Woonsocket's Will Andino will try to lead the Novans to a Thanksgiving Day win over rival Cumberland, who captured last year's matchup by a 32-0 score. (Photo by Ernest A. Brown)
WOONSOCKET â Bitterness can serve as an amazing motivator.
Carnell Henderson is electing to draw from the acidic flavor that crossed the taste buds of his Woonsocket High football program two weekends ago, when St. Raphael ended the Novansâ Division II playoff pursuit with a 15-14 quarterfinal-round loss. The gargantuan head of steam that has been pent up since that Saturday afternoon of heartbreak figures to get unleashed come Thursday morning when longtime holiday rival Cumberland treks to Barry Field.
The sight of the Clippers standing on the opposite sideline should conjure up an even more painful reminder for Henderson & Co., not to mention represent a whole different degree of motivation. A year ago, Woonsocket and Cumberland squared off twice in an 11-day span, and it was characterized by the domination of one competitor over another.
On Thanksgiving Day 2012, the Clippers licked the plate clean in a 32-0 whitewashing. The two neighboring schools then met with the Division II Super Bowl on the line, with Cumberland once more getting the upper hand in runaway fashion as Woonsocket fell by a 49-0 count.
Getting back to the original premise of letting past bygones serve as a turbo-changed source of fuel, Henderson thoroughly explained why the Novansâ 2013 postseason ouster is driving the motivational bus as opposed to last yearâs inglorious results against the Clippers.
âThe only motivation these guys need is that weâre getting the chance to play again. The last time we had a chance to play with each other, we experienced a tough defeat,â said the Woonsocket mentor. âTheyâre probably chomping at the bit, and for the seniors, itâll be their last time playing for Woonsocket. Thatâs really all the motivation they need.
âAny time you lose, you want to avenge a loss. I canât say thatâs never part of it, but thereâs a different dynamic in place. A lot of those kids who played for Cumberland last year and had a great deal of success arenât there. A lot of our guys arenât there, so the only thing youâre doing is avenging the loss of the program,â Henderson delved further. âTrying to motivate these kids who werenât a part of (last yearâs Cumberland-Woonsocket installment), itâs not like their guys are back and so are ours. We played them on Thanksgiving and again in the Super Bowl. You can talk about revenge when itâs in the same calendar year and you have the same group of kids, but when youâre talking about something thatâs a year removed, this game has its own high stakes.â
The 50th chapter of this Thanksgiving rivalry is not lacking in intriguing subplots. Technically, this is a matchup of division winners âWoonsocket won the II-B side, while Cumberland shared top honors in II-A with four teams.
âThis is our Super Bowl and weâre playing a worthy opponent. You know youâre going to get a great football game,â stated Henderson, his Novans sitting at 7-3 overall. âIf I know (Cumberland head coach Chris Skurka), heâs coming to play. Thatâs just the way heâs always been.â
There is a sense of finality surrounding these Novans, something Henderson talked openly about when he referenced closing the season âthe right way. We get to measure ourselves in terms of where we are and what we want to carry into the offseason and into next season. This game gives us an opportunity to do that.â
Lowering the curtain on 2013 will not transpire for Skurka and the Clippers until Sunday, Dec. 8. Thereâs still one more game of note after Thursday, and itâs one that will either place Cumberland (8-3 overall) in that rare orb of back-to-back title winners or in the runner-up position behind West Warwick.
âObviously, with this format they tried out this year, we get 10 days between Thanksgiving and the Super Bowl,â said Skurka, referencing the decision that Division II made in contesting the semifinals before Thanksgiving rather than the Tuesday following the holiday, which will be the case in Divisions I, III and IV.
From Skurkaâs vantage point, Cumberland is squaring off with one top seed in Woonsocket, with another one in West Warwick waiting on deck.
âThatâs the way weâre looking at it with the kids, which is fine,â said Skurka.
Before they can seriously entertain thoughts about their rendezvous with championship destiny, the Clippers must first deal with a Villa Novans squad that figures to be pretty amped.
âWeâve been scouting them and have some ideas of what weâre going to do,â stated Skurka. âYou have to prepare just like you would anyway. Itâs no different if we were playing after Thanksgiving or not.â
Skurka pointed to Woonsocket allowing a league-low 50 points during seven regular-season games. âObviously, they have good skill players and a good, well-rounded team. Unfortunately, they didnât have their best game against Saints, but theyâre a good football team.â
With film study serving as his primary guide, Henderson sees a Cumberland unit thatâs âfundamentally sound. They do a lot of things well, and thatâs why theyâre still playing. We know what weâre going to get and weâre looking forward to the challenge.â
Cumberland leads the all-time series by a 28-17-4 margin. Henderson and Skurka have been matching coaching wits on Turkey Day since 2009, with each side claiming two victories.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03
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