NORTH SMITHFIELD – On paper, it appears unbeaten Mount Pleasant and once-beaten Exeter/West Greenwich are the favorites to meet in the Division IV Super Bowl.
On the field, coaches from both schools are not overlooking third-place North Smithfield, which lost close games on the road to the two teams ahead of them in the standings.
The Northmen dropped a 26-22 verdict to EWG back on Oct. 9 and then hung tough with Mount Pleasant on Nov. 6, falling by a 28-22 score to a Kilties team that outscored its opponents 291-103 during the regular season.
“Our coaching staff has been trying to keep a ‘one-game-at-a-time’ mentality with the players,” said head coach Wes Pennington, who monitors very closely the emotional edge his team is maintaining during a breakthrough season. The Northmen are the first team in school history to make the state playoffs. Only the 1982 team, which finished 8-2 on the season, ranks with his year’s 6-2 squad.
Pennington knows his team has a good chance to beat EWG in Tuesday night’s playoff semifinal matchup at the Scarlet Knights’ home field.
“The first time we played them, it was near the beginning of the season and EWG was our first big game,” the coach said. “We fell behind early. Then we came back on them and almost won the game. We had a touchdown called back late in the game that would have put us ahead.”
The narrow defeat gained a measure of respect for North Smithfield inside the division. More importantly, the Northmen began to believe in themselves. They won their next two league games, then played Mount Pleasant to a near-standstill. Once again, the Northmen fell behind early (21-0) and rallied to make the game close.
After closing the season with wins over Central Falls and Scituate, the Northmen take some momentum into the playoffs.
“We’re the only team in our division that won its Thanksgiving game,” Pennington said. “I think we’re playing as well as anyone. We go into the playoffs with confidence. But we also have to keep the kids grounded. We don’t want them reading their statistics and getting overconfident.”
The Northmen will face one of Rhode Island’s top high school players in running back Alfred Georgio, who scored three touchdowns against them in the earlier meeting between these two teams. Georgio led the state in scoring with a mind-boggling 37 touchdowns in 10 games.
“He’s a very patient runner who waits for his blockers,” Pennington said. “He’s the type of runner who you can stop 10 times and on the 11th carry he breaks a long one.”
The Scarlet Knights scored 281 points in eight league games but their defense yielded 165. By comparison, North Smithfield’s defense gave up a league-low 93 points. Among the leaders on defense are linebackers Dylan Kill, Chris Mancini and Ryan Masnyk.
Most of the key offensive players also play almost every down on defense. Peter Mancini is a safety. Blanchette works at end. Lussier plays cornerback. In Division IV, where depth is a luxury, almost every player is asked to play both ways. (North Smithfield only lists 26 players on its league roster.)
“Our plan is to try and control the ball on offense,” Pennington admitted. “We want to hold on to the football and not turn it over. If we can control the ball, that keeps our defense fresher.”
The North Smithfield offense is led by halfback Paris Correia, fullback Alex Blanchette and wide receiver Peter Mancini, who is a dangerous running threat on misdirection plays. Mancini broke off a 65-yard run on a reverse against Scituate last Wednesday night. Fellow wide receiver Nathan Lussier has made numerous big plays this year, while hooking up with quarterback Tim Kennett, a senior who runs the offense with a steady hand.
Game time Tuesday night is 6 p.m. The winner advances to Sunday’s 3 p.m. Division IV Super Bowl at Cranston Stadium against the Mount Pleasant-Hope semifinal winner.