Barry Field promises to be a packed house with plenty of energetic fans on Saturday afternoon when two-time Division II champion Woonsocket High entertains Tolman High in a Division II-B clash and a spirited rematch of last seasonâs Super Bowl.
And while the fans from both teams hope to see a battle thatâs as thrilling and competitive as last yearâs 6-0 regular-season victory by the Tigers and 28-14 Super Bowl triumph by the Novans, both head coaches, Tolmanâs Dave Caito and Woonsocketâs Carnell Henderson, hope to see their respective teams play a lot better than they did a week ago.
For the Tigers, they were plagued by numerous fumbles in their intracity duel with St. Raphael Academy, and for the Villa Novans, mental miscues popped up several times during their game with Pilgrim.
Fortunately for the Tigers, they were able to scrape up a 22-14 victory, but the Villa Novans, who just a year ago, blasted the Patriots by a 40-0 score, found themselves on the losing end of an 18-7 verdict.
Both teams headed back to practice this week with their sights set not only on working on some of the things that went wrong last weekend, but also on preparing for what promises to be the game of the week in the Blackstone Valley.
âThe kids are up for it,â said Caito. âIt was nine months ago when they beat us (in the Super Bowl), but it feels like yesterday. And they beat us pretty good. We just didnât come to play, and I said to the guys, âDonât let that happen this Saturday.â But theyâre ready to play, and theyâre excited about the game.â
You will be hard-pressed to find many regular-season series in the state that have been as close and competitive as this one. Four of the last six regular-season affairs between the Novans and Tigers have been decided by fewer than eight points, and the Tigers have won five of those last six.
âThatâs where this rivalry comes from,â offered Henderson. âThe games that weâve played have been evenly matched since Iâve been here. Weâve played some good football games that were exciting games, and there were some big plays in those games, and you look forward to seeing that.â
But before both teams could look ahead to Saturdayâs 1:30 p.m. showdown, they had to look back on the films from the previous weekend and correct some of the negatives that stuck out like a sore thumb.
âWe definitely have to handle the ball better,â added Caito. âI told the guys, we canât hurt ourselves and get penalties and turnovers like we did last week. Youâre setting yourself up and letting people hang around, and we donât want that.â
While the Tigers boast a veteran team that exceeded expectations last season with a roster loaded with juniors and sophomores, the Villa Novans have a younger club that graduated most of their top players from a year ago and is simply working hard this season to become a better team.
âWeâre just trying to get back to the basics, and if you donât have the basics, you canât move on,â added Henderson. âIâm looking at this game as another opportunity to line up and get better, and get back to doing some of the things that we do well and define us. Thatâs basically what we need to do.â
And while both teams strive to get better and take another step toward what they hope will be a return trip to the playoffs, they will be doing so under the watchful eyes of a large crowd.
âThatâs what the kids like,â said Caito. âWe played in front of a big crowd at the Saints game, and thatâs what you want to play in front of. Woonsocketâs going to come with their contingent, and hopefully, we have a good following for our guys as well.â
There is a bit of bad news for the Novans, as star junior tailback Jalen Evans and sophomore backup DâAndre Thomas are expected to miss the game.
But the good news is that first-year player Kyle Mulvey, who ran for 125 yards and a touchdown in the loss to Pilgrim, will be ready to carry the workload.
â(Jalen and DâAndre) are day to day, and I donât know when weâll see them again,â said Henderson. âBut Kyle definitely ran well last week. That was his first varsity start, and that was good for his confidence. It helps ease the play-calling when you have someone give you a performance like Kyle did.â
Seven games will be on the docket tomorrow night, and only two of them will take place in the area. Lincoln entertains Rogers at 7 p.m. in a key Division III clash at Ferguson Field, and Central Falls hosts neighboring Hope at 6 p.m. in a Division IV contest at Macomber Stadium.
In Division I action, East Providence invades Cranston Stadiumâs turf field for a 7 p.m. showdown with Division I foe Cranston West, and another game that involves a short drive (to Warwick) is St. Raphaelâs 7 p.m. Division II-B duel with Pilgrim.
As for the other three games (all at 7 p.m.), Ponaganset buses to Bristol for a Division II-B meeting with Mount Hope, Cumberland treks down Route 95 to tiny Wood River Junction to face Chariho in a Division II-A tilt, and Shea faces a much longer trip to Westerly to face the Bulldogs in another Division II-A game.
Only one other local contest is on Saturdayâs schedule, a Division III contest pitting Burrillville and East Greenwich at 10:30 p.m. at the Broncosâ Alumni Field.
North Smithfield High has a bye week.
Hereâs a brief look at the other eight games of local importance:
East Providence at Cranston West
The Townies enter this game with a three-game win streak over the Falcons that saw E.P. cruise to victory in those games by a combined 93-41 score. E.P. will look to extend its winning ways over C.W., but it may not as easy as it has been the past few seasons.
