Barry Field promises to be a packed house with plenty of energetic fans on Saturday afternoon when two-time Division II champion Woonsocket High entertains Tolman High in a Division II-B clash and a spirited rematch of last season’s Super Bowl.
And while the fans from both teams hope to see a battle that’s as thrilling and competitive as last year’s 6-0 regular-season victory by the Tigers and 28-14 Super Bowl triumph by the Novans, both head coaches, Tolman’s Dave Caito and Woonsocket’s Carnell Henderson, hope to see their respective teams play a lot better than they did a week ago.
For the Tigers, they were plagued by numerous fumbles in their intracity duel with St. Raphael Academy, and for the Villa Novans, mental miscues popped up several times during their game with Pilgrim.
Fortunately for the Tigers, they were able to scrape up a 22-14 victory, but the Villa Novans, who just a year ago, blasted the Patriots by a 40-0 score, found themselves on the losing end of an 18-7 verdict.
Both teams headed back to practice this week with their sights set not only on working on some of the things that went wrong last weekend, but also on preparing for what promises to be the game of the week in the Blackstone Valley.
“The kids are up for it,” said Caito. “It was nine months ago when they beat us (in the Super Bowl), but it feels like yesterday. And they beat us pretty good. We just didn’t come to play, and I said to the guys, ‘Don’t let that happen this Saturday.’ But they’re ready to play, and they’re excited about the game.”
You will be hard-pressed to find many regular-season series in the state that have been as close and competitive as this one. Four of the last six regular-season affairs between the Novans and Tigers have been decided by fewer than eight points, and the Tigers have won five of those last six.
“That’s where this rivalry comes from,” offered Henderson. “The games that we’ve played have been evenly matched since I’ve been here. We’ve played some good football games that were exciting games, and there were some big plays in those games, and you look forward to seeing that.”
But before both teams could look ahead to Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. showdown, they had to look back on the films from the previous weekend and correct some of the negatives that stuck out like a sore thumb.
“We definitely have to handle the ball better,” added Caito. “I told the guys, we can’t hurt ourselves and get penalties and turnovers like we did last week. You’re setting yourself up and letting people hang around, and we don’t want that.”
While the Tigers boast a veteran team that exceeded expectations last season with a roster loaded with juniors and sophomores, the Villa Novans have a younger club that graduated most of their top players from a year ago and is simply working hard this season to become a better team.
“We’re just trying to get back to the basics, and if you don’t have the basics, you can’t move on,” added Henderson. “I’m looking at this game as another opportunity to line up and get better, and get back to doing some of the things that we do well and define us. That‘s basically what we need to do.”
And while both teams strive to get better and take another step toward what they hope will be a return trip to the playoffs, they will be doing so under the watchful eyes of a large crowd.
“That’s what the kids like,” said Caito. “We played in front of a big crowd at the Saints game, and that’s what you want to play in front of. Woonsocket’s going to come with their contingent, and hopefully, we have a good following for our guys as well.”
There is a bit of bad news for the Novans, as star junior tailback Jalen Evans and sophomore backup D’Andre Thomas are expected to miss the game.
But the good news is that first-year player Kyle Mulvey, who ran for 125 yards and a touchdown in the loss to Pilgrim, will be ready to carry the workload.
“(Jalen and D’Andre) are day to day, and I don’t know when we‘ll see them again,” said Henderson. “But Kyle definitely ran well last week. That was his first varsity start, and that was good for his confidence. It helps ease the play-calling when you have someone give you a performance like Kyle did.”
Seven games will be on the docket tomorrow night, and only two of them will take place in the area. Lincoln entertains Rogers at 7 p.m. in a key Division III clash at Ferguson Field, and Central Falls hosts neighboring Hope at 6 p.m. in a Division IV contest at Macomber Stadium.
In Division I action, East Providence invades Cranston Stadium’s turf field for a 7 p.m. showdown with Division I foe Cranston West, and another game that involves a short drive (to Warwick) is St. Raphael’s 7 p.m. Division II-B duel with Pilgrim.
As for the other three games (all at 7 p.m.), Ponaganset buses to Bristol for a Division II-B meeting with Mount Hope, Cumberland treks down Route 95 to tiny Wood River Junction to face Chariho in a Division II-A tilt, and Shea faces a much longer trip to Westerly to face the Bulldogs in another Division II-A game.
Only one other local contest is on Saturday’s schedule, a Division III contest pitting Burrillville and East Greenwich at 10:30 p.m. at the Broncos’ Alumni Field.
North Smithfield High has a bye week.
Here’s a brief look at the other eight games of local importance:
East Providence at Cranston West
The Townies enter this game with a three-game win streak over the Falcons that saw E.P. cruise to victory in those games by a combined 93-41 score. E.P. will look to extend its winning ways over C.W., but it may not as easy as it has been the past few seasons.
