WOONSOCKET — It has been said more than a few times that success in high school sports comes in cycles. Talented players sometimes come in cohesive groups of classmates who win games from middle school on up through high school. And when they graduate, sometimes the cupboard is empty.
That could be the story of Woonsocket High’s football program, which won the last two Division II Super Bowls before falling back to earth this season, finishing 1-6 in league action.
“I have played on championship teams and on losing teams, and I’ve coached them, too,” Woonsocket coach Carnell Henderson was saying earlier this week. “There is something you can learn from every season. Every game is a learning opportunity.”
The Villa Novans get their last chance to learn something about themselves on Thanksgiving morning when they host Cumberland in a 10:30 a.m. kickoff at Barry Field. The learning curve will be stiff because Cumberland has won its last six games, including a quarterfinal round playoff conquest of Tolman on Nov. 12.
“Woonsocket and Cumberland have a great football rivalry,” Cumberland coach Chris Skurka said after noting that the Villa Novans are riding a four-game winning streak in the series. “Woonsocket had playoff games on their schedule the last two or three years when they played us but they still played to win. I respect the Thanksgiving Day game enough to know that this is about winning. You can’t lay back and rest for the playoffs. We want to win this game and keep up our winning momentum.”
Cumberland, a young team, opened with three losses in its first four games before taking off on its winning streak, a groove that has been highlighted by an Oct. 28 victory over then unbeaten Central, and the comeback win over Tolman.
“This is a real young football team,” Skurka said. “We have a lot of sophomores and juniors on the roster. I think we got better as the younger kids got more playing time. And then we had great senior leadership from Brian Buxton and Mitchell Gaboury.
“We just hung in with our young guys,” Skurka said. “I think our overtime victory over Johnston was crucial for us, a turning point, and then when we beat Central, the kids really began to believe in themselves.”
It helps when the defense plays with the kind of intensity that held Tolman 20 points below its scoring average in the playoff game. Skurka and his staff drew up a game plan featuring multiple blitzes that resulted in key tackles for losses that slowed down the high-powered Tigers.
Cumberland has to be careful against Woonsocket, which is coming off a 14-9 victory over Warwick Veterans in the D-II consolation round.
“At the end of the day, our goal is to win games and championships,” Henderson said, “but the way the kids have continued to pull together and support the coaching staff has made this a positive experience for all of us. We want to go out and play Cumberland hard. Any time you have kids giving 110 percent, it’s a positive thing.”