NORTH SMITHFIELD — There shouldn’t be any tricks left, no alarms and no surprises when Central Falls ventures to North Smithfield for a game that will decide one-half of the Super Bowl field.
The two Division IV schools, less than 13 miles apart, met up a mere 2 ½ weeks ago with the host Northmen grounding the high-octane Warriors by a 27-6 score. Tuesday’s 7 p.m. kickoff will see the sides converge on a much bigger stage, meeting in the semifinals at the Northmen Athletic Complex.
Given the relatively short period of time between meetings, the two head coaches, Mo Jackson of Central Falls and North Smithfield’s Wes Pennington, find themselves steeped in a quandary of knee-deep proportions, i.e. whether to radically overhaul the playbook, or stay true to what has enabled their respective teams to play a meaningful game on the final Tuesday in November.
“I do believe that what a team’s bread-and-butter is usually their bread-and-butter, meaning they’re going to go to that,” said Pennington, his 6-2 Northmen co-champs with Mount Pleasant and Smithfield, though able to emerge from the pack with the coveted No. 1 seed. “If we can figure out what is it they (the Warriors) like to do, chances are at some point they are doing to do that.
“Granted they may switch some things up and do some different things this time around, but I tend to think they’ll stay true to what got them here,” he continued. “As far as us, we are who we are at this point in the season and to go changing things up doesn’t make any sense to me.”
That said, it doesn’t hurt to draw on past experiences by reviewing the game film.
“I think you have to look at how you played the last time and look at some of the things they did to try and stop us,” Pennington said. “Quite naturally, when you see those things, you’re going to come up with different ideas to change some things.”
Jackson, whose C.F. squad earned the fourth and final seed based on a 5-3 finish that included a head-to-head win against an Exeter/West Greenwich team which finished with the same exact record, concurs with Pennington’s thought process of how to approach a team that is still fresh on the minds of coaches and players alike.
“Other than putting in a few new wrinkles, we’re not going to do anything different than when we prepared the first time,” Jackson said. “Hopefully we’ll come with a lot more intensity than we did that last time.”
To Jackson, a lack of mental toughness represents why C.F., in the playoffs for the first time since 2007, fell to N.S. in the fashion in which they did earlier this month. Two turnovers — one coming on the Warriors’ first possession after receiving the opening kickoff — came back to bite them hard in the form of a 14-0 halftime deficit.
“For whatever reason, whatever went wrong that night went wrong for us,” said Jackson looking back at a game that ruined any chance Central Falls had in hosting a semifinal-round game rather than hitting the road. “It was very disappointing. We went into that game on a high note and were playing good ball. The players know we didn’t play our best ball, nowhere near it.”
It goes without saying that the Warriors are licking their chops at the chance to avenge their loss to the Northmen and play in the school’s first Super Bowl since winning it all in 2005. In order to book reservations for next Sunday’s title game at Cranston Stadium, Central Falls must find a way to slow down 1,000-yard rusher Paris Correia, who torched the Warriors for 143 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
Correia may get top billing, yet he’s far from the only threat in the Northmen’s ground-and-pound attack. Senior Chris Mancini and burly sophomore Peter Keenan are also running threats as is quarterback Daniel Jordan, whose aerial abilities serve as the perfect compliment to the rushing style that has come to define North Smithfield — one designed to keep opponents guessing.
“They run more than they throw, but they do a lot of misdirection and gimmick plays,” are what Jackson and the Warriors will be on the lookout for.
Just because North Smithfield, a playoff participant for the second straight year, handled Central Falls in lopsided fashion in the first go-around doesn’t mean the Northmen are expecting Tuesday’s rematch to resemble a cakewalk. Pennington knows that the Warriors possess arguably the division’s most balanced offensive attack. Quarterback Brandon Canuto has passed for 1,469 yards and 18 touchdowns with Joel Peralta (26 receptions for 502 yards) serving as the signal caller’s primary target.
Like the Northmen, the Warriors also boast a 1,000 rusher in Josh Brandon, a senior who eclipsed the 100-yard mark seven times on his way to churning out 1,310 yards and 11 scores.
“You’ve just got to play solid defense against these guys and not try to guess at what they’re doing,” noted Pennington. “We definitely have to be disciplined on defense and not run around chasing players.”
Both coaches describe the energy surrounding their respective teams as pretty vibrant heading into Tuesday’s all-on-the-line match.
“We feel pretty excited about our chances,” Pennington said, “but we’re going in expecting a street fight.”
Added Jackson, “We’re in high spirits because we have a lot of things to play for.”
The other Division IV semifinal pits Smithfield against Mount Pleasant with the Kilties enjoying home-field advantage.