SMITHFIELD — The score could've been so much worse at halftime, and Cumberland High head coach Chris Skurka knew it.
That's why, after the horn signifying intermission had sounded, Skurka clapped his hands (although not with pleasure but more for self-healing), spoke with a few assistants and shuffled his squad back to its team room underneath Bryant University's Bulldog Stadium.
Despite three punt snaps into the turf in front of senior Kyle Masse, those resulting in “only” a minus-20 yards, and an interception, the reigning Rhode Island Division II champion Clippers trailed Division I representative Cranston West by a mere six points.
Skurka and his staff believed they had put into place the necessary adjustments to take on the speedy Falcon offense for the final 24 minutes.
For the most part, those changes failed to occur. Cranston West took advantage of two touchdowns in the third quarter alone and sailed to a 27-12 triumph before a few hundred fans on Saturday afternoon.
In the end, junior quarterback Tyler Calabro's numbers seemed adequate, excepting one: He completed 12 of 24 aerials for 205 yards, but also threw three interceptions. And, in the interim, the Cumberland ground game was anemic at best, as it totaled 16 yards on 24 handles while fumbling thrice and losing a pair.
On the positive side, senior tight end Chris Hayes hauled in five passes for 105 yards, and junior fullback Joe Fine snared two more for 31. The Clipper receivers, though, left a lot of yardage on the field, courtesy of a several dropped passes.
“You can't turn the ball over and expect to win football games,” Skurka sighed after the tilt. “We've got a lot of work to do; we have to clean up our offense. The special teams just aren't where a Cumberland football team should be. We're very young, and we have a lot of room for improvement.
“We were only down six at the half, and we considered ourselves fortunate,” he added. “We need to be more consistent, and we need to play four consistent quarters of football. We also need a better complete effort. Like I said, we have a lot of work to do.”
For Cranston West, which moved to 1-0, not a single statistic proved to be amazing, but a few were more than “B” grades.
Junior running back Raekown Kisilywicz led the team on the ground with 44 yards on seven carries (with a catch for 17 more), while senior fullback Jack Hammond contributed 38 yards on 10 handles; junior Bam Hernandez 25 on seven; and senior quarterback Jeremy King 25 on four.
King also replaced classmate Steve Furtado behind center after the break, and completed six of 14 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. One aerial, in particular, broke the Clippers, as King found senior Jim Diehl open perhaps 20 yards down field on the right, and he took it the distance en route to an 80-yard paydirt.
That gave the Falcons a 20-6 cushion with 1:29 remaining in the third quarter.
Cumberland's first bad punt snap of the day occurred with just under five minutes remaining in the first quarter. Masse tried to somehow hustle it to a first down, but was downed at his own one-yard line.
On the following snap, Hammond plowed it off left guard.
The Falcons tried to boot the usual PAT, but a poor snap was recovered by sophomore Jerome Evans.
The Clippers immediately drove to the CW 32, but Calabro's toss to Hayes on a flag pattern to the right was intercepted by senior Alex Cortellessa at the 14.
The Falcons followed with a solid possession of their own, moving from the 18 to the Cumberland 21 before the host defense stiffened. After a third ground-ball punt snap, CW took over at the Clippers' 29 and took it to the 9 before a converging swell of Clippers tossed Hammond for a three-yard loss.
As luck would have it, Hayes picked off starting signal caller Furtado at the 11, and Skurka's crew survived another scare.
“At times, our defense got us (the offense) back onto the field, but we gifted that initial six points,” Skurka recalled. “We had an opportunity to take the safety; that would've been the right call, but we didn't. We're still young, and we have a lot to learn.”
Calabro's second interception, this one by senior Damien Andrus, gave the Falcons the ball at Cumberland's 39. After an illegal procedure flag, they needed just four plays to march the 44 yards, this one culminating on King's one-yard sneak.
King also took a keeper around left end for the two-point conversion that lifted CW to a 14-0 advantage.
Thanks to junior Jared Talbert's 46-yard return of the ensuing kickoff, the Clippers seemed poised to slice the deficit in half. Actually, a six-yard Calabro rush earned his club a first down at the CW 22, but that was called back 10 yards for a holding infraction.
One incompletion later, Calabro found junior Kyle Patrie wide open over the middle, and he took it the rest of the way to complete the 37-yard scoring aerial.
Calabro's PAT kick sailed wide left, but Cumberland found itself within striking distance with 5:05 left in the third.
Neither West nor Cumberland did much on its immediate possessions – until King delivered that long scoring toss to Diehl.
Three plays after that, Cortellessa picked off his second Calabro pass and returned it 12 yards to the Clippers' 35. Five snaps after that, Hernandez coasted into the end zone on a 12-yard jaunt off right tackle (and Mike Foley notched the PAT boot) to virtually clinch it at 27-6.
It the TD came with 10:24 remaining in the contest.
As had been the case prior, Cumberland had another chance, quickly moving the pigskin from its own 35 to the CW 22, but Calabro's fumble ended that possession. The Clippers, though, did find a bright spot after officials had whistled a Falcon for an illegal block on a punt return.
Taking over at its own 23, junior rusher Mike Stock gained 12, and Calabro tossed to Hayes for a 20-yarder before finding Masse open for another eight. With the ball on the 37, Hayes ran a mini-fly pattern down the right hash for a 23-yard snag, then accepted another 14-yarder for Calabro in the left segment of the end zone.
Calabro missed another PAT wide left, but the Clippers had made it, perhaps, respectable.
“There were moments we played well, and moments we just fell apart,” Skurka stated afterward. “We need a sustained four quarters of complete effort. We can't make that many mistakes, can't miss that many blocks or not make easy catches, and expect to win week to week.”