CUMBERLAND — A Big Blue tidal wave washed ashore Thanksgiving morning, a powerful force that proved to swallow Woonsocket High whole.
Cumberland High put on a holiday clinic in how to lick the plate clean, as the Clippers took it to the Novans, 32-0, in the 49th installment of this Turkey Day series. The two teams will now look toward next Tuesday and the Division II semifinals. Cumberland returns to Tucker Field against West Warwick while Woonsocket welcomes Central to Barry Field.
Should the local entries pass their respective playoff tests, they would reconvene with the Div. II Super Bowl championship on the line at East Greenwich’s Carcieri Field on Sunday, Dec. 2.
Thanks to a diversified offensive attack coupled with a relentless defensive assault, the Clippers rolled to their second consecutive Thanksgiving Day victory, meaning the coveted St. Germain Trophy is staying put for another 12 months. Cumberland enjoyed a 20-0 lead at halftime before collecting two more scores in the third quarter, such sheer domination mimicking what Chris Skurka & Co. have done virtually all season.
“We pride ourselves in playing defense as well as offense; we devote equal time to both in practice,” noted Skurka after his crew notched its ninth straight victory to improve to 9-1.
While things came up roses for the Clippers, the Villa Novans departed the Tucker Field grounds with a foul taste in their collective mouths.
“That’s a good football team and they do a lot of things well, but I don’t think we matched their intensity,” was the frank assessment offered by Woonsocket head coach Carnell Henderson. “We made too many mistakes and when you do that against a good football team, you’re going to pay.”
The mistakes that Henderson alluded to were mainly of the mental variety, though the Novans (7-3 overall) turned the ball over twice. Woonsocket’s offense had a hard time generating any sort of traction against Cumberland, as quarterback Brett Bouchard did not complete a pass until the third quarter.
Bouchard was also sacked five times with Cumberland’s junior Dan Pizzarelli finishing with two takedowns. It was clear that the Clippers wanted to get the shutout as Nevin Morales recorded an interception at the goal line with time winding down in the final quarter, a takeaway that nullified would proved to be Woonsocket’s best offensive series on the day.
Asked if the sacks were more of the result of good coverage down the field rather than the Clippers winning the 1-on-1 battles at the line of scrimmage, Skurka stated, “It’s a combination of both. The kids came up with a great defensive effort and it’s one of those times where you’re proud of them. They came up big every time we needed a stop.”
Taking the game’s opening kickoff, the Clippers marched 55 yards before Erik Travers put the ball on the ground at the Novans’ 14-yard line. The miscue did little to diminish Travers’ role as the senior racked up 82 yards on 11 carries.
“I’m a big believer that if a kid fumbles, we’re not going to go away from him,” Skurka stated. “Erik’s one of the reasons why we’re in the position we’re in right now. We gave the ball right back to him and said we believe in him.”
After Woonsocket sophomore Shawn Ingram recovered the Travers fumble, the Villa Novans went three-and-out. Switching things up after relying exclusively on the run during its initial offensive series, Cumberland took to the air with quarterback Brendan Guerin connecting with Mitchell Baxter for a 55-yard score. The play saw Baxter (108 receiving yards on the day) do some nice work after the catch, the senior breaking an ankle tackle on his way to notching six points for his club.
Far from content, the Clippers doubled its 7-0 lead early in the second quarter. Guerin hit Trent Vasey in stride from 11 yards out with sophomore Tyler Callabro adding the extra point that made it 14-0.
The Novans, who managed just one first down in the opening half, quickly gave the ball back to their opponent. On a drive that featured seven runs and four passes, Cumberland placed even more distance between itself and Woonsocket after Dan Stock waltzed in from six yards out.
It didn’t long for the roof to completely cave in for the Novans, who coughed up the ball in their own territory two plays into the third quarter. Starting at the Woonsocket 35, Cumberland called Travers’ number on three consecutive plays, a quick-order drive that was capped in grand style – a three-yard score that saw him bounce to the left side.
Joe Fine closed out the scoring for Cumberland with a 12-yard run with exactly two minutes remaining in the third quarter. As the fourth quarter got underway, Skurka opted to pull his regulars.
“When you tee the ball up on Thanksgiving against your rival, you live in the moment,” said Skurka. “(Injuries) are just one of those things that you’re not worried about. You can never coach injuries or worry about that stuff. It’s one of those things where we went out there and played to win just like we have been all season. We had been off for a long time so it was important to get out and play, though we were still able to get some guys out of the game late.”
On the flip side, several prominent Woonsocket contributors remained on the field even though the outcome was no longer in doubt. Seeking to get his team on the scoreboard, Bouchard took off before getting met by a wave of defenders near Cumberland’s bench. Bouchard was clearly shaken up, though he was able to walk off the field under his own power.
“I thought he had some stiffness in his neck,” was the update Henderson provided. “Hopefully he’ll be ready to go Tuesday.”
As far as moving past this game, Henderson stated, “It’s done and now we have to get ready for a good Central team with the hopes that we get another crack at (Cumberland) again. That’s the only thing you can do.”
Cumberland now leads Woonsocket by a 28-17 count with four ties sprinkled in.