By ERIC BENEVIDES
Must-win games? It seems like fans will have their pick of the litter when it comes to teams in the Blackstone Valley this weekend!
Friday’s action features four schools -- East Providence, Cumberland, Shea, and St. Raphael -- who sorely need to win their games over tough opponents in order to keep their respective playoff hopes alive.
Woonsocket also has a difficult test on Saturday against Toll Gate that could go a long way toward deciding where the Villa Novans stand in the Division II playoff picture, and Lincoln also has a big Division III contest earlier that day against Narragansett.
As for Central Falls and Ponaganset, both to win their games this week -- as well as their last two league matchups -- and get some outside help in order to have a shot at a playoff berth.
If there’s one team that has an easy division game, it’s Tolman, which could be the first team in the area to officially clinch a playoff berth if it takes care of winless Division II-B foe West Warwick on Saturday.
Five games are on Friday’s schedule, with the biggest of the bunch being the 7 p.m. battle at Pierce Field featuring Bishop Hendricken, the only unbeaten team in Division I, against E.P., which is fresh off a bye week.
In Division II-A, which has six teams currently fighting for four postseason spots, Cumberland visits Division II newcomer Johnston at 7 p.m., and Shea hosts Coventry at 7 p.m. at Max Read Field.
In Division II-B, St. Raphael takes a trip to Bristol for a 7 p.m. game against always-tough Mount Hope, and in Division IV, C.F. plays North Providence in a 6 p.m. game at Macomber Stadium.
On Saturday morning, Lincoln and Burrillville will hit the road for 10 a.m. games. The Lions face a long bus ride to Narragansett for their Division III battle, while the Broncos can take the back roads to Scituate for their non-league game with the Spartans.
The Division II-B slate also offers road games for Woonsocket and Tolman. The Novans bus to Warwick for their noon meeting with Toll Gate, and the Tigers trek to nearby West Warwick for their 1:30 p.m. contest. Ponaganset also hosts Pilgrim at 2 p.m. in another II-B game.
Smithfield rounds out Saturday’s action with a Division IV contest against Exeter/West Greenwich that begins at 2 p.m., and North Smithfield has the weekend off before hosting North Providence next Friday night.
Here’s a look at this weekend’s action:
Bishop Hendricken (4-0) at East Providence (3-1)
In Division I, it looks like five victories is going to be the magic number for anyone looking to sew up a playoff berth. The Hawks, who have outscored their opponents by a 151-45 score en route to a 5-0 overall record, can make early reservations for the postseason by winning this game.
As for the Townies, two of their wins are against winless Cranston East and North Kingstown, and the other is over a 2-2 Cranston West squad that also beat up on a pair of winless foes (South Kingstown and N.K.).
E.P. head coach Sandy Gorham would love to see his team win a “signature game” against a formidable opponent, and the Townies have a couple more of them coming up in the form of road contests against Barrington (Nov. 5) and Thanksgiving Day rival La Salle.
In between those tests is a winnable game against winless South Kingstown, but if the Townies plan to play with the big teams after Turkey Day, they’re going to have to beat one of them along the way.
Three players to watch out for on the Hawks are quarterback Mike Maloof and running backs Ethan Ferreira and Zach Conte. The Townies, meanwhile, have received an outstanding season from running back Jalin Braxton, who in five games, has scored 13 touchdowns and rushed for over 900 yards.
Cumberland (2-2) at Johnston (3-2)
The Division II-A standings are airtight, with three teams (Central, Chariho, and Johnston) tied for first place at 3-1, and three more (Cumberland, Shea, and Coventry) on their doorsteps at 2-2.
The Clippers, like the Townies, could use a “signature win” this week over a Johnston club that’s looking to bounce back in a big way from its 21-14 loss to Chariho last Friday. Cumberland’s two division wins are against Westerly (1-3) and the Hurricanes (0-4).
But no team has done a marvelous turn for the better than the Clippers, who are 3-3 overall, but have claimed their last three games and pitched shutouts over Warwick Vets and Toll Gate in their last two.
Defense could be the Clippers’ calling card this year. They have yielded just 44 points in four division games -- the second-fewest behind Chariho’s 41 -- and received excellent play from the likes of Mike Lucena, John Kane, Alex Szymanski, Andre Lussier, and Mitchell Gaboury.
The Clippers will surely need to be strong defensively against the Panthers, who have already downed Coventry, Central, and Vets. Quarterback Dave Bubar has tossed nine TD passes and averaged over 150 passing yards per game, and Greg Doutre and Bret Simas can run and catch the ball with the best of them.
Coventry (2-2) at Shea (2-2)
This is definitely a must-win battle for both sides, especially if they end the season tied in the standings and need a head-to-head tiebreaker to vault into the playoffs.
The Raiders have already beat Chariho and Cumberland and lost to Central, while the Oakers have won their last two division games over Westerly and Warwick Vets after losing to Central and Johnston.
The Raiders have been known as a Jekyll and Hyde team this season that’s played brilliantly at times and poorly at others, and no two performances were as bad the ones they delivered in their 18-8 loss to Westerly and 43-25 blitzing by Central.
Shea is coming off a 27-20 non-league win over Division III foe Tiverton, and that game was also a subpar performance by the Raiders that saw them need a touchdown with 21.2 seconds to play to beat the younger Tigers.
If the Raiders plan to top the Oakers, a team they beat four times in the last five seasons, they can’t turn in a showing like the one they did last Friday. Big things will also be expected offensively out of Travis Gray and Jamal Tucker, who teamed up to run for 217 yards in last week’s game, and Tim Monteiro, who has scored a touchdown in each of the last four games.
