Coaches can’t look past their next opponent. Sports writers shouldn’t, either. But sometimes the temptation to look down the road is just too enticing.
When it comes to local high school football, what’s next is a two-day slate of Thanksgiving contests, which are “rivalry” games with not much at stake … except for East Providence’s game against La Salle on Thanksgiving morning. E.P. is already in the Division I playoff field. La Salle needs a win to gain the fourth and final playoff berth over Barrington.
If E.P. wins this game, it finishes in third place with a 6-2 league record. The Townies would visit second seed Portsmouth, which beat E.P. during the regular season, in the semifinals. Unbeaten Hendricken (8-0) would get either Barrington (5-3) or La Salle (4-3 at the moment). La Salle got buried by Cranston East, 42-14, last week. You can’t say the Rams are finishing strong.
Otherwise, the local Thanksgiving games are for bragging rights, with underdogs trying to salvage their seasons, and favorites either building for the playoffs, or needing a win to avoid a distasteful season-ending loss.
One of the more interesting “meaningless” games finds Ponaganset (2-6 in Division II-B) visiting Burrillville (4-4 in D-III) on Thanksgiving morning. Both of these teams can put some points on the scoreboard with well-balanced offenses.
Burrillville, which finished one game out of the playoffs, lost four league games by a total of 11 points. Ponaganset, last year’s D-III Super Bowl champion, is a Division II team that should be favored over the injury-depleted Broncos, who hope to have halfback Brendan Darigan back for the game. Darigan missed the last two games with a sprained ankle and might have been the difference in a 28-26 loss to Middletown that knocked Burrillville out of the playoff picture last week.
If the weather is good, each team is capable of throwing the ball effectively. Ponaganset has several quality players, beginning with Ethan Walsh, a wide receiver/defensive back/placekicker. Walsh is one of the best kickers in the state. Ponaganset quarterback Chris Larrabee is a lot of fun to watch. Sophomore tailback Scott Peterson will be a team mainstay for the next two seasons.
The Shea-Tolman game next Wednesday night finds the 4-4 Raiders hoping to catch the 7-0 Tigers looking ahead to their Nov. 30 playoff game against St. Raphael Academy. Both head coaches, Dino Campopiano and Dave Caito, probably laugh at people who think this is going to happen. They know the rivalry among their players supersedes any future distractions.
Still, it’s a tough call for Caito. How long does he play his starters in the second half? My guess is they go all the way if the game is close. We’re talking teenagers here, healthy kids trying to protect an unbeaten season in Division II. Losing to Shea and taking that mental image into the playoffs six days later is not the best preparation for the postseason.
Cumberland, 4-4 in Division II, hosts a 6-1 Woonsocket team that will not overlook the Clippers on Thanksgiving morning. Coach Carnell Henderson and his staff won’t let that happen.
"We'll be taking it one game at a time, just like we always do," Henderson said earlier this week. "The team will get ready for Cumberland. We want to give them the respect they deserve. This game is just another chance for us to get better as a team."
Woonsocket returns to action the following Tuesday in the playoff semifinals against a 5-2 Chariho team that earned the top seed in Division II-A. Henderson said his coaching staff is already looking at film of the Chargers but won’t be doing any playoff preparation in practice until after the Thanksgiving game is over.
And that makes perfect sense.
Once the holiday games are over, we can all focus on the next round of playoffs. The Nov. 30 schedule begins with Lincoln (5-3) against Moses Brown (6-2) in a Division III contest matching the third and second seeds.
In Division IV, North Smithfield (5-2 heading into its Thanksgiving Eve match with 1-6 Scituate), will draw once-beaten Exeter/West Greenwich in the semifinals. Mount Pleasant won D-IV with an 8-0 mark. The Northmen hung close to EWG in their regular season game, losing 26-22 on the Scarlet Knights’ home field. That will be the location for this game, too.
As mentioned earlier, East Providence will visit Portsmouth in a Division I semifinal. The Patriots won the regular season game at their field, 24-14, back on Oct. 2. Call this one a toss-up.
And then there is Division II, where Woonsocket visits Chariho and Tolman hosts St. Raphael Academy. You’ve got to make the Novans and Tigers solid favorites. This doesn’t mean they’re going to win. There’s a lot to be said for the underdog mentality in the postseason.
Even with the mental edge, SRA needs to play a perfect game to beat Tolman. The Saints’ defense gave up 50 points against Johnston. They couldn’t stop Tolman’s rushing game in September. How are they going to do it in late November?
But that’s a question for another day. No sense looking too far ahead, because if we do that, then we have to talk about what a terrific matchup Woonsocket and Tolman would be in the Division II Super Bowl on Sunday, Dec. 5, at Cranston Stadium.
No, we can’t look that far ahead. Just keep the date open on your calendar. The D-II Super Bowl kickoff is at noon, regardless of who is playing.