At first blush, the task of Cumberland and Woonsocket laying the groundwork for the season’s biggest game doesn’t seem entirely daunting – especially since we’re referencing two squads that staged a gridiron tussle merely eight days ago.
With only three days between the semifinals and Sunday’s Division II Super Bowl, the art of familiarity helps to take a little strain off of the preparation process. Time has become a valuable commodity, and if you’re going to step into the ring of fire, what better opponent to have than someone where introductions are not required?
“It’s fresh in our minds right now,” stated Cumberland head coach Chris Skurka. “Even the film exchange, we would be exchanging the same Thanksgiving film.”
Added Woonsocket mentor Carnell Henderson: “It’s a bonus since we just prepared for Cumberland a few weeks ago.”
With a slight chuckle, Henderson referred to the 32-0 Turkey Day whipping Cumberland handed his crew upon adding, “Whatever we prepared for, it really didn’t work out in our favor, so we’ve got to come up with something different this go-around.”
The very idea of deviating from the same script that has been in place since training camp commenced in mid-August is one that’s virtually impossible at this late juncture. Sure, the opportunity to make a slight tweak here or there exists, but as Henderson pointed out, now is not the time to reinvent the wheel.
“We’ve already stressed the things that we could or should have done, which is part of the process of getting ready for your next opponent,” he stated. “If there are some areas of weakness that we feel we need to correct, you only have a short period to do that. At this time of year, you go with what works and try to get the kids ready to do what they do well and – hopefully – they can go out and execute on Sunday.
“The week is truly condensed, but all the teams participating in the Super Bowls this weekend, there’s not much more you can do,” Henderson continued. “All of these teams are still playing because they did the right thing throughout the season and are comfortable with what they do. There might be a little something you pull out of the playbook, but it builds off of something else.”
From Woonsocket’s perspective, one area that figures to be addressed is slowing down a Cumberland defensive line that registered five sacks of quarterback Brett Bouchard on Thanksgiving. However, when Henderson and his coaches break down the film of Cumberland’s 48-14 semifinal-round win over West Warwick, they’ll notice the Clippers’ secondary was also imposing; that unit picked off Wizards quarterback Kody Greenhalgh three times in the first half Wednesday night.
“The kids feel like they have another opportunity,” Henderson said. “After losing to Johnston and Mount Hope earlier in the season, they always looked to get back after it. We’re fortunate to ride the journey right to the end; it just so happens that it’s Cumberland that we’re playing against.”
Taking the football portion out of the equation, here you have two schools that are separated by roughly five miles and have been waging Thanksgiving wars for 49 years. The latest chapter will be added come Sunday at East Greenwich’s Nick Carcieri Field.
“Mr. (Woonsocket athletic director George) Nasuti and I were talking, and I don’t know if Cumberland and Woonsocket have played for all the marbles. Thanksgiving was always the rival game,” Henderson stated when asked if could recall of any playoff encounters between the Villa Novans and Clippers. “With (Cumberland) being the team that we play for the state championship, it’s a great opportunity for both communities.”
“It’s never happened that you face your [holiday] rival in the Super Bowl, so it’s going to be interesting,” remarked Skurka.