Woonsocket gridders turning on 'Friday Night Lights'
Jesse Charette and his Woonsocket teammates will host Central under the portable lights at Barry Field on Friday night.
Welcome to the Division II football playoffs, home of the complex algorithms.
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For those who remember the unprecedented five-way tiebreaker of two years ago that tabulated Woonsocket as the odd team out, a refresher course on the wording of the tiebreaker formula was held after Central knocked off Chariho on Friday night. The 40-12 outcome created a three-way logjam atop the II-A standings with Central, Chariho and Johnston all sporting identical 5-2 records.
The only quarterfinal matchup that wasnâ€™t spun through the math cycle was unbeaten and top II-B seed Tolman playing host to Westerly, the II-A fourth seed. That game is set for Friday night at Pariseau Field.
As for Woonsocket and St. Raphael, both squads stood off to the side, patiently waiting while the top three seeds in II-A were sorted accordingly. Once the figures were crunched, the following was produced: St. Raphael, the three seed from the II-B subdivision, travels to No. 2 II-A seed Johnston on Friday. Football history will also be made in Woonsocket that same night as the Villa Novans, the II-B second seed, plays host to Central, the third seed from II-A. The final playoff game pits No. 1 II-A seed Chariho hosting Mt. Hope, the fourth seed from the II-B side.
How Chariho, Central and Johnston â€“ all of whom finished 1-1 in head-to-head meetings â€“ were seeded came down to quality points. How it works is that teams are awarded a point for every league win accrued based solely on the regular season standings. With those proceedings in mind, Chariho came up on top thanks to a 14-7 win against fourth place Westerly on Sept. 17. Both Central and Johnston lost to Westerly.
Johnston was then dubbed the No. 2 II-A seed on the strength of its head-to-head victory over Central, an 18-12 final on Oct. 2. This concludes the tiebreaking portion of this article. Only football-related matters are on the agenda moving forward.
Woonsocket head coach Carnell Henderson confirmed on Sunday morning that lights will illuminate Barry Field for what many believe is the first Friday night football game in the venueâ€™s history.
You may recall that a dozen banks of portable lights were brought in for last yearâ€™s semifinal game between eventual Super Bowl champ Woonsocket and Coventry. The event was a bona fide hit and Henderson believes the community is ready to embrace â€śFriday Night Lightsâ€ť at Barry Field.
â€śI think itâ€™s going to bring a lot of energy to the city,â€ť Henderson said. â€śTo me high school football is played Friday night, college is Saturday and the pros are Sunday. For these kids to have this opportunity in a playoff game, that should be great.â€ť
The Novans have been preparing for their upcoming under-the-lights showcase by practicing at nearby Dunn Park, a move that Henderson admits he made with an eye towards the quarterfinals. The coach is hopeful the lights will be in place at Barry Field in time for Thursdayâ€™s walkthrough so his Novans â€ścan get the cobwebs out.â€ť
â€śWeâ€™ve been practicing under the lights for about a week now, so it wonâ€™t be anything new to the kids,â€ť Henderson said. â€śBeing a two seed, thereâ€™s no guarantee that weâ€™ll get a second round game at home, or even play one, period. Our athletic director (George Nasuti) realized this is a great opportunity to keep the momentum going from a year ago. With the Tuesday night after Thanksgiving not a guarantee, we said letâ€™s seize the opportunity and (go with lights) for the first game.â€ť
As for Woonsocketâ€™s opponent, Henderson knows just by perusing the final scores that Central is capable of piling up points. The Knights topped Div. II in scoring, averaging a shade under 27 points per outing. They havenâ€™t, however, faced a defense as stingy as the Novans, who allowed the fewest points in league play (20) in addition to posting five shutouts.
â€śYouâ€™ve just got to line up and play,â€ť said Henderson when asked about the Novansâ€™ defense facing a top-flight offense in the Knights. â€śIâ€™m looking forward to seeing how they look on film.â€ť
Move on. Thatâ€™s what Dave Caito told his Tolman players must happen from this point forward. The regular season is now in the past, and the only game guaranteed beyond Friday is the Thanksgiving Eve contest with city rival Shea.
â€śThere are two seasons. Weâ€™ve gotten through the first season, and obviously what we did was great,â€ť Caito said. â€śThe second season is the playoffs. If we go undefeated, guess what? We win the Super Bowl and get a ring. The kids are motivated.â€ť
The Bulldogs have turned things around since starting 1-3. With little wiggle room Westerly went out and knocked off Central and Johnston in consecutive weeks as part of a season-ending three-game winning streak.
Like most coaches, Caito believes that you stick by the scheme that got you to this point. â€śThereâ€™s no need to beat each other up in practice when you can save it up for Friday for Westerly. You may tweak some things like blocking assignments, but basically, you got here for one reason. Youâ€™re not going to go crazy, but you put little wrinkles in here or there to keep the other team honest.â€ť
It may reach a point where St. Raphael starts seeing Johnston in its dreams. The two sides were already scheduled to play Thanksgiving Eve inside McCoy Stadium, the first meeting in the latest holiday series struck up by the Saints.
â€śTheyâ€™re similar to us in that they donâ€™t play a lot of guys,â€ť SRA head coach Mike Sassi said following Saturdayâ€™s 27-12 win over Ponaganset.
Like Westerly, St. Raphael ripped off a series of wins after struggling out of the gate. The Saints have not lost a Div. II game since the first weekend in October.
â€śOur mantra since we were 1-3 is one game at a time,â€ť Sassi said. â€śThe thing Iâ€™m most impressed with is that weâ€™ve stayed together as a group. If we couldnâ€™t have each other, then who was going to have our back? Itâ€™s a great group because they donâ€™t care who gets the credit. They just want to win and Iâ€™m really proud with the way theyâ€™ve come together.â€ť