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Another week, another big test for St. Raphael football team

October 31, 2013

St. Raphael head coach Mike Sassi (far right) talks with his players during last Friday’s game against Shea. The Saints will face Division II-B co-leader North Kingstown Saturday afternoon in Pawtucket. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN

PAWTUCKET -- St. Raphael Academy veteran chief Mike Sassi, his assistants and his gridders have spent hours in front of game films this week in preparation of what could be their most difficult foe thus far in North Kingstown.

When the Saints meet the Skippers in a critical Division II-B bash at 2 p.m., Saturday at Pariseau Field, Sassi’s defense will be trying to halt an uptempo, no-huddle offense that has registered 245 points while compiling a 6-1 overall record and 202 while going 4-1 mark in league action.

Sassi’s crew will enter at 3-3 overall and 3-2 in II-B.

“4-1 and 3-2 is all that really matters in this one,” Sassi noted earlier this week. “That’s a very good football team they have down there, and we’ve seen a ton of film on them. They run a no-huddle offense, and I believe they lead the league in scoring. They play an offense along the same lines as the (University of) Oregon.

“They do a great job of keeping opponents on their heels and in a vanilla-type defense,” he added. “They try to tire you out; it’s just a great tempo.”

Sassi admitted North Kingstown, under the tutelage of head coach Joe Gilmartin, knows how to mix the run and the pass with aplomb. He indicated they utilize a trio of signal callers in an effort to maximize each players’ strengths. They include junior Matt Madoian and seniors Nick Chevalier and Corey Coogan, the latter two listed on its roster as running backs.

“They line up those three guys at quarterback,” he explained. “Madoian’s their starter, and he’s usually in on passing downs, as he’s more of a classic passer. (Chevalier and Coogan) will line up under center or in the shotgun, and they’re the ones who will run some Wildcat (where they take direct snaps and run off tackle or around end).

“Madoian’s the one who will fade back and try to find backs in the flats and receivers downfield,” he continued. “Those other two killed Cumberland on the ground (during a 36-14 win at its Anthony C. Perry Stadium home on Oct. 11). “

When asked how his defense can attempt the thwart that attack, he stated simply, “Our guys are going to have to be aware of who’s lined up where. They favor different plays depending on who’s lined up under center.”

The good news for the Saints: They’ve captured three of their last four tilts, including a 21-8 win over West Warwick and – after a 24-17 hiccup against the Clippers – a 33-0 trouncing of host Central and a 21-13 victory over rival Shea last Friday night.

In that tilt, Sassi’s crew rushed for 337 yards, with junior tailback James Kelly accumulating 167 and senior tri-captain Alfred Dorbor 99 more. Another key ingredient to the attack is fellow tri-captain Josh Alves, another key out of the backfield.

“We’re going to have to play very disciplined offensively,” he offered. “We’re going to have to mix it up just like they do, run the ball and throw it, but we’re going to have to be right on the mark. Our backs have to hit the right holes and use their instinct, and our receivers must run the right routes. Right now, we’re trying to fix some of our blocking schemes.

“The reason is, our passing game has been kind of stagnant the past few weeks because of breakdowns in protection. Like I said, we’ve watched a lot of film, and we’re trying to teach the kids their assignments on certain plays. We’ve just got to coach better. Offensively, we’ve got to work more as a unit. We definitely don’t want to be one-dimensional (with the run). We feel like we can pound the ball, but we need to improve through the air.”

Sassi mentioned he’s very pleased with the fact SRA is plus-five in the turnover category, and increasing that number could prove integral on Saturday.

“That could be huge, especially against a strong team like NK, but it’s important no matter who you play,” he stated. “I’d like to think we’re getting better every week. We’re a very young team, but our defense has shown improvement. It seems to be getting better every game. It’s really a group effort; it’s not just one or two guys out there. I think our players are understanding their roles better.

“There’s one kid who’s really stood out for us, and that’s (senior defensive end) Steven Toetee,” he added. “He missed all of last year with a torn ACL, and this is his first full year with us. But he’s got five sacks and really gets after the quarterback; he also plays the run real well.

“Still, those guys (the Skippers) do everything; they spread the ball around, so you never really know who’s going to get the ball. They get everyone involved. Defensively, they run a 4-4 and a 4-3, and they mix up zone and man coverages.

“Another big thing in this game is we’re coming off an emotional win last week (over Shea). We beat a very good football team; Dino (Campopiano) always has those kids ready to play. Now I think the kids know they’re going to have to shift gears and approach this as a new week against a new, and outstanding, opponent.”

Should the Saints snag a triumph, it would move up in the standings and, perhaps, inch closer to gaining a higher seed for the playoffs.
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This area will feature five other important games, and all will be held on Friday night. At 6 o’clock, Central Falls will host improving North Providence at Perez Field in Division IV action, while Woonsocket will trek to Wood River Jct. to take on Chariho Regional in a II-A contest at 7.

As for Division II-B, Cumberland will bus to Shea for another 7 o’clock contest at Max Read Field; and, in Division I, Tolman will host Cranston West at Pariseau Field, while Burrillville will travel to Lincoln’s Ferguson Field for a D-III clash. Those final two tilts also will occur at 7.

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