CUMBERLAND -- Cumberland needed to bring out its best football against a formidable opponent on Friday night if it wanted to repeat as Division II-B champions and earn the league’s top seed in the upcoming playoffs.
But instead of bringing out their best, the Clippers did the complete opposite against West Warwick and paid the price.
Quarterback Kody Greenhalgh completed 12 of 20 passes for 206 yards, and West Warwick’s defense forced a stunning seven turnovers to key a 14-0 win on the Clippers’ ‘Senior Night’ (and the regular-season finale for both sides) at Tucker Field that gave the Wizards, not the Clippers, the top seed.
With North Kingstown, St. Raphael, and Rogers also capturing their division finales to create a five-way tie of 5-2 squads for first place in the standings, and two tiebreakers not settling anything, a third tiebreaker -- total defensive points allowed in the contests between the five schools – was needed.
Since the Wizards allowed the fewest of the bunch (55), they automatically earned the top spot. The four other teams were then reseeded in their head-to-head duels, and the Clippers, thanks to their 2-1 mark over the other three teams and a win over Rogers (also 2-1), slipped into the second seed.
While the playoff picture was still in a cloud of uncertainty after the contest, Cumberland head coach Chris Skurka talked about his team’s inability to get on the board against the Wizards, who have now won six straight games, and he was not pleased with it.
“We had so many opportunities,” said Skurka. “We had a big fumble on the goal line with our quarterback going in, and I thought that was a crucial play. We had (West Warwick) backed up in the end zone on the next drive, and we let them out. And we missed some open balls in the end zone.
“We just didn’t make plays. We had plenty of chances to be in this football game, but we never really executed.”
The seven turnovers, which included four interceptions and two fumbles by quarterback Tyler Calabro, certainly hurt the Clippers. Calabro, ironically, had a big night offensively, not only passing for over 100 yards (107) on 12-of-24 passing, but also rushing for over 100 (108) on 14 carries.
“You can’t turn the ball over and win football games,” said Skurka. “There’s no chance of winning if you turn it over that many times. But credit to (West Warwick). Everybody had them picked to be division champs. They wanted it, and we definitely didn’t get it done.”
The Wizards, who lost to the Clippers in last season’s Division II semifinals, drew first blood with 2:01 to go in the first period on a 20-yard touchdown reception by Cody Barcomb, who reeled in a pass at the 5-yard line that was tipped by a Clipper defensive back and ducked inside the right pilon.
The hosts then took advantage of a terrible kickoff from the Wizards, getting the ball at the Wizards’ 47. In 11 plays, the Clippers worked the ball to the 5-yard line, but on third-and-goal, and with 8:19 to go in the half, Calabro was picked off in the end zone by Trevor Lawton.
Unfortunately for Calabro, that wouldn’t be his last mistake of the half. On a third-and-one from the Clippers’ 25 and 1:07 on the clock, Calabro fumbled a handoff to one of his running backs. It was scooped up by Zach Auriemma, who rumbled the other way into the end zone for a touchdown.
Greenhalgh then ran into the two-point conversion, squeezing around the left pilon, and the Wizards went into the break with all the points they needed.
The hosts only managed to work the ball inside the 30 one other time against the Wizards’ talented defense. That came midway through the third quarter on a quick six-play drive that saw Cumberland move the ball from its 42 to the West Warwick 13.
But Guerin, who tried to crash in on a keeper up the middle on the next play, fumbled the ball just short of the goal line, and speedy Austin Paygai, who caught five of Greenhalgh’s passes for 114 yards, grabbed the ball and broke off a highlight-reel, 100-yard fumble recovery.
Unfortunately for Paygai, the touchdown was called back on a penalty by the Wizards (one of 13 in the game by them). They ended up with the pigskin on their six, but more importantly, they kept the game a two-possession contest.
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24