs also enter the postseason on a bit of a slide. They had lost back-to-back games to Central and Johnston before pummeling last-place Warwick Vets last weekend to secure their No. 2 seed.
East Providence at South Kingstown
An absolute must-win duel for the Townies, who currently sit in third place at 4-2, but know that the two teams below them in the standings, Cranston West (3-3) and the Rebels (3-3), own the head-to-head tiebreaker with them should they end the season with identical records.
If the Townies win this contest, they are in the playoffs. But if they lose, then not only will they have to shock unbeaten La Salle (6-0) on Thanksgiving, but also will need to do some scoreboard watching and hope for the very best.
The Rebels had won three straight games before suffering a 14-7 upset loss to Cranston East (2-4) on the Bolts’ Homecoming Night, and they will certainly be out to redeem themselves tomorrow on S.K.’s Homecoming weekend.
This game will feature two of the state’s premier running backs. The Townies have 1,000-yard All-State senior fullback Jalin Braxton in their arsenal, while the Rebels have their own senior standout in Sean Conley (10 touchdowns). Whatever defense contains their opponent’s back will certainly win this game.
Conley missed last week’s game against the Thunderbolts with an illness, but he will return to action tomorrow.
After this game, the Rebels will close out its regular season by facing winless North Kingstown on Thanksgiving at URI, and this game should be a walk in the park for them. The Skippers have been outscored 293-73 and lost all eight of their league games by 21 or more points.
As for the Falcons, they battle Portsmouth (3-4) tonight at Cranston Stadium and Cranston East on Thanksgiving. Back-to-back defeats by Cranston West would serve E.P. well, because the Falcons handed the Townies their first loss of the year, 19-10, back on Sept. 23, and that could come back to haunt E.P.
The Townies did defeat the team above them in the standings, Hendricken (5-2), but the Hawks clinched a playoff spot last weekend with their 25-12 win over Cranston West and can afford to lose tonight’s division finale on the road against Barrington (3-4).
La Salle, meanwhile, visits Cranston East tonight before playing the Townies at Pierce Field. The Rams have won all of their games by 17 or more points.
Central Falls at North Smithfield
What a couple of weeks ago looked like a battle for a playoff berth appears to be nothing more than a very entertaining contest between two quality teams in the Warriors (5-2) and the Northmen (4-2).
A win by the Warriors sews up the No. 2 seed, while a ‘W’ by the Northmen, along with their expected victory on Thanksgiving against woeful Scituate, gives them either the No. 2 or 3 seed, depending on the Turkey Day meeting between Smithfield (5-2) and North Providence (4-3).
The worst case scenario for the Warriors is if they lose to the Northmen and they, Exeter/West Greenwich (4-3), and Smithfield and/or North Providence each wind up with identical 5-3 records. The Warriors have the head-to-head tiebreakers over the Scarlet Knights and Sentinels and that would give them the edge.
If the Warriors end up in a three-way tie for the final two playoff spots with Smithfield and N.P., then the Cougars would land the No. 3 seed because it would have defeated both the Warriors and the Sentinels, and C.F. would cop the No. 4 berth because it downed Smithfield.
A win by the Northmen, meanwhile, leaves just an easy Thanksgiving contest against winless Scituate on the schedule, The Spartans have been outscored 377-56 in their eight losses this season and have lost seven of those games by 30 or more points.
But if the Northmen lose to the Warriors, they will certainly have to avoid any upset bids and take care of business with the Spartans to improve their record to 5-3. There have been some crazy upsets around the state over the past few weeks, and an N.S. loss to Scituate would certainly top them all.
And again, should they end up tied with the Scarlet Knights, Sentinels and/or Cougars, they will have the head-to-head tiebreakers with EWG and N.P.
But if there is a three-way tie with the Sentinels and Cougars, it would mean that quality points would determine the No. 3 and 4 playoff berths, and N.S., which downed first-place Mount Pleasant (6-1), would advance.