LINCOLN — Dave Waycott is currently bouncing around the same dilemma 14 other playoff-bound head coaches around the state are pondering as they prepare for their respective Thanksgiving matchups.
“Do you play (your players) to keep them sharp or rest them to avoid getting hurt?” the Lincoln head coach asked. “I’ve been going back and forth with this. I haven’t really decided what we’re going to do when we play them.”
The “them” Waycott is referring to is the Lions’ new Thanksgiving Eve rival — neighboring Central Falls. The Warriors mark the fourth holiday opponent in the Lions’ history, following Shea (1968-2001), North Smithfield (2002-04), and Johnston (2005-09).
“I like it because we’re so close,” noted Waycott, whose Lions will host the first game on Thanksgiving Eve at 7 p.m. “It’s a Blackstone Valley rivalry that we haven’t seen in a while. I remember when I played in the days (the rivalry) was Lincoln-Shea and everyone in the town came out for the game because they knew each other. That’s what I’m hoping for with this rivalry.”
Waycott also hopes his Lions, who are heavy favorites to beat the Warriors, can capture the series opener, but at the same, come away from it a healthy bunch as they set their sights on their Division III semifinal-round duel the following Tuesday at 5 p.m. with the Moses Brown School.
“It’s probably going to be a situation that once we’re playing, we’ll see how it goes,” admitted Waycott, whose crew will take on the Quakers at Brown University’s Berylson Field, the practice field for the Bears’ football team.
This season has been a very interesting one for the Lions, who reached the Division II playoffs a year ago, but still found themselves dropping down to the Division III ranks when the RIIL realigned the four divisions.
Most folks tabbed the Lions as one of the teams to beat in the division and a lock to reach the playoffs, but Lincoln didn’t secure a postseason berth until two weeks ago when the Lions topped playoff-bound Middletown High and Burrillville was upset by two-win Tiverton.
That victory over the Islanders and a 20-14 triumph earlier in the year over Moses Brown were the highlights of the season, but there also a couple of lowlights, such as a surprising 33-14 rout by undefeated Rogers and a 23-7 upset loss to Narragansett.
“I told the guys just a couple of weeks ago, ‘Every time we play a game, it seems like we have two opponents, the team we’re playing and ourselves,’ ” said Waycott. “We had games where we were clicking on all cylinders and we had some where we were doing the opposite.”
If the Lions, who at 5-3, will be the third seed in the playoffs, plan to claim the two postseason games they need to win their first Division III title since 2002, they will need to play four quarters of football, something they didn’t do in their defeats to Rogers, Narragansett, and Burrillville, and obviously not beat themselves with mistakes.
They are also going to need some outstanding play and leadership from their senior class, which may not be one of the Lions’ biggest in recent years, but is certainly one of their most talented.
“It’s a great group of boys,” added Waycott. “A lot of them I’ve known since they were six in the (town’s) youth league. We’ve had a lot of senior classes that had mostly linemen, but this is probably one of the strongest skilled-set (senior) classes that we’ve had in a while.”
High school football enthusiasts across the state know about standout senior quarterback Ryan O’Dell, who was a 1,000-yard passer for the third straight season and the Lions’ leading rusher with more than 700 yards, but he’s not the only 12th grader who has shined for the Lions.
“We’ve had plenty,” admitted Waycott. “David Gibbs, who played tight end, came out as a guard this year and did phenomenal for us. Brendan Dyer and Howie Bradley also played well. Max Lee, Jacob Lisi, Brendan Reddington was a first-year senior. I could name a lot.”