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Much riding on Cumberland-West Warwick football clash

November 7, 2013

Cumberland head coach Chris Skurka knows exactly what’s at stake when the Clippers host West Warwick in a key Division II-B contest Friday night at Tucker Field. If the Wizards defeat the Clippers, it would set the wheels in motion for an unprecedented five-way tie for first place. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN

CUMBERLAND – Before looking ahead to what could result in an unusual five-way tie for first place in the Division II-B ranks once the regular season ends this weekend, it’s time to take a history lesson and look back to the last (and only other) time this happened in the state.

In 2008, Tolman, Woonsocket, West Warwick, Warwick Vets, and Westerly found themselves tied for first place in the Division II-A standings with 5-2 records and scratching their heads over which were going to be the four that would play in the following weekend’s opening round of the playoffs.

According to Section 5, Chapter A of the football bylaws of the RIIL (Rhode Island Interscholastic League), the pool records of the five teams were to be the first tiebreaker. But the five teams each finished with 2-2 marks, posting their other three wins against the other non-playoff teams.

That brought the next tiebreaker – quality points. Each team earned a quality point based on the number of wins of the division opponents they defeated. Again, each school ended up with the same number (13), and again, another tiebreaker was needed.

And it was that next tiebreaker that decided everything – the total defensive points allowed in the contests between the five teams involved. If one team had given up the fewest points, then that team would win the tiebreaker and earn the division’s top seed. That meant West Warwick, which gave up only 70 points in its four games, was the lucky recipient.

As for the other four teams, they had to revert back to the first tiebreaker and recalculate their pool play records. That meant Tolman and Westerly, with 2-1 pool play records, were the next two seeds.

Woonsocket and Vets were next with 1-2 marks, but because the Hurricanes topped the Villa Novans, 26-7, they had the head-to-head tiebreaker and the fourth and final seed, thus leaving Woonsocket on the outside looking in.

Now let’s return to the present and view the state of affairs in Division II-B. Cumberland currently sits in first place with a 5-1 mark, while St. Raphael, Rogers, North Kingstown, and West Warwick are tied for second place with 4-2 records.

The Clippers will have their hands full tonight at 7 at Tucker Field when the defending champions host the Wizards, who have won their last four games (five if you count their non-league win three weekends ago against Warwick Vets), but the Saints, Vikings, and Skippers will close out their schedules by facing the bottom three teams in the league, Pilgrim, Central, and Shea.

If Cumberland loses to West Warwick, and SRA, Rogers, N.K., as expected, take care of business in their games, that means a five-way tie for first place and flashbacks of 2008.

And how does that break out? Like 2008, you can throw out the pool records – each team finished 2-2 – as well as the quality points (13). That leaves the total defensive points allowed between the five schools, and that’s where the Clippers’ showdown with the Wizards comes into play.

If West Warwick defeats the Clippers and allows them to score fewer than 20 points, then the Wizards are the top seed. To date, the Wizards have allowed just 55 points, while Rogers and Cumberland have the second-most with 75. Since the Clippers obviously can’t lose a game and give up zero points in the process, they would not factor in the scenario.

As for the pool records to determine the last four seeds, the Clippers and the Vikings would have 2-1 records, with Cumberland earning the second seed for beating Rogers earlier in the season. SRA and N.K. would be next at 1-2, and because the Saints topped the Skippers, they would be the final seed and the Skippers would be out of the picture.

However, if West Warwick wins tonight and surrenders more than 20 points to the Clippers, then things get a bit odd. Rogers (and its 75 points allowed) lands the top seed. SRA and N.K. claim the next two (with 2-1 pool records, and the Saints earning the second seed for defeating the Skippers), and West Warwick earns the final seed for its head-to-head win over Cumberland.

That obviously means that the Clippers are out, sharing the same cruel fate that their Thanksgiving rivals endured five years ago – a 5-2 division record and no postseason berth to show for their fine season.

“I made my kids aware of the fact that there is a formula that we follow and so on,” said Cumberland head coach Chris Skurka. “I told them, ‘If we lose, there is a possibility of us not being in the playoffs. But let’s not worry about that. Let’s just go out, play the game, and take care of our own business, and if we do that, it’s not going to be a problem.’”

