Central Falls and North Smithfield arenâ€™t Thanksgiving football rivals but the two Division IV playoff teams are inextricably linked this week.
They are linked because if North Smithfield defeats Scituate on Thursday morning, it wins No. 1 seed in next weekâ€™s playoffs and would host No. 4 seed Central Falls in the semifinal round scheduled for next Tuesday evening.
â€śI donâ€™t want my guys to overlook Scituate,â€ť North Smithfield coach Wes Pennington said on Sunday when the potential playoff matchup with Central Falls was raised.
Pennington remembers all too well how his Northmen, coming off their first playoff season in school history, began the 2011 campaign.
â€śWe scored 55 points against Burrillville,â€ť he said, recalling the non-league opener on Sept. 10. â€śI think because of last yearâ€™s playoff run, and then scoring all those points against Burrillville, the guys thought they could just show up and win. We played Hope the next week , turned the ball over six times and lost the game (18-10).â€ť
The Northmen also lost to Smithfield the next week, decisively, by a 28-7 margin.
Hope only has two league wins this season. Smithfield takes a 5-2 record in Thursdayâ€™s finale at home against North Providence, which is 4-3 in D-IV.
â€śI think we needed to be humbled as a team,â€ť Pennington said. â€śWhat turned it around for us was our senior leadership. Guys like Chris Mancini, Brandon Chartier and Carlos Guzman really stepped up for us.â€ť
The Northmen got additional leadership from quarterback Daniel Jordan and running back Paris Correia, who has rushed for 1,100 yards already this season. Both players are junior co-captains and also excel on defense.
North Smithfield has won its last five games and is now 6-2 overall this season. Three teams in D-IV have two losses at the moment â€“ Mount Pleasant (6-2), North Smithfield (5-2) and Smithfield (5-2). If all three finish at 6-2, North Smithfield owns the tiebreaker advantage over the other two.
If Smithfield loses on Thursday, the Northmen also win the tiebreaker over Mount Pleasant based on head-to-head results, a 14-12 North Smithfield win over M.P. back on Nov. 4.
Just for the record, North Smithfield beat Scituate 44-6 last season. The Spartans, 0-7 in league play, do lead this relatively new holiday rivalry by a 3-2 margin.
Before Pennington and his staff turned the program around last season, the Northmen were ranked with Scituate at the bottom of the state in football prowess, which explains the coachâ€™s reluctance to take anything for granted with his program.
Central Falls has completed a 5-3 season in Division IV and owns all tiebreaker advantages over other potential fourth-place finishers, according to head coach Mo Jackson.
â€śWeâ€™re going to finish fourth no matter what,â€ť Jackson was saying over the weekend. His team started the season 4-1 in league play before losing two of its final three, including a 27-6 loss to North Smithfield on Nov. 11. â€śIf North Smithfield beats Scituate, they will finish No. 1 and we will play them in the first round of the playoffs.â€ť
The Warriors face Division IIIâ€™s Lincoln High at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in their final regular season game.
â€śThis is just our second year playing Lincoln on Thanksgiving (eve),â€ť Jackson said. â€śWe had talked about doing this for a few years. We used to play Tiverton. Lincoln is a better opponent for a lot of reasons. Itâ€™s certainly a short ride for both schools and I think the teams are evening matched. Lincoln beat us by one touchdown last year (27-20).â€ť
The Warriorsâ€™ roster is filled with playmakers. Running back Josh Brandon, a senior, leads the state with 1,207 yards on 136 carries. He averaged 134 yards per game and scored 11 touchdowns, according to statistics provided by MaxPreps, a high school stat service utilized by most coaches in Rhode Island.
C.F. quarterback Brandon Canuto, a junior, threw for 15 touchdowns this season, eight of them to gifted senior wide receiver Steven Vasquez, one of the top high jumpers in the country. Vasquez, who consistently clears 6 feet, 8 inches in the high jump, caught 16 passes this season and half of them went for touchdowns.
Tight end Joel Peralta caught 22 passes for the Warriors, who mix the passing and running games effectively.
â€śThere is a lot of parity in Division IV this season,â€ť Jackson said. â€śWe got off to a fast start and then didnâ€™t finish very well. Lincoln will be a good game for us and then we have to get ready for the playoffs.â€ť
Central Falls has a bunch of senior leaders on this team, led by Vasquez, Peralta, Senison Jimenez, Larry Cruz and Nico Danielson, to name a few.