NORTH SMITHFIELD — The playoffs for Division IV begin Nov. 29 with a pair of semifinal contests.
Right now, one of the hottest team heading into the postseason just be North Smithfield.
After falling to Smithfield back on Sept. 30, the Northmen have won five straight games, mostly against the upper-echelon of divisional squads.
En route to its current 5-2 mark, one that ties the local gridders with the Sentinels for second place in the league, N.S. has knocked off two undefeated teams (Exeter/West Greenwich, Mount Pleasant) and two others with winning records (Smithfield, Central Falls).
North Smithfield began its recent streak by dethroning previously-unbeaten Exeter/West Greenwich, 19-12, at the Northmen Athletic Complex, a place it owns a 4-0 record. The Scarlet Knights' game was a rematch of last year's semifinals where N.S. was ousted by its rival in double overtime.
“We lost to them twice last year,” N.S. head coach Wes Pennington said. “That was kind of what ignited the flame. I think the kids really got up for that. The first few weeks we were sputtering along. We came home and the guys got excited, played a good football game and really woke up a sleeping giant.”
“We always kind of figured if we played the way we can play, we could play with any team,” he continued. “It wasn't surprising.”
Pennington admits the Smithfield game, which started his squad off with an 0-2 league mark, did not showcase his team's capabilities on the field. The Northmen were overpowered by the Sentinels, falling by a score of 28-7.
“Since the loss to Smithfield the guys seemed to pick it up and started playing our style of football,” Pennington said. “It's a totally different team now than the one that lost to Smithfield. I think in the Smithfield game, we were still trying to find ourselves. Since then, we have opened up our game plan a little bit.
“When we first played Smithfield, we just had an I-offense. We didn't have lot of offense. We were just limited to one particular offense. Now we have the full package and taking advantage of it.”
The numbers have proven that statement right. In its last five games, North Smithfield has outscored its opponents by a 122-57 margin. In addition to their big win over E/WG, the Northmen scored another upset, handing divisional-leader Mount Pleasant (6-2) its first loss of the season on Nov. 4 with a 14-12 win. They then cruised past another quality team in Central Falls (5-3) this past Friday with a dominating 27-6 victory.
“I just think the guys started believing in themselves,” Pennington said. “We came together as a football team. Our motto is one body, one heart. They are really believing that.”
North Smithfield returns 23 players that were on last year's team, including some key individuals that have really made an impact this fall. Running back Paris Correia has been nearly unstoppable once he gets the ball. The speedy junior went over the 1,000-yard mark in the win over C.F. with 143 yards on just 18 handles.
“In my opinion, he's one of the best running backs in the state,” Pennington said. “He's definitely the best in our division.”
Senior captain and fullback, Chris Mancini, has also gotten things done as well as senior quarterback and cornerback Dan Jordan.
“He has done a really good job out there,” said Pennington, about Jordan. “At cornerback, I think he leads the league in interceptions. He has at least one in every game.”
The N.S. coach also recognized the efforts of sophomore Peter Keenan.
“He plays slot for us and defensive end,” he said. “He has really been a pleasant surprise.”
North Smithfield will conclude the regular season on Thanksgiving when it travels to winless Scituate. If the Northmen defeat the Spartans and Smithfield can take down North Providence in its Turkey Day contest, there will be three teams tied at 6-2. Mount Pleasant has already finished its league season and plays Classical in a non-leaguer on the holiday.
According to Pennington, North Smithfield has a chance to earn the No. 1 seed.
“I am not 100 percent sure but I think it's quality points (against opponents),” he said. “If it's quality points, we'd be looking good.”
The North Smithfield coach still thinks his team has not played its best football yet and feels last year's semifinal loss has been a motivating factor for his squad of mostly juniors and seniors.
“The kids have really grown from that game,” Pennington said. “The kids really are hungry.”