By BRENDAN McGAIR
It seems like only yesterday that high school football teams were preparing for the season under the hot August sun. Now we only have one weekend left in October and with it very precious little time remaining in the regular season.
In case you’re keeping count, Division II teams conclude their seven-game schedule the weekend of Nov. 2-3 with eight teams participating in quarterfinal-round contests slated for the following weekend, Nov. 9-10. In the state’s remaining three divisions, teams will stop spinning on the merry-go-round either Nov. 9-10 or Thanksgiving morning, which this year falls on Nov. 22.
Of course there is an exception to every rule, as Tolman will play its eighth and final Division I contest on Friday, Nov. 2. The following week will see Dave Caito’s Tigers engage in a non-league matchup against Division III contender Middletown.
As teams head down the stretch, let’s take a moment to assess the playoff picture as it stands heading into next weekend’s action.
Portsmouth announced its candidacy as a legit contender this past weekend after racing past two-time defending champion Bishop Hendricken, 39-13. The Hawks’ defeat leaves La Salle as the division’s only unbeaten at 4-0. The Rams have yet to play Cranston East or Hendricken, two squads that along with Portsmouth each sport one league loss.
Tolman has rebounded from an 0-4 start to win two straight and will need to keep on winning and hope for a little help along the way in order to reach the playoffs. All four of the Tigers’ losses have come against the four teams that are presently in the driver’s seat in terms of the postseason.
At 5-0, Cumberland is rapidly closing in on the division title, which it can achieve with a victory against Shea this Friday at Tucker Field. Clinching the division would allow the Clippers to play both its quarterfinal- and semifinal-round contests – the latter hinging on what happens during the former – at home.
To date, Cumberland is the only sure thing as the other three playoff spots remain up for grabs. You have four teams at 3-2 – West Warwick, Central, St. Raphael and Rogers – with 2-3 Shea right behind. The Wizards, Saints and Vikings all went 1-1 against each another while the Knights lost to SRA and have yet to face either West Warwick or Rogers.
On paper, SRA has an easy finish to the regular season with matchups against one-win North Kingstown (this Friday) and winless Pilgrim. Both of West Warwick’s remaining games are at home, including one against Cumberland. Meanwhile, Rogers gets Pilgrim and Central. Shea finds itself in the position where it must win out and hope to catch a break.
Additionally, the team that finishes behind Cumberland is guaranteed to host a playoff game in the quarterfinal round.
Here’s another division where you have a 5-0 team (Johnston) followed by a tightly woven pack of four teams each with two defeats. Among the two-loss teams are Woonsocket, which closes out the regular season with a pair of Saturday afternoon tilts at Barry Field against defending Super Bowl champ Chariho with the following week bringing Coventry north.
Pleasant surprise Warwick Vets, Mt. Hope and Westerly are all in the discussion when it comes to the second season, each 3-2 like Woonsocket. Both of the Novans’ losses have come against the Hurricanes and Huskies, a development that could enter into the discussion come seeding time.
There won’t be any local teams among this year’s four-team field, as Lincoln and Burrillville have yet to post a win. Ironically, the Broncos and Lions will square off this Saturday at Burrillville’s Alumni Field.
Right now the top four teams are East Greenwich (4-0), Middletown (6-0), Moses Brown (3-2) and Narragansett (3-2). Classical, Ponaganset and Tiverton are each 2-3.
Mt. Pleasant (5-0) and Hope (5-1) are in the driver’s seat with Exeter/West Greenwich, North Smithfield and Smithfield all sitting at 3-2. At 2-2 and with four league contests still on the docket, North Providence can’t be ruled out.
The Northmen will enjoy their second bye this weekend before returning to the field for an important contest on Nov. 2 at the Sentinels’ place.