WOONSOCKET — With the Division II Super Bowl looming a week from Sunday, Cumberland High veteran mentor Chris Skurka took a somewhat conservative approach to the annual Thanksgiving morning clash with Woonsocket on chilly, gusty Thursday.
In an effort not to “break” any key spokes in his wheel, he chose not to start senior tailback Mike Stock; he wanted him to get some rest after he rushed for four touchdowns and 145 yards (with one catch for another paydirt) in his Clippers' 49-35 semifinal triumph over St. Raphael last Friday night.
With Stock's No. 20 jersey clearly absent from the team sideline, though, classmate Kyle Masse filled in rather nicely. He ended up hustling for 105 yards and two scores on 28 handles, and that proved to be one of many reasons Cumberland posted a more-than-satisfying – and historic – 21-14 victory over the Villa Novans in this rivalry's 50th meeting at Barry Field.
“Our goal was to run the football; that's our thing,” Skurka stated after Woonsocket Athletic Director and grid assistant George Nasuti awarded the annual Rivalry trophy to Skurka and his captains, among them seniors Chris Hayes, Joe Fine and Josh Pizzarelli.
“We didn't play Mike, as he had a tremendous game against the Saints: Thirty rushes for four touchdowns,” he added. “This was a rivalry game for sure, but we still have another game to play.
“As for Masse, he's a senior, and it was great to see him flourish in this game. He's a program kind of kid; he'll do anything you ask of him, and I'm proud of the way he battled. He's played fullback, tailback, flanker and quarterback for us this season, so there's not much he hasn't done to help us win.
“He's just a quality, quality kid.”
The triumph should give Cumberland (now 9-3 overall) even more confidence for the upcoming Bowl tilt against West Warwick at Cranston Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 8 (3 p.m.)
As for Woonsocket, it closed its campaign at 7-4; like the Clippers, it too had a crucial absence in senior tailback Will Andino, who for some reason hadn't appeared to practice since its semifinal loss to St. Raphael.
When asked why, disappointed head coach Carnell Henderson merely said, “I don't know. He'd have to answer that question for you.”
In the end, the Villa Novans mounted a furious fourth-quarter comeback, but it fell just shy. Here's why: They fumbled four times, losing one, while junior signal caller Miguel Raymond completed just eight of 21 aerials for 86 yards and a touchdown, though was picked off twice.
CHS senior Tyler Calabro manufactured a 3-for-7 outing, good for 30 yards. Fact is, he didn't have to throw much, not after registering 21 yards on five keepers and Fine mustering 12 on five more.
The contest started with neither team moving the pigskin with aplomb in the initial quarter, but that changed early in the second. The Clippers rolled 45 yards on nine plays to the Novans' 10, but Calabro's fourth-and-goal toss to Hayes in the left flat fell incomplete.
On the next play, though, junior back Jaston Robinson fumbled and Hayes recovered at the Woonsocket 4. Three snaps later, Masse pounded two yards off left tackle, and Calabro booted the PAT to give the Clippers the 7-0 lead. That came with 4:11 left before intermission.
Thanks to senior Victor Hunt's 20-yard return of the ensuing kickoff, the Novans were in business at the Cumberland 45, but Raymond's aerial in the left flat was intercepted by junior corner Jared Talbert.
After a pick return of 27 yards, the Clippers needed only five snaps to score, Masse grabbing the honor after taking a rush off left tackle 28 yards to the end zone.
Again, Calabro drove home the conversion kick, and the visitors extended their advantage to 14-0.
It looked as if Cumberland would push the lead to at least 20-0 on its initial possession of the third period; it moved from its own 13 to the Woonsocket 41, but later was forced to punt. Following a quick three-and-out by the Novans, junior Nick Fernandes kicked the ball back to the Clippers.
They made the most of that one, as junior Brandon Caouette raced 45 yards down the left sideline to paydirt. Calabro punched through the uprights his third point-after and – with 2:19 left in the third – CHS led 21-0.
Woonsocket earned only its second first down of the game on its following possession and did nothing with it, but its defense stiffened. Following Masse's 27-yard punt, one that allowed the Novans to take over at the CHS 44, they maneuvered 36 yards on 10 plays before Robinson bulled his way in from the 8.
Raymond's two-point conversion pass to fellow junior Josh Trinidad sliced the deficit to 21-8.
With 2:44 remaining in regulation, and after an uneventful drive, Fine intercepted Raymond once more, this time at midfield. The defense, though, sizzled, stopping Calabro and Co. on a fourth-and-12.
The Novans did throw a incomplete pass, but – on Raymond's next one – officials whistled Cumberland for roughing the passer. A few ticks later, with 1:11 on the clock, Raymond found Hunt open down the left sideline, and that went for a 34-yard bomb.
(Hunt, by the way, made three catches for a game-high 46 yards, while Trinidad added a pair for 28).
Robinson (16 touches, 22 yards) attempted the two-pointer, though Hayes and senior Brandon Roy squelched it.
Fernandes tried another squib kick in an attempt to steal the ball back, but a Clipper pounced on it, and Skurka's crew ran out the clock.
“We wanted to control the tempo from the outset by running the football, but they did a good job of taking that away; they were really aggressive at the line, and we had problems blocking them,” Henderson stated of men such as Pizzarelli, Fine, Hayes, Nick Giorgio and Rich Goodreau. “We made a few things happen in the second half with our passing game, which helped us break a few more runs.
“It's tough to play football coming from behind, especially against a team that's so fundamentally sound and well coached,” he added. We fumbled at our own 10 to give them possession, and they pushed it in, then a punt return goes for a touchdown. You have to prevent those kinds of things if you want to win.”
When asked what he told his bunch after the defeat, Henderson shrugged, “I just said that I appreciate the opportunity to coach them. Some of the guys have been with me for all four years. I'm not the easiest coach to play for, but they gave me everything they had. It was too little, too late, but I'm so proud of the way they fought in this one.”
Offered Skurka: “That punt return gave us the cushion we needed. More importantly, we were able to move kids in and out (of the contest) in order to keep them healthy. We have certain guys who we couldn't afford to get hurt, so we put others in to give them a chance, and also to keep some of the starters safe (from injury).
“Winning on this day, the 50th anniversary of when this all started, it's great,” he added. “I'll never for get it. Coach Henderson said it earlier in the week; we've both played in this game (he for the Novans, Skurka for the Clippers, in the late 1980s and early '90s), so we know how important it is.
“Carnell has a couple (of wins) on me, and now we've won three straight (on the holiday), four if you include (the 2012) championship game. This feels fantastic, but our season isn't over yet.”