The total defensive points allowed tiebreaker raises a very interesting point. What if the Clippers are losing to the Hurricanes? What if they are down by a 26-18 score in the last two minutes with the ball inside the Hurricanes’ 40? Would they roll the dice and play for the win, or play it safe, try not to score and lose the game, and settle for the second seed?

“I can’t answer that right now,” said Skurka.

Of course, the Clippers could make life easier for themselves and simply win the game, thus eliminating the Wizards from the playoff hunt. Rogers would then be the No. 2 seed for its wins over SRA and N.K., and the Saints would lock up the third seed for topping the Skippers.

If the Wizards beat the Clippers, but the Vikings, Saints, or Skippers endure an upset loss, then the Clippers would be in the playoffs and the remaining four teams would be seeded according to the RIIL bylaws, but the Clippers, to a man, would rather control their own destiny and beat a very good team to punch their ticket to the tournament.

“This is a playoff game for us,” said Skurka. “(West Warwick) is a very good team. At the beginning of the year, they were one of the favorites to win the division. They have been playing very well as of late, and they’re the hottest team in the division. This is going to be a very good game.”

***

The other three Division II-B games take place tonight at 7 p.m., with Shea visiting N.K., St. Raphael heading to Warwick to battle Pilgrim, and Central taking on Rogers at Newport’s historic Toppa Field.

The Saints have the easiest game of the bunch, encountering a woeful Patriot team that has been outscored 271-46 in its six league losses (including 117-0 in back-to-back setbacks to the Clippers and Vikings), lost its last 14 league games, and dealing with a lack of personnel. Two weekends ago against the Clippers, the Patriots only dressed 21 players.

If there’s one upset that could occur in these three contests, it could come in the Raiders’ game with the Skippers. Even though the Raiders are 2-4, they have been down to the wire in every game but a 28-7 defeat to the Wizards. Their other three losses have come by a total of 16 points.

***

Two other Blackstone Valley teams also remain alive in their respective bids for a playoff berth and will be in action this weekend. North Smithfield hosts Smithfield in a Division IV matchup tonight at 6 p.m., while in Division III, Burrillville faces Moses Brown tomorrow at 10:30 a.m.

With unbeaten Exeter/West Greenwich and North Providence already locked into two of the four Division IV tournament spots, that means N.S. (2-2) and Smithfield (3-2), along with Hope (3-3) and Scituate (2-2), are vying for the last two berths.

The Northmen, who haven’t played a league contest since Oct. 19 and have enjoyed two byes in the last four weeks, could insert a dent in the Sentinels’ playoff hopes with a win tonight. Smithfield’s final game is on Thanksgiving against N.P.

A key to the Northmen’s success will be the play of their defense. Smithfield has had its problems scoring points this year – its 72 points are the second-lowest in the division, and 28 of them came in last weekend’s rout of winless Providence Country Day/Wheeler/Juanita Sanchez.

Burrillville, meanwhile, is 3-3 and in a three-way tie for fifth place with East Greenwich and Narragansett, and Moses Brown is 6-1 and trailing unbeaten Mount Pleasant in the standings.

Back-to-back wins over Tiverton and Lincoln have kept the Broncos in the playoff picture, and an impressive win over the Quakers would be just what the doctor ordered. A loss to the Quakers would still mathematically keep the Broncos’ playoff hopes alive, but on life support.

Moses Brown comes into the game with four straight wins and arguably the division’s best defense. They have allowed just 41 points in league play.

***

As for the rest of the weekend’s schedule, Woonsocket, which is a perfect 6-0 in Division II-A action and assured of a top seed in the upcoming playoffs, will visit Coventry (one of three 3-3 teams tied for fourth place) tonight at 7 p.m. and look to snuff out their playoff hopes.

Also tonight at 7, winless Tolman will take on one-win South Kingstown in a Division I affair at the Curtis Corner Middle School, and Central Falls will take a few steps over the Connecticut line to face Plainfield High in a non-league meeting.

In a Division III game on Saturday at noon, Lincoln (1-6) will face Classical (4-2) at the Morro Athletic Complex.

Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24

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