St. Raphael head coach Mike Sassi (far right) talks with his players during last Friday‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs crew will enter at 3-3 overall and 3-2 in II-B.
‚Äú4-1 and 3-2 is all that really matters in this one,‚ÄĚ Sassi noted earlier this week. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs a very good football team they have down there, and we‚Äôve 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.
‚ÄúThey do a great job of keeping opponents on their heels and in a vanilla-type defense,‚ÄĚ he added. ‚ÄúThey try to tire you out; it‚Äôs just a great tempo.‚ÄĚ
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‚Äô strengths. They include junior Matt Madoian and seniors Nick Chevalier and Corey Coogan, the latter two listed on its roster as running backs.
‚ÄúThey line up those three guys at quarterback,‚ÄĚ he explained. ‚ÄúMadoian‚Äôs their starter, and he‚Äôs usually in on passing downs, as he‚Äôs more of a classic passer. (Chevalier and Coogan) will line up under center or in the shotgun, and they‚Äôre the ones who will run some Wildcat (where they take direct snaps and run off tackle or around end).
‚ÄúMadoian‚Äôs the one who will fade back and try to find backs in the flats and receivers downfield,‚ÄĚ he continued. ‚ÄúThose other two killed Cumberland on the ground (during a 36-14 win at its Anthony C. Perry Stadium home on Oct. 11). ‚Äú
When asked how his defense can attempt the thwart that attack, he stated simply, ‚ÄúOur guys are going to have to be aware of who‚Äôs lined up where. They favor different plays depending on who‚Äôs lined up under center.‚ÄĚ
The good news for the Saints: They‚Äôve captured three of their last four tilts, including a 21-8 win over West Warwick and ‚Äď after a 24-17 hiccup against the Clippers ‚Äď a 33-0 trouncing of host Central and a 21-13 victory over rival Shea last Friday night.
In that tilt, Sassi‚Äôs 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.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre going to have to play very disciplined offensively,‚ÄĚ he offered. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre going to have to mix it up just like they do, run the ball and throw it, but we‚Äôre 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‚Äôre trying to fix some of our blocking schemes.
‚ÄúThe reason is, our passing game has been kind of stagnant the past few weeks because of breakdowns in protection. Like I said, we‚Äôve watched a lot of film, and we‚Äôre trying to teach the kids their assignments on certain plays. We‚Äôve just got to coach better. Offensively, we‚Äôve got to work more as a unit. We definitely don‚Äôt want to be one-dimensional (with the run). We feel like we can pound the ball, but we need to improve through the air.‚ÄĚ
Sassi mentioned he‚Äôs very pleased with the fact SRA is plus-five in the turnover category, and increasing that number could prove integral on Saturday.
‚ÄúThat could be huge, especially against a strong team like NK, but it‚Äôs important no matter who you play,‚ÄĚ he stated. ‚ÄúI‚Äôd like to think we‚Äôre getting better every week. We‚Äôre a very young team, but our defense has shown improvement. It seems to be getting better every game. It‚Äôs really a group effort; it‚Äôs not just one or two guys out there. I think our players are understanding their roles better.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs one kid who‚Äôs really stood out for us, and that‚Äôs (senior defensive end) Steven Toetee,‚ÄĚ he added. ‚ÄúHe missed all of last year with a torn ACL, and this is his first full year with us. But he‚Äôs got five sacks and really gets after the quarterback; he also plays the run real well.
‚ÄúStill, those guys (the Skippers) do everything; they spread the ball around, so you never really know who‚Äôs 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.
‚ÄúAnother big thing in this game is we‚Äôre 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‚Äôre going to have to shift gears and approach this as a new week against a new, and outstanding, opponent.‚ÄĚ
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.
This area will feature five other important games, and all will be held on Friday night. At 6 o‚Äôclock, 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‚Äôclock contest at Max Read Field; and, in Division I, Tolman will host Cranston West at Pariseau Field, while Burrillville will travel to Lincoln‚Äôs Ferguson Field for a D-III clash. Those final two tilts also will occur at 7.
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