For the three area football squads fortunate enough to land a spot on the “Tuesday Night Lights” dance card, it was back to work on Friday in preparation for their respective semifinal-round contests.
It goes without saying that the limited window between the Thanksgiving contests and a game filled with Super Bowl aspirations represents a busy stretch where mental preparation supersedes the physical aspect.
“No rest for the weary,” stated Cumberland head coach Chris Skurka, echoing a sentiment that’s no doubt shared by those teams that are still in a position to compete for the grand prize.
Echoed North Smithfield head man Wes Pennington, “It’s more mental at this point in the season because you should be ready to go by now.”
Locally, next Tuesday’s slate includes two Division II clashes with Central at Woonsocket and West Warwick visiting Cumberland while in Division IV, North Smithfield travels to Mount Pleasant. All games have a 6 p.m. kickoff.
In a demanding sport that straddles the line between recovery from one game and gearing up for the next one on the schedule, the short turnaround is something the R.I. Interscholastic League takes into account. Article 19, Section 5, Paragraph C under the RIIL’s football playoff guidelines decrees that on the day after Thanksgiving, playoff teams can practice with helmets only. Wearing pads and engaging in contact are prohibited.
The exact same format comes into play the following day after the semifinals.
“Obviously you have got to worry about them physically a little bit,” stated Skurka, “but you don’t have to tee it up every day and whack each other around.”
Before his Villa Novans could even think about prepping for the Knights, head coach Carnell Henderson took the players to the movies on Friday. No popcorn or soft drinks were served, as the screening was Thursday’s 32-0 bludgeoning at the hands of Cumberland.
“We have to learn from our mistakes, so this one just doesn’t go away,” Henderson stressed. “We need to watch the film.”
The lop-sided outcome yielded a new challenge for Henderson and his staff. During Woonsocket’s Super Bowl seasons in 2009 and 2010, the Villa Novans had a good taste in their mouths after winning their holiday tune-ups against Cumberland.
“Mentally we have to get them ready to play another game,” was the caution flag thrown by Henderson. “As coaches, we’ve got to help them let (the Turkey Day massacre) go and look at the bigger picture. The kids have to know that they have another opportunity, but in order to get that next opportunity, we need to take care of Central. If that’s not motivation in itself, I don’t know what is.”
While Woonsocket gets set for an opponent it did not cross paths with during the regular season, the coaches at Cumberland and North Smithfield are in the position where hours have already been devoted to Tuesday night’s opponent.
The Clippers and Wizards met on Nov. 3 in West Warwick. That game is remembered being as one that saw Cumberland break a 6-all halftime affair with three scores in the third quarter en route to a 33-20 final.
“You’ve lined up once against this opponent, meaning there’s not a lot of mystery there,” said Skurka. “(West Warwick) could be saving something for us, but we’ll analyze the film and make our adjustments. That’s what football is all about.”
Pennington’s Northmen fell to the defending champion Kilties, 20-10, back on Oct. 6. The loss provided the springboard to make a switch at quarterback, with junior Mike Cicerone replacing senior incumbent Dan Jordan. The move allowed North Smithfield to feature a pure passer under center in addition to creating more downfield opportunities for the speedy Jordan.
“We’ve played (Mount Pleasant) before, so we have an idea of who they are,” said Pennington. “Now we’re looking at a real game as opposed to a league game, so the emotions and things of that nature play a different role.”
Purists can cringe all they want that teams shouldn’t play on Thanksgiving Eve, yet those same folks probably don’t understand the coach’s rationale in going the “night before” route. Those who competed on Wednesday had a full day to recover and enjoy the holiday with their families. When dealing with a swift turnaround, the additional 24 hours is a godsend.
All told, a total of seven games took place Wednesday night, with Scituate at North Smithfield serving as one of them.
“When you play that Thursday game, you have to come out on Friday and be ready to go even though your body is still recovering from the game you played the day before,” explained Pennington. “In our case, playing (Wednesday) gives us a whole day of rest before getting on the field again. That’s huge, especially with guys who might be a little banged up. Now they have a little extra time to heal.”
Players and coaches will continue fine-tuning straight through the weekend, understanding that time together is a most valuable commodity.
“We had some time off (following Cumberland’s 41-6 quarterfinal throttling against Westerly on Nov. 9) with the expectation of going straight through,” said Skurka.
“You need to come out and address the changes designed to impact the game so that your guys are ready to go,” Pennington added.