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Stressing the importance of the kicking game

October 4, 2012

John Poirier’s game-winning point-after try proved to be the deciding factor in Woonsocket’s 19-18 overtime win against Westerly last Saturday. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN.

Often times the importance of the kicking game at the high school level can go undervalued or overlooked. Blame such shortsightedness on the premium coaches and players place on strategizing offensively and defensively throughout the week, the attention paid to more crucial matters, in turn rendering the very idea of place-kicking and punting duties influencing the final outcome to mundane qualities.
Honestly, do you think teams contemplate a scenario where the booming of the pigskin can sway the outcome in one direction or another? If you answer “yes,” clearly you understand the importance of a good boot. If you’re answer is in the negative, here are three examples from last weekend’s action designed to illustrate kicking as a game-changing dynamic.
— Games aren’t won or lost in the first quarter, yet the two mishandled punt attempts Tolman High was guilty of last Friday against Bishop Hendricken proved much too costly.
Off-target snaps from the normally dependable Sylvestre Lopes put Andrew Soares behind the 8-ball in terms of getting off an unscathed kick. Forced to scramble deep in Soares’ own territory on a wet night, the Hawks quickly tracked him down, one time at the Tolman 25-yard line while the other Tiger snafu could have easily been ruled a safety. Instead, Hendricken was awarded the ball at the 1.
The two short fields were quickly turned into two Hendricken touchdowns and a 14-0 deficit for Tolman midway through the opening 12 minutes. The Hawks prevailed, 28-7, a final that shows just how even the Tigers played the two-time Division I champs following a jittery start.
“You can’t spot anybody 14 points because then you’re forced to play catch-up, which is tough,” said Tolman mentor Dave Caito. “I can’t blame the punter (Soares) or the snapper (Sylvestre) because it (the rain) was really coming down. Those two guys are usually perfect.”
— John Poirier has contributed to Woonsocket’s special teams since the 10th grade. Now a senior, Poirier delivered what proved to be the game-deciding extra point in the Villa Novans’ 19-18 overtime triumph at Westerly last Saturday.
While Poirier was a cool customer, the Bulldogs ended up missing two PATs, one late in regulation that would have prevented the game from heading into OT, while the second would have altered Poirier’s eventual game-winner to a game-tying bid.
“Special teams at the (high school) level is somewhat forgotten because you focus so much on the other areas, but it’s something we practice every day,” notes Woonsocket head coach Carnell Henderson. “(Saturday’s) game re-affirmed why they’re so important.”
— When is a nine-yard punt viewed as the difference maker? Answer: When it’s late in what turned out to be a back-and-forth tussle and the opposition is on the verge of setting up shop inside the 20.
North Smithfield senior Cam Stone has carved himself a pretty nice niche as a kicker who to date is 3-for-4 on field goals and 13-for-14 on PATs. A former soccer player for the Northmen, Stone delivered a game-winning kick late that propelled his team to a 25-23 non-league win against Central last month.
“(Having a dependable high school kicker) changes your philosophy as far as chasing that point when playing with the lead,” feels North Smithfield assistant coach Mike Watters.
Stone’s foot proved to be North Smithfield’s saving grace last Saturday at North Providence. With the Northmen clinging to a four-point lead with less than four minutes remaining, Stone was about to punt with the ball spotted at the N.S. 35. The snap from senior Ryan Masnyk to Stone traveled way left as Stone found himself in scramble mode with a gang of Cougars set to pounce.
Not long ago, it was common to see high school teams utilize a lineman to kick, the belief that the bigger the body, the greater the chance the ball travels down the field. If Stone weren’t a lithe sort equipped with cat-like reflexes, North Providence would have been looking at first-and-10 from roughly the 20. Instead, Stone was able to calmly field the wounded duck, elude the Cougar rush and get off a kick that all told subtracted nine yards from the original line of scrimmage.
North Providence ended up taking over at the 44, but as anyone on the North Smithfield sideline could attest, Stone’s ability to save valuable yardage – he got away the punt at roughly the 25 – went a long way in securing what amounted to a 38-34 final.
***
Who’s not to say a kick could impact a game this weekend or moving forward? If the above demonstrated anything, it’s certainly food for thought as we break down the slate division-by division.

Division I
At 0-3, Tolman finds itself in must-win mode. A good place to start is Friday night at Portsmouth.
“It’s a playoff game for us,” stressed Caito.
Another team in search of its first league win is East Providence, which hosts contender Cranston East on Friday night.

Division II
As the lone undefeated club in II-B, 3-0 Cumberland seeks to extend the good times when North Kingstown stops by Tucker Field on Friday night. Sticking within the same subdivision, 2-1 Shea welcomes 1-2 Rogers, while 1-2 St. Raphael plays host to 2-1 Central. Both those games are 7 p.m. kickoffs on Friday.
On Saturday, 2-1 Woonsocket hosts 1-2 Mt. Hope.

Division III
Burrillville (0-2) springs back into action this Saturday at home against 1-1 Classical. The Broncos last played two weeks ago. Speaking of bye weeks, 0-2 Lincoln is idle.

Division IV
In what figures to be one of the weekend’s better games, 2-1 North Smithfield hosts defending Super Bowl champ Mount Pleasant on Saturday. Thus far, the Kilties are 2-0. Also, 1-2 Central Falls has an excellent chance to get to .500 should it take care of business against winless Scituate on Saturday.

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