PAWTUCKET – It doesn't matter who you talk to – Tolman High head coach Dave Caito or Shea High mentor Dino Campopiano.
The dear friends and former backfield mates at Johnston High had hoped to muster solid campaigns in their respective leagues, for the Tigers the top tier and the Raiders Division II-B; both, however, suffered from different issues en route.
Still, they fully understand what happens in the annual Thanksgiving clash between the two – this one rescheduled for 10:30 a.m., Friday inside McCoy Stadium – means the difference between a successful season or a long look forward to next August.
Tolman will enter the tilt with a dismal 2-8 overall record (0-8 in D-I), while Shea will try to improve upon a 5-5 mark (2-5 league).
“It doesn't matter what division you're in; it's a rivalry game, so you can throw the records out the window,” Campopiano stated. “They mean absolutely nothing. Anytime you play a season-closing game, you want to win; obviously, we want to beat Tolman.
“The last two games were close, 13-7 and 7-0, and I think it would be nice for the seniors to go out with a victory,” he added. “It also would be good for the younger guys to go into next year on a positive note. We had a great (28-18 non-league) win over Westerly (on Nov. 15), so getting two straight would be a great way to finish.”
Offered Caito: “It's been a frustrating season; the Rhode Island Interscholastic League scheduling people weren't too kind to us, giving us the four top teams in the league to start (the campaign, including Mount Hope, Cranston East, La Salle and Hendricken the first four weeks). I mean, who would give a team moving up from D-II that kind of lineup?
“They also gave us a bye week the final weekend, and the only team we could find to fill it was Hope, a Division IV team (the Tigers reigned, 54-0),” he continued. “We had 26 kids left (at the end); we had some quit or were kicked off for missing practice, so I've got to give the remaining kids credit. Those 26 stuck it out. Losing shows your character, and it doesn't matter if you're 45, 75 or 15 (years old). Those kids wanted to be there for the love of the game.
“We were out of the playoffs after Week (No.) 4, but those were the cards we were dealt, and we're not to complain about it. I told the kids before the season started that – in life – you're not going to get everything you want, so let's just deal with it and do the best we can.
“That's why this game (against Shea) will mean a lot if we are able to win it.”
The key to claiming a triumph in this version of the rivalry, according to Caito, is the Tigers' ability to contain senior quarterback Ty'shon Ashe and surprising freshman tailback Yanique Duarte.
“Defensively, we have to stop those two; if not, it's going to be a long night,” he noted. “They're going to get their runs (gains) because they're so talented, but we've got to limit their breakaways. Their team speed is very good, (and) that's why they've been in virtually every game they've played.
“I mean, they played the team going to the (Division II) Super Bowl (Cumberland) to a 7-7 tie before scoring a touchdown in the last minute.”
Caito is pinning his hopes of moving the pigskin on senior signal caller Corey Hughes, not to mention fellow senior tri-captain/running back Codee Bizier.
“We threw more than we should have sometimes, but that's because we were often trailing,” he explained. “Still, Corey's a very good quarterback, technically sound and football-smart. (Senior) Keane Marcello isn't very big and doesn't weigh that much, but he's tough as nails and has great hands out of the backfield.
“We also have Codee, who's similar to Marcello; he's a little guy, but he can run. We have a stable of running backs who are like Wes Welker, not big but quick and scrappy. I told Dino they remind me of him when he played tailback at Johnston.
“In this one, we can't turn the ball over, and I think the special teams will be key,” he continued. “When we kick off, we've got to contain Ashe and Duarte. We can't give them a big play on kickoff or punt returns, or we'll be in big trouble.”
Campopiano indicated he can sympathize with Caito's difficult season.
“Unfortunately, it wasn't fair to them, playing in a division in which they didn't belong,” he said. “I give Coach Caito a lot of credit because they prepared and went out and battled great competition for most of the games in the first half.
“I've talked to Dave every Saturday morning this season, unless we were playing, and I know it's been hard on him as well as the kids. He works very hard; he belongs in the division with us.”
As for Shea's game plan against Tolman, Campopiano returned only one starter from the 2012 campaign (Ashe), but he was forced to move him from tailback to quarterback early on, as his previous signal caller became ineligible.
“He did a phenomenal job this year; you couldn't ask for anything more,” he stated. “We also lost (junior back) Momadou Mbye, who had six touchdowns before being injured (torn left MCL) against Rogers. He was one of our best linebackers, too. But with all of those things having occurred, I think our team did a great job in almost every game.
“I think we're just going to have to keep doing what we have been. We have to protect the football, and we're going to have to throw the ball better than we have been. Ty's a great runner, but he's going to have to pass with more accuracy, get the ball to our backs and receivers. We'll need that phase of the game to give us a better chance to win.”
Besides Duarte, those pass catchers include senior Diaceyea Dorbor; sophomore Leonardo DeBrito; seniors Kevin Moore, Mel Washington and Kevin Lopes; and junior Jarred Mainville.
On the defensive side, “I know Dave likes to throw it with Corey Hughes, but (junior) Prince Johnson runs the ball well, and he and (Marcello) both have speed,” Campopiano said. “He likes a lot of misdirection stuff, so we're going to have to stick to our assignments and play good, hard-nosed defense.”
When it comes to Caito's overall outlook on the season, and where the Tigers may go next fall, he explained he simply didn't know.
“This is a realignment year, so I have no clue how we'll be; I don't know where we're going to play (regarding what level),” he said. “We're a solid D-II team, I think, and we don't belong in Division III, just like we don't belong in I. Once we find out, I'll know better.
“Right now, we're just concerned with playing as well as possible against Shea.”