WEST WARWICK – In some ways, the West Warwick squad that will serve as Cumberland’s final obstacle in the road to repeating as Division II champs looks awfully familiar.
Like the stout defense the 2012 Clippers rode en route to capturing the Super Bowl, the 2013 Wizards have proven successful in writing their own “shutting down the opposition” script. West Warwick will carry a nine-game winning streak into Sunday’s 3 p.m. title game at Cranston Stadium, an impressive stretch that has seen head coach Shane Lagor’s crew surrender 10.5 points per game.
Comparing teams from different years is always a tricky proposition. For starters, the ’12 Clippers were a big team upfront with multiple playmakers at the linebacker and secondary positions. They also gave up 41 points in seven regular-season league games and capped off what was a truly banner season with a 49-0 whitewashing of Woonsocket in the championship game.
This Wizard crew may not stack up size-wise with last year’s Super Bowl victors, but as Lagor noted, the importance of assignment football cannot be understated. Like the 2012 Clippers, the Wizards led Division II-B in regular season points allowed (86).
“We rely more on speed and getting guys to the football,” notes Lagor. “We have a few guys who can clean up some mistakes just by getting to the football.”
The key member of West Warwick’s cleanup crew is senior safety Jonathan Menard, who no doubt will be keeping an eye on Cumberland’s Joe Fine and Mike Stock when the pair heads down the field, be it with the ball in their grasp or not. The Wizards also boast two stout defensive ends – senior Connor Williamson on one edge and six-foot-two sophomore Trevor Lawton on the other – who figure to test the Clippers’ offensive line.
Menard missed the first few games of West Warwick’s season with an injury. His absence was clearly felt as the Wizards dropped their first three games, two against division rivals. West Warwick permitted an average of just over 23 points during that rough stretch.
Since Menard’s return, the Wizards have had very little to fret over regarding the defensive side of the ball. As one observer who has seen West Warwick on multiple occasions noted, the team’s turnaround largely stems from Menard’s ballhawking skills, which in turn have proven successful in limiting the opposition’s ability to spring big plays.
“We’ve done a better job of preparing the kids. We get a lot of looks during practice at what teams are going to give us and I think the kids feel comfortable with it,” noted Lagor. “They’ve also done a much better job communicating with each other, calling out different offenses and different strengths. There are going to be different adjustments against different teams that can change down to down based on the tendencies of who we’re playing, but for the most part we try to stay within our scheme.”
That scheme may have reached its nadir on Nov. 8 at Tucker Field. With the division title and the top seed in II-B on the line, West Warwick came away with seven takeways and a 14-0 victory over Cumberland.
“Any time a team ends your year the previous year, it’s a game the kids are going to be up for,” said Lagor, referencing the 48-14 beatdown his Wizards sustained at the hands of the Clippers in the 2012 semifinals. “They were very up and focused for that game and it showed all week during practice.”
Lagor joked that he’s been watching “Clipper television” since the Super Bowl matchup was cemented the weekend before Thanksgiving. The Clippers and Wizards have played three games since that early November meeting, and while pouring over the footage from those recent contests is important, Lagor said that re-examining what Cumberland did earlier in the season is just as crucial to the game-planning cause.
“We’re going to have to be quick and put more than one guy on the football. No one is going to be making solo tackles,” said Lagor.
Sunday will mark the fourth meeting in the past two campaigns for the Wizards and the Clippers.
“We’re definitely familiar with each other at this point,” said Lagor. “(Cumberland mentor) Chris Skurka is a friend of mine. We talk from time to time – except the weeks we’re playing each other.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03