The Falcons, who topped Barrington, 20-15, in its Division I opener a week ago, have an experience club with 15 returning starters, and while the offense can move the chains with the best of them, their front seven defensively has been awfully tough.
This will be a good test for the Townies (1-0) and their star fullback, Jalin Braxton, who in two games, has rushed for 510 yards and five touchdowns. First-year quarterback Brandon Peters (six rushing TDs) is quickly making a name for himself.
Rogers at Lincoln
The Lions played superbly last weekend in their 20-0 win on the road over East Greenwich, and tomorrow, they will need a repeat performance because they also face a tough test in Rogers, which stormed past Burrillville last week, 47-12, and features some of the division’s top offensive threats.
One of those players is running back Reeyon Watts, who ran for 188 yards in three TDs in that game. Quarterback Cody Platt is also a threat to pass or run.
If the Lions plan to beat the Vikes, they will need to minimize their mistakes and keep Rogers’ offense off the field by controlling the clock behind the play of quarterback Anthony Palombo and wide receiver Kyle Jackson.
Hope at Central Falls
The Warriors haven’t launched their Division IV schedule with back-to-back wins since their ’05 championship season, but they have a great opportunity to do so when they host the Blue Wave.
Hope pulled off an 18-10 upset victory over North Smithfield last week that was made possible by five turnovers by the Northmen and a solid game from first-year tailback Delonce Wright.
Like the Lions, the Warriors need to avoid turnovers and mistakes in order to win this ballgame. Big games from quarterback Brandon Canuto and the defense, which shut out Smithfield last weekend behind the play of Sension Jimiez and Nico Danielson, would also help.
St. Raphael at Pilgrim
The Patriots, who came into this year with just six Division II victories over the past four years, are on Cloud Nine right now after last week’s win over the two-time champion Novans, and they would dearly love to follow that up with a win at home over the Saints.
The Saints, meanwhile, sorely want to avoid an 0-2 start to their season, and will do their best to bring home a ‘W’ behind the play of quarterback Julien Diaz and running backs Charles Correa and Pat Miranda.
Last year, the Saints followed up an ugly loss to Tolman by beating Pilgrim the following week by 17 points. This year, the Saints turned into a splendid performance in a losing cause to Tolman, and if they play as well as or better than they did last week, they should take care of business.
Cumberland at Chariho
It’s been seven long seasons since the Clippers began league play with a 2-0 mark, but like Central Falls, they have a good shot to end their long drought tomorrow when they face a Chariho team that got shut out by Westerly last week.
This could be a long season for the Chargers, who graduated 17 starters, but still have two solid players in quarterback Jansen Williamson and running backs Colton Place and Jordan Cassidy.
The Clippers, who were impressive in their 14-7 win over Shea last Friday, received big games last week from a pair of sophomores, running back Ryan Gaumond and linebacker Joseph Fine. First-year junior quarterback Brendan Guerin also played very well.
Shea at Westerly
Westerly has always been a very tough place for teams from the Blackstone Valley to play, and the Raiders have a difficult task on their hands when they take on a talented Bulldogs squad.
Running back Spencer Read, who has ran for over 100 yards in each of the Bulldogs’ two victories this year, will try to put up big numbers again at the Raiders’ expense. And the ’Dogs’ defense, which has allowed just six points this season, will try to contain their visitors.
Mistakes, especially untimely ones late in the contest, may have cost Shea a victory last week over Cumberland. If they’re going to win tomorrow’s duel, mistakes are going to have to be kept to a bare minimum and running backs Travis Gray and Jamal Tucker need to have big games.
Ponaganset at Mount Hope
The Chieftains are getting plenty of attention these days for their strong play in the season’s opening weeks, and a victory on the road over Mount Hope would only boost their stock in the division.
The Chieftains, who blasted Scituate and Toll Gate in their first two games of the year by a combined 98-6 score, are getting the job done with a potent offense that’s guided by quarterback Chris Larabee (420 passing yards, five TDs) and a defense that has forced its share of turnovers.
Mount Hope is 0-2, but lost a pair of nailbiters to Division I Portsmouth (21-18) and division foe West Warwick (22-20). They will be determined to stop Ponaganset behind a veteran cast that’s sparked by one of the division’s top tailbacks in Aaron Booth.
East Greenwich at Burrillville
This is a big game for both teams, who are fielding young clubs and suffered lopsided losses in their division openers last weekend.
E.G. has some productive offensive players in tailback Carney Crawford and quarterback Andrew Miner, but the Avengers also have a lot of inexperience up front, and if the Broncos can pound the ball behind senior fullback Kevin Deschamps and play well defensively, they could pull out a win.