Sports editor emeritus
PAWTUCKET – “This is one of those games you guys will remember for the rest of your lives,” Cumberland High coach Chris Skurka told his players after they rallied for a stunning 24-17 victory over St. Raphael Academy on Saturday night before approximately 400 fans at Max Read Field.
“That was a really well-played high school game,” Skurka said a few minutes later while walking off the Clippers’ temporary home field. “We have a lot of respect for the coaching staff at St. Ray’s. I was the assistant head coach under Mike Sassi with the 2007 state championship team and we have remained good friends. It seems like this was a game where both coaching staffs made adjustments and the kids kept making great plays.”
The Saints led 3-0 at halftime thanks to a Jacob Davis field goal of 22 yards that came with just 26 seconds left before intermission. Both offenses began clicking in the second half. SRA went ahead 17-10 with 8:44 left in the game before the Clippers rallied for the tying and winning touchdowns, the second coming with 42 seconds remaining.
“It seemed like we were both feeling each other out in the first half,” Skurka said. His team was fortunate to trail by just three points at halftime as the Saints gained 162 yards in total offense to Cumberland’s 33 and ran off 37 plays from scrimmage to just 26 for Cumberland. The Clippers’ defense came up with the only turnover, an interception late in the first quarter that stalled a Saints’ drive.
Cumberland tied the game on a 23-yard field goal by quarterback Tyler Calabro with 5:20 gone in the third quarter after Clipper defender Joe Marcolini recovered a fumble by SRA QB Emmanuel Leake at the Clippers’ 37. Calabro then directed a drive that moved to the Saints’ six-yard line. Halfback Mike Stock surged into the end zone from six yards out but the touchdown was negated when the officials ruled Stock had been illegally “assisted” by an overzealous teammate or two, necessitating Calabro’s game-tying FG.
At this point, both offenses jumped into high gear. The Saints got a strong kickoff return from James Kelly to near midfield. They needed just five plays to cover the remaining 55 yards, scoring on a 7-yard run by Alfred Dorbor off an option pitch from Leake. A bad snap foiled the PAT and the Saints led 9-3 with 3:05 left in the third quarter.
The SRA defense forced Cumberland to punt on its next series. Calabro’s boot was muffed at the Saints’ 29-yard line and recovered by the Clippers. Stock ran 15 yards on first down and eventually followed a wall of blockers off left tackle into the end zone to tie the game with 8:56 left in the fourth quarter. Calabro’s kick made it 10-9.
The Saints needed just one play to retake the lead. Leake lofted a perfectly-thrown pass down the right sideline that the speedy Kelly ran under as a Clipper defender fell to the ground. Kelly completed the 80-yard TD connection, running untouched into the end zone. Leake followed with a two-point conversion pass to Alcino Aviles-Soares for SRA’s aforementioned 17-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. The Saints would not score again.
The Clippers answered with a 64-yard drive, needing just four plays to reach paydirt. Calabro found split end Jared Talbert for 15 yards on first down. Calabro then spotted Stock open on a middle screen and the hard-running halfback burst through a hole in SRA’s defense to reach the end zone with 7:32 left. Calabro’s PAT tied the game at 17.
The Saints started at their own 19 and moved to midfield before their drive stalled against a gang-tackling Cumberland defense. Leake punted 23 yards from midfield and Cumberland took over with three minutes left in the game.
Calabro connected with Talbert on a 30-yard pass play to SRA’s 33-yard line. Two running plays netted a first down at the 23. Calabro then hit Talbert in stride at the five and the junior wide receiver took it in for the decisive score with 42 seconds left in the game. Calabro’s kick made it 24-17.
The Saints ran three plays in the final 36 seconds, two of them scrambles by Leake that got the ball to Cumberland’s 42. On the game’s final play, Leake flipped a pass into the right flat that Kelly caught while losing his balance. Cumberland’s defense pushed him to the turf as time ran out.
The defending D-II champion Clippers are now 3-0 in Division II-B while SRA fell to 1-2 in league play. Cumberland visits North Kingstown, which is 2-1 in the league, on Friday while the Saints travel to Central for a 6 p.m. game at Conley Field.
“We’re young,” Skurka said, “but we are learning how to win close games. We beat Central (25-20) in our first league game and then Rogers (27-20) in overtime. It’s fun to watch these kids grow as a team from week to week.”
EXTRA POINTS: The Saints finished with 396 yards in total offense to 252 for Cumberland. SRA committed the game’s only three turnovers. The Clippers netted 10 of their points off two second-half turnovers … Cumberland QB Calabro got hot in the second half and finished 10-for-21 passing for 171 yards after going 2-for-7 for 18 yards in the first half … SRA QB Leake finished 10-for-15 with one interception and 154 total yards in receptions … Both teams ran no-huddle offenses for most of the game. Cumberland controlled action in the second half, running 34 plays from scrimmage to 23 for the Saints.