The Falcons, who topped Barrington, 20-15, in its Division I opener a week ago, have an experience club with 15 returning starters, and while the offense can move the chains with the best of them, their front seven defensively has been awfully tough.
This will be a good test for the Townies (1-0) and their star fullback, Jalin Braxton, who in two games, has rushed for 510 yards and five touchdowns. First-year quarterback Brandon Peters (six rushing TDs) is quickly making a name for himself.
Rogers at Lincoln
The Lions played superbly last weekend in their 20-0 win on the road over East Greenwich, and tomorrow, they will need a repeat performance because they also face a tough test in Rogers, which stormed past Burrillville last week, 47-12, and features some of the divisionâs top offensive threats.
One of those players is running back Reeyon Watts, who ran for 188 yards in three TDs in that game. Quarterback Cody Platt is also a threat to pass or run.
If the Lions plan to beat the Vikes, they will need to minimize their mistakes and keep Rogersâ offense off the field by controlling the clock behind the play of quarterback Anthony Palombo and wide receiver Kyle Jackson.
Hope at Central Falls
The Warriors havenât launched their Division IV schedule with back-to-back wins since their â05 championship season, but they have a great opportunity to do so when they host the Blue Wave.
Hope pulled off an 18-10 upset victory over North Smithfield last week that was made possible by five turnovers by the Northmen and a solid game from first-year tailback Delonce Wright.
Like the Lions, the Warriors need to avoid turnovers and mistakes in order to win this ballgame. Big games from quarterback Brandon Canuto and the defense, which shut out Smithfield last weekend behind the play of Sension Jimiez and Nico Danielson, would also help.
St. Raphael at Pilgrim
The Patriots, who came into this year with just six Division II victories over the past four years, are on Cloud Nine right now after last weekâs win over the two-time champion Novans, and they would dearly love to follow that up with a win at home over the Saints.
The Saints, meanwhile, sorely want to avoid an 0-2 start to their season, and will do their best to bring home a âWâ behind the play of quarterback Julien Diaz and running backs Charles Correa and Pat Miranda.
Last year, the Saints followed up an ugly loss to Tolman by beating Pilgrim the following week by 17 points. This year, the Saints turned into a splendid performance in a losing cause to Tolman, and if they play as well as or better than they did last week, they should take care of business.
Cumberland at Chariho
Itâs been seven long seasons since the Clippers began league play with a 2-0 mark, but like Central Falls, they have a good shot to end their long drought tomorrow when they face a Chariho team that got shut out by Westerly last week.
This could be a long season for the Chargers, who graduated 17 starters, but still have two solid players in quarterback Jansen Williamson and running backs Colton Place and Jordan Cassidy.
The Clippers, who were impressive in their 14-7 win over Shea last Friday, received big games last week from a pair of sophomores, running back Ryan Gaumond and linebacker Joseph Fine. First-year junior quarterback Brendan Guerin also played very well.
Shea at Westerly
Westerly has always been a very tough place for teams from the Blackstone Valley to play, and the Raiders have a difficult task on their hands when they take on a talented Bulldogs squad.
Running back Spencer Read, who has ran for over 100 yards in each of the Bulldogsâ two victories this year, will try to put up big numbers again at the Raidersâ expense. And the âDogsâ defense, which has allowed just six points this season, will try to contain their visitors.
Mistakes, especially untimely ones late in the contest, may have cost Shea a victory last week over Cumberland. If theyâre going to win tomorrowâs duel, mistakes are going to have to be kept to a bare minimum and running backs Travis Gray and Jamal Tucker need to have big games.
Ponaganset at Mount Hope
The Chieftains are getting plenty of attention these days for their strong play in the seasonâs opening weeks, and a victory on the road over Mount Hope would only boost their stock in the division.
The Chieftains, who blasted Scituate and Toll Gate in their first two games of the year by a combined 98-6 score, are getting the job done with a potent offense thatâs guided by quarterback Chris Larabee (420 passing yards, five TDs) and a defense that has forced its share of turnovers.
Mount Hope is 0-2, but lost a pair of nailbiters to Division I Portsmouth (21-18) and division foe West Warwick (22-20). They will be determined to stop Ponaganset behind a veteran cast thatâs sparked by one of the divisionâs top tailbacks in Aaron Booth.
East Greenwich at Burrillville
This is a big game for both teams, who are fielding young clubs and suffered lopsided losses in their division openers last weekend.
E.G. has some productive offensive players in tailback Carney Crawford and quarterback Andrew Miner, but the Avengers also have a lot of inexperience up front, and if the Broncos can pound the ball behind senior fullback Kevin Deschamps and play well defensively, they could pull out a win.