In the throes of a tough and challenging season, there lies comfort in knowing you’re not the only one in said predicament.
For Burrillville and Lincoln, Saturday’s Division III encounter at the Broncos’ Alumni Field has “something’s got to give” written all over it. The setting is this: you have two squads that have combined to drop all nine of its league chances, meaning the opportunity for a team to finally break the ice and walk off the field with a win tucked in its back pocket has never been more within reach (overall the Lions are 0-6 while the Broncos are 1-5).
In place is a pair of gridiron kindred spirits cut from the same cloth, though the similarities stretch well beyond the obvious. Removing each team’s record from the equation, why Burrillville and Lincoln each enter the final weekend of October still embarking on the same character-testing voyage stems from the very same Achilles’ heel that seems to come into focus whenever the season-to-date has gone awry.
Youth, youth and more wet-behind-the-ears youth.
The two sides rely on first-year starters at quarterback, both of whom – Isaiah DeSilva of Burrillville and Lincoln’s Spencer Desautel – are sophomores. That alone should tell you the dynamic of the rosters, where plenty of underclassmen are receiving their baptism-by-fire.
As Lincoln head coach Dave Waycott and his Burrillville counterpart, Gennaro Ferraro, have discovered this fall, youth is a double-edged sword in that it’s both a blessing and a curse. Both leaders of young men reiterated earlier this week that it’s been a joy to head to practice each day and work with a group that has refrained from using its current plight as a crutch to coast home for the duration of the season.
It’s that youthful exuberance that has likely kept Waycott and Ferraro from letting each passing loss eat away at their insides, the belief that if the kids aren’t feeling blue, why should the coaches?
“They’ve been fantastic and keep saying, ‘We’re going to get one,’” affirmed Waycott about the collective psyche of his Lions. “They all show up to practice and seem to have a good time. You have to be patient with them because they’re learning the ways.
“It’s about putting in an investment,” Waycott continued, noting that he has had enough freshman bodies to conduct several scrimmages, with several members of the 27-player ninth-grade class having already acquired a taste of varsity ball.
Added Burrillville’s Ferraro, “There’s not one person on the field who doesn’t believe we can’t win. I really believe that and so do the kids. They work so hard and it’s a pleasure to go to practice every day.”
Cutting a little deeper, each side’s youth has yielded plenty of momentum-stalling, on-field instances that have resulted in uphill climbs. During last Saturday’s 9-0 loss at Tiverton, Burrillville took the opening kickoff and marched from its own 41-yard line to the opposition’s 1 in 13 plays. On the drive’s 14th play – a fourth-and-goal – DeSilva was stonewalled on a QB sneak that denied the Broncos a prime chance to seize any early-game momentum.
Later in the same contest, Burrillville pieced together a 13-play sequence that was halted prematurely due to a fumble.
“Typically the little mistakes we make, we just can’t seem to recover during the game,” Ferraro said. “We certainly learn about them in practice when we correct them for the next game. It’s not like the kids don’t know how to play; we have a great group of boys who want to play football the right way.”
Waycott has also found himself going back to the drawing board repeatedly, emphasizing the importance of paying attention to even the minutest detail. Case in point, a defensive penalty committed by Lincoln during last Saturday’s 27-14 home setback to Narragansett awarded the Mariners a fresh set of downs. The infraction’s timing couldn’t have come at a worse time, as Narragansett was set to settle for a field goal. Given a second chance, the visitors punched the ball into the end zone.
“I’ve been telling the guys that our own worst enemy has been ourselves,” Waycott pointed out, “but they haven’t given up.”
When you’re relying heavily on young players, the importance of having quality senior captains cannot be underscored. While each school’s set of 12th graders will end their high school careers minus a chance at a Super Bowl run, Ferraro and Waycott noted that they deserve a ton of credit in refusing to let the current situation deteriorate and splinter out of control.
“A lot of the seniors, they’ve taken on a leadership role and have relished it,” said Waycott about a group that includes Oseh-lie Saine, Anthony Siou, Adam Petit, Giovanni Gray and Mark Barrett.
“We have great seniors who lead by example,” remarked Ferraro about 12th graders Brett Correia, Steven McCormack, Matt Johns and Jacob Haggerty. “When they play well, we always have a chance to win.”
(As an aside, both mentors mentioned that only “two or three players” ended up turning in their gear and quitting, a low figure that further illustrates that the bonds between a coaching staff and his players can still function at a high level, even when struggles exist.)
A year ago, the Lions and Broncos each went 1-7 in league play. Lincoln’s lone win came at the expense of Burrillville, an 18-12 down-to-the-wire finish that Waycott and Ferraro believe will be the case when the latest chapter of this rivalry is written.
With Lincoln winless in five Division III games and Burrillville 0-4, there’s no time like the present to put a halt to the misery.
“Our mentality is that we’re ready to win,” Ferraro boldly stated. “Lincoln-Burrillville, it’s going to be the price of admission, for sure.”
Echoed Waycott, “It doesn’t matter what the record is when we play Burrillville; it’s always a dogfight.”
As for other clashes on tap this weekend, Cumberland can clinch the Division II-B regular-season title with a win Friday night at Tucker Field against a Shea outfit that seeks to keep it’s playoff hopes alive. The Clippers are 5-0 while the Raiders stand at 2-3.
Also in II-B, 3-2 St. Raphael visits 1-4 North Kingstown on Friday for another 7 p.m. clash; while in II-A, 3-2 Woonsocket welcomes 1-4 Chariho to Barry Field Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
In Division I, Tolman (2-4) looks to stretch its winning streak to three games when the Tigers travel to Cranston Stadium to face 1-4 Cranston West on Friday. In another matchup of teams winless against league foes, 0-4 East Providence visits 0-5 South Kingstown.
Finally, in Division IV, 2-3 Central Falls pays a visit to 2-2 North Providence on Saturday.