St. Raphael (2-2) at Mount Hope (3-1)
Another team desperately needing a win to stay in the playoff hunt is the Saints, who are 2-2 and staring up at unbeaten Tolman (4-0) and Toll Gate, Mount Hope, and Woonsocket (each 3-1).
The Saints, who have already defeated the two winless teams in the league, Pilgrim and West Warwick, also need a significant win or two over one of the top teams in the division if they plan to play in the postseason, and they can do themselves a favor by stunning the Huskies.
The Huskies, who lost to Woonsocket in last year’s Division II Super Bowl, have lost their last two games, an 18-12 thriller over Tolman two weekends ago in their battle of unbeatens and a 20-10 non-league defeat to Seekonk, and will be determined to stop that mini-slide.
Prior to those defeats, the Huskies were flying high after beating Toll Gate, Ponaganset, and West Warwick and allowing a total of seven points in those victories.
There may be some bad news for the Saints’ defense. The Huskies expect to suit up both of their standout running backs, Chris Raiola and Aaron Booth, this weekend. Both have missed time with injuries and have yet to join each other in the backfield this season.
North Providence (2-2) at Central Falls (1-4)
The Warriors remain mathematically alive in the playoff hunt, but they are in dire straits. Not only do they have to win their final three league games, but they are also going to need a lot of outside help if they hope to squeeze into the final berth.
The Warriors, who are fielding their youngest team in years, have lost their last four games and have allowed an average of 30 points in each of those losses. They will try to turn things around defensively against the Cougars, who are one of the lowest-scoring teams in the division.
Lincoln (3-2) at Narragansett (1-3)
The Lions may have saved their season with their big win over previously-undefeated Moses Brown last Friday. That puts Rogers (4-0) alone in first place and Middletown (3-1), the Quakers (3-1), Lincoln, and Burrillville (3-2) behind them in the quest for the league’s four playoff spots.
They have another major test in two weeks when they host Middletown, but before they can look ahead to that game, they have to take care of business with the Mariners and then next week’s game against Classical (0-4).
The Mariners’ three losses have come against some of the iron of the league (Moses Brown, Middletown, Rogers), and they have also yielded an average of 30 points per game this season. Lincoln quarterback Ryan O’Dell and the rest of his offense could be lighting up the stat sheet in this one.
While the Mariners have struggled on defense, they have shined on offense, so the Lions are going to have to put forth the same defensive effort they did in last week’s victory. Quarterback Mark Griffith is the key to the Mariners’ attack.
If there’s one thing that can hurt the Lions in this game, it’s the 10 a.m. start and the long trip down Route 4. It’s been a while since the Lions had to play a game this early in the morning, but as head coach Dave Waycott said after last week’s game, “We’re just going to treat it like a school day.”
Woonsocket (3-1) at Toll Gate (3-1)
This is Saturday’s biggest game, which features two teams looking to reach the doorstep to a playoff berth and possibly put themselves in good position to host an opening-round playoff game on Nov. 13.
Woonsocket has already topped Pilgrim, SRA, and Ponaganset, but dropped a 6-0 decision to Tolman, while Toll Gate owns wins over Ponaganset, West Warwick, and Pilgrim and a loss to Mount Hope.
The Villa Novans, who have outscored their opponents by an 84-6 score en route to their fabulous start, also have a huge clash next weekend when they host Mount Hope, but the only thing on their radar dish is Toll Gate.
The Titans, who like the Novans, are among the division’s top scoring clubs, can pass the ball as well as they run it. They have a rifle-armed quarterback in Mitch Howkins (10 TD passes) and strong running backs in Liam Moffett and Derick Durand.
The Villa Novans come into this game well-rested after a bye week and also have some offensive threats that the Titans will have to contain. Quarterback Kevin Reyes tossed three touchdown passes in a 28-0 win over Ponaganset two weeks ago, and Jalen Evans is solid out of the backfield.
Tolman (4-0) at West Warwick (0-4)
If there’s one team that should win with relative ease this weekend, it’s the Tigers, who should officially clinch a playoff berth by handling the ’Canes.
Tolman has outscored its four opponents (SRA, Woonsocket, Mount Hope, and Pilgrim) by a 96-12 count, and that statistic should only get better after playing West Warwick, which is winless at 0-6 and has been outscored 123-57.
After hosting Ponaganset next weekend, the Tigers will have one more big showdown before beginning the playoffs -- a Nov. 5 game at Pariseau Field against Toll Gate.
Ponaganset (1-3) at Pilgrim (0-4)
Looking for another team on the playoff bubble? The Chieftains need to win their final three games and get some help in order to return to the postseason as a Division II team.
The Chieftains should get the job done on Saturday against a woeful Pilgrim team that has been outscored 142-31 in its four losses, but on deck is a very tough battle in Pawtucket against Tolman and a return trip to Pariseau Field the following week for a matchup against SRA.
Smithfield (0-3) at Exeter/West Greenwich (5-0)
This will be ugly and should be the most lopsided score to come out of this weekend’s action. The Sentinels (0-5 overall) have scored just 31 points this year, 15 of them in garbage time, while the Knights are averaging 36 points per game/
Expect yet another sensational game from EWG running back Al Georgio -- the state’s leader in rushing yardage who scored six touchdowns in a 43-26 victory over Central Falls last Friday -- and this one to be over by halftime.
Burrillville (4-2 overall, 3-2 in Div. III) at Scituate (1-4 overall, 1-3 in Div. IV)
Here’s another game that should result in a blowout. Burrillville is enjoying its best season since its Div. III championship season of 2005, and Scituate appears to be on its way to their fifth straight losing season since its football program returned from a 20-year hiatus in 2006.
With a little luck, the Broncos could be 5-0 in Division III, but they suffered their two losses (to Rogers and Moses Brown) by just two points. They will return to league action a week from Saturday when they host Narragansett at 10:30 a.m.