Dino Campopiano and his Shea High gridders won’t get another crack at Cumberland or St. Raphael this season.
Conversely, if Brian Cote’s Mount Hope squad were to cross paths with Woonsocket once again, such a matchup wouldn’t take place until the Division II Super Bowl.
Both Campopiano and Cote have already logged countless hours in devising game plans geared toward slowing down the Clippers, Saints and Villa Novans, three squads who make up the eight-team D-II playoffs that get underway Friday night with two quarterfinal-round contests; the second pair are part of a “Saturday Night Lights” extravaganza.
One contest has a Blackstone Valley feel to it with Woonsocket traveling to St. Raphael on Saturday evening at 6, while Cumberland plays host to Westerly on Friday.
While Campopiano and Cote each have their own games to prepare for, each took the time Thursday to provide some insight into this trio of playoff qualifiers.
Shea’s 22-10 setback to SRA on Oct. 20 was one of those games that can keep a coach up at night. Campopiano lamented the number of opportunities the Raiders let slip through their collective grasp, with promising drives fizzling out deep in Saints’ territory.
“We were inside the 10-yard line three or four times and we only came away with 10 points,” Campopiano recalled, a painful remembrance that went a long way in solidifying the post-season fate for each side (heading into the day, the Saints and Raiders each sported 2-2 records). “If we could have put more points up, it definitely would have changed the ballgame.”
Campopiano quickly interjected when this reporter started talking about St. Raphael playmaker Charles Correa and the premise that the Saints are more than a one-man show.
“Obviously, Charles is a good player, but I wouldn’t say he’s there whole team. The kid, No. 22 [freshman fullback Josh Alves] runs the ball very hard. No. 1 [senior tailback James Berry] is very good,” Campopiano stated. “I think (St. Raphael) is a more complete team than they were last year. Charles can break one at any time, but all the other guys are doing their job.”
Another Saint who caught Campopiano’s fancy was senior Colby Kingsbury and the work he’s turned in defensively. Kingsbury tops St. Raphael in solo tackles (62) and total tackles (90). His ability to be in the right place at the right time was one of major reasons why the Raiders were forced to run between the tackles instead of bouncing out to the perimeter, the latter normally serving as Shea’s primary means of attacking an opponent.
“In the game we played against them, (Kingsbury) must have had 12 tackles,” Campopiano noted. “They shut our outside (threats) down more than anybody has all year, so I thought they had pretty good team speed.”
Campopiano made the trek to West Warwick’s Maznicki Field for St. Raphael’s 36-14 setback to the Wizards. On that particular September afternoon, the Shea mentor saw SRA quarterback Emmanuel Leake perform under heavy duress on his way to completing 7-of-18 throws for 89 yards and three interceptions. Keep in mind that was Leake’s first-ever varsity start.
When the Saints and Raiders met at Pariseau Field, Campopiano saw a more confident and composed Leake as the sophomore turned in a mistake-free performance. Against Shea, the sophomore Leake missed on four of his 12 pass attempts for 85 yards.
“I told (St. Raphael coach Mike) Sassi that I think he’s gotten better and better as the year’s gone on,” Campopiano acknowledged. “He’s more comfortable, throwing a better ball and making better decisions.”
Like in his club’s contest against SRA, Campopiano’s Shea outfit owned the upper hand early, as the Raiders enjoyed a 9-7 lead at halftime against the Clippers on Oct. 26 at Tucker Field.
Then came the second half, which Cumberland ran roughshod en route to a convincing 28-9 verdict. The main Clipper bruiser on that night was tailback Erik Travers, who bulldozed his way for 124 rushing yards over the final two quarters en route to an impressive game total of 185.
The sleeping giant that awoke in the second half was the Cumberland team that Campopiano had expected to see entering the tilt.
“They are a very complete team in all aspects of the game. Their quarterback (Brendan Guerin) throws a nice ball and the offensive line blocks well. They have two good receivers in Nos. 10 (Trent Vasey) and 11 (Mitchell Baxter), and their backs … There isn’t one superstar, but they all run well and hard. You can’t just sit back on the run or the pass; you have to be able to defend both.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Cumberland has made it a point to take what head coach Chris Skurka believes is the opponent’s strength and force them to dig deep into the playbook. These stingy Clippers allowed only one league opponent to crack double digits in points; that's why they posted three shutouts and surrendered a Division II-low 41 points.
“They do different things geared toward stopping what teams do; (Skurka) is going to see something different no matter who they’re playing,” Campopiano surmised.
Campopiano expanded further on his “complete team” compliment of Cumberland: “From what I’ve seen, they don’t hurt themselves or make any mistakes. They don’t fumble the ball or commit penalties that hurt them. They do everything right.”
The Mt. Hope team that trekked to Barry Field for an Oct. 6 meeting with Woonsocket was mindful of the need to shut down running back Jalen Evans and the rest of the Novans’ ground attack before setting its sights on quarterback Brett Bouchard.
“We pretty much focused on shutting down Evans and No. 2 (Will Andino) as best we could while coming after (Bouchard) with varying blitzing schemes,” Cote shared in what ended up being a 26-7 conquest for his Huskies. “We knew that (the Villa Novans) have good athletes, and – if we were able to get good pressure on the quarterback – we would have forced him to scramble and not get the ball down the field as accurately.”
Mount Hope wound up turning Woonsocket over four times in the second half, intercepting Bouchard once while scooping up a fumble that resulted when the signal caller had trouble securing the snap. Cote mentioned the Huskies were also mindful of the Novans’ top pass catchers coming out of the backfield on crossing patterns; those that are designed to have them receive the ball in position where they can turn the corner and accelerate downfield.
“We looked at their formations and scripted what kind of plays they ran out of certain formations,” said Cote. “If they run (out of the 'trips' formation), they like to get the ball in (Andino’s) hands on a slip screen. When they went double-slot, they did combination routes and crossing patterns. Leading up to that game, we worked on people coming off the corner and up the middle with blitzing schemes that would get the quarterback out of the pocket and rolling.”
Going after Woonsocket’s defense, Cote wanted his offense to quickly get in and out of the huddle so that Mount Hope wouldn’t tip its hand.
“We wanted to mix our formations and get them to move on the defensive line. When we did that, we occasionally opened up holes and ran to the formations based on what we saw,” stated the coach. “Early in the game, we did some balanced formations before going to some more conventional formations later, and it seemed to mix them up.”