Shortly after his team absorbed a heartbreaking 25-17 loss to Central Falls in the Division IV semifinals, a contest that included a potential game-tying scoring drive in the final minute, North Smithfield coach Wes Pennington offered his explanation about what transpired in the Tuesday night affair at the Northmen's Athletic Complex.
“It's just like one of those things where we explained to the guys the emotion of this game, a playoff game,” he said. “If you don't come out and play with the type of emotions that you need to play with, if you fall behind, it's harder to come back.”
On an unseasonably warm night for football, Pennington watched his team crawl out of a 25-3 hole midway into the third quarter with 14 unanswered points. The Northmen nearly sent the game into overtime with a spirited, late drive that ended with 33 seconds remaining on an interception by Christian Brandon at the one-yard line.
“Once we scored and they felt the momentum they started playing harder and you saw the outcome,” Pennington said. “They started putting points up and turned the (game) around. But when you are pressing at the end of the game, it's hard. Everything has to be perfect. You make a mistake, that's it.”
Pennington is right. When two teams are evenly matched, substantial deficits are tough to climb out of, particularly when it carries the pressure of a playoff contest. In this one, a trip to the Super Bowl awarded to the winner.
Another thing that the Northmen had to deal with is an emotional Warrior squad. The C.F players were not only dedicating the game to 2011 grad Jose Figueroa, who died during a drowning accident this pas summer. But they also had a stinging 27-7 setback to this same North Smithfield squad on Nov. 11 still fresh in their minds.
That's a lethal combination entering playoff game.
“We just didn't play our game,” said C.F. coach Mo Jackson, about the regular season loss. “I am not taking anything away from North Smithfield. They are a well-coached team with great players. We just didn't play our game. We told our guys all week, you got to play your game. We have to jump out early on them and take them out of their ordinary offense and we'd have a better chance. We were also playing with a little bit of emotion with Jose Figueroa (on our minds).”
North Smithfield wasn't the only area team that came up short in the semifinals on Tuesday. Cumberland saw its seven-game winning streak come to a halt against an equally red-hot Chariho squad. The Chargers controlled the clock and walked off the field with a 14-0 decision, their tenth straight victory. East Providence never had a chance in its Div. I contest with La Salle Academy. The unbeaten Rams punched their ticket to the finals with a convincing 41-14 rout.
Unlike the N.S. contest, the Clippers did their part in limiting the Chargers from getting into the end zone. It was a 7-0 game until Chariho finalized the score midway into the third quarter with a 15-play drive that chewed up 7:28 from the clock.
“They just took it to us,” said CHS coach Chris Skurka, after the contest. “We had some opportunities to do some things, but obviously they didn't come out the way we wanted them to.”
Cumberland was trying to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2004 when it lost in the title game to Tolman, but was later awarded the championship when it was revealed that the Tigers had an ineligible player in the game.
North Smithfield, a squad that has improved dramatically the last few years, was trying to make its first appearance in the Super Bowl. Last year, its hopes were vanished in a gutsy 44-38 double-overtime loss to Exeter/West Greenwich in the semis.
Although the results weren't favorable, the Clippers, Northmen and Townies should remember this fall season as a successful one. It's never easy to make it to the postseason, no matter what division you play in.
“I am just proud of everyone of the seniors that gave me everything they had all season long,” Skurka said.
Said Pennington: “The way these guys played this year was just incredible. The six-game winning streak we went on, defeating a lot of tough teams along the way. We can't complain about what happened to the season. I am very proud of these guys. We can't take anything away from them. It was a great day. We just came up short.”