A typical Division II playoff scramble is developing with two weeks left in the regular season schedule.
This is the lone league that features an eight-team playoff field. Division II possesses 16 teams, almost double the size of Division I. And because of those numbers, the D-II playoff situation is almost always complicated.
Right now, four D-II teams seem certain to make the Nov. 12-13 quarterfinal round: Tolman (5-0), Woonsocket (4-1), Chariho (4-1) and Johnston (4-1). The scramble for the other four spots won’t be figured out until after the dust clears on Nov. 6.
“You can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out playoff standings in our league,” Woonsocket coach Carnell Henderson was saying on Sunday morning while watching film of his team’s 48-0 victory over Toll Gate from the day before. “It’s difficult to do it the week before. We learned two years ago that it’s hard to sort it out even after all the league games are finished.”
Henderson’s Villa Novans were left out of the 2008 playoffs due to a complicated (and perhaps unfair) tiebreaker process. Woonsocket made amends with a vengeance in 2009, beating Mount Hope in the Super Bowl.
Henderson is not among those who think his team has already punched its playoff ticket. Woonsocket hosts Mount Hope (3-2) on Saturday, then finishes its regular league season with a home game against a currently winless West Warwick team on Nov. 6.
“We just teach our kids to play the next game,” Henderson admitted. “We’re trying to extend our season by winning the next game we play.”
Mount Hope is coming off a loss to a surging St. Raphael Academy team that got shut out by both Tolman and Woonsocket in September but has since rallied to win its last two games, including the 20-16 road win over Mount Hope.
“If you look at St. Raphael’s body of work since they lost to Tolman in the first week, you can see that they have really improved,” Henderson admitted. “Division II is such a balanced league. It seems as though you have to show up and play hard every week because every team is well-coached and ready to play. We try to stay in the moment and focus on each team that we play.”
The Saints (3-2) finish their league season with a road game at Toll Gate and a home contest against dangerous Ponaganset (2-3). They probably need a sweep to make the playoffs.
Woonsocket will be focusing this week on Mount Hope.
“I haven’t seen them on film yet,” the coach said. “We know they are disciplined, tough, and well-coached. They are coming off a tough loss to St. Ray’s. We’re going to have our hands full.”
Henderson’s team has shown a vast amount of improvement since its 6-0 loss at Tolman on Sept. 24. The Villa Novans outscored their next three opponents by a 92-0 margin, flashing the kind of offensive and defensive teamwork that most coaching staffs can only visualize in their dreams.
“It is exciting, watching the team get better each week,” Henderson conceded. “Our offense has improved a lot. Many of our key players didn’t have much playing experience coming into this season. They didn’t have the opportunity to play until this year. Now they are getting comfortable in their positions and the only way you do that is by getting them repetitions in practice. Everyone has really worked hard.”
Woonsocket is led by a solid group of veterans. Co-captains Pepe Torres, Geovanni Heredia, Joell Sherrod and Joe Rodriguez have stepped in to fill the void left by the seniors who led the Villa Novans to the Super Bowl championship last year. Quarterback Kevin Reyes has become more comfortable each week running the team’s multiple offense.
And wide receiver Jesse Charette has developed into perhaps the most explosive skill position player in the state. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior is described as “electric” by his head coach. Charette is a threat to take a punt or kickoff deep at any time. He can catch a short pass and turn it into a long-gainer and he might do the same with a running play.
Charette is also a threat to score on defense. He returned an intercepted pass 20 yards for a score in Saturday’s romp over Toll Gate. But he only touched the ball once on offense because Woonsocket had built a 35-0 lead by halftime.
Sophomore running back Jalen Evans, who gained 63 yards on 10 carries, is coming into his own, giving the Novans another threat out of the backfield.
Woonsocket’s defense has been even more impressive while shutting out its last three opponents. Toll Gate, which came into Saturday’s game with a 3-1 league record, gained 16 yards rushing on 25 carries. The Titans accumulated 97 yards in total offense for the day.
“It’s good to be in this position,” Henderson decided, “but we have a tough opponent this week in Mount Hope and that’s all we are worried about.”