In terms of playoff ramifications, the significance of Friday’s 7 p.m. Division II-B contest pitting St. Raphael at Shea cannot be underscored.
The stakes are pretty high when you consider the 2-2 Saints and the 2-2 Raiders presently share the subdivision’s fourth and final playoff spot. Sprinkle in a West Warwick squad that’s also two up and two down in league play and it makes perfect sense to label tonight’s Pawtucket-centric matchup as one of critical significance.
True, Friday’s victor will not solidify a spot in next month’s eight-team Division II postseason joust, though there’s no denying the firm footing either the Saints or the Raiders will find themselves on heading into next week’s action.
Looking at this contest from another angle, tonight’s defeated party isn’t automatically eliminated from second-season contention. Still, when you take into account tiebreakers and the fact that time is running out in the regular season, it may be hard to ignore the presence of the Grim Reaper should this creature of the night decide to hover outside the locker room of either squad.
“I said to the kids (Wednesday) that this is a playoff game. You can’t hide from it, so I think you have to bring up the importance of the game,” explained St. Raphael head coach Mike Sassi. “The loser is not dead, but they’re going to have to win their last two games and rely on help. The winner isn’t going to clinch anything, but you’re going to put yourself in a much better position for anything that might come up down the line.”
Echoed Shea mentor Dino Campopiano, “For that team that loses, making the playoffs is going to be very tough. Whoever wins is going to have an advantage as far as getting into the playoffs, without a doubt.”
In an effort to bring clarity to the forces of football nature that the Saints and the Raiders are presently contending with, we present a “leave no stone unturned” synopsis that has one goal in mind – to offer further proof why the Division II playoffs are getting a head start tonight.
The three teams ahead of St. Raphael, Shea and West Warwick each sport 3-1 marks. Those sitting in a position of prominence include Cumberland, Rogers and North Kingstown.
SRA has already faced Cumberland and Rogers. In both instances, the Saints were in a position to emerge triumphant before letting leads in the fourth quarter slip through their fingers. Next Saturday, St. Raphael plays its third and final home game at Pariseau Field when it hosts North Kingstown.
Shea dropped a 30-29 double-overtime heartbreaker to Rogers two weekends ago. Cumberland and N.K. remain on the schedule with the Raiders hosting the Clippers next Friday while traveling to the Skippers’ home turf on Nov. 8.
Since West Warwick is also part of this current three-way tie for fourth place, it appears worth noting how the Saints and Raiders fared against the Wizards. Shea’s 2-0 start in league play went up like a cloud of smoke following a 28-7 setback to West Warwick on Oct. 5. SRA may have been fortunate to catch West Warwick early in the season when the Wizards were a struggling lot as the Saints staged a 21-8 win on Sept. 27.
The loss to the Saints was the third straight for the Wizards, who have rattled off three consecutive wins since.
Getting back to the present, there’s a strong respect factor between the respective leaders of young men at SRA and Shea – so much so that Sassi and Campopiano were effusive in their praise in terms of what the opposing team brings to the table.
“Shea runs so many crazy (offensive) formations that one of the trickiest things with them is not to get outflanked. They’ve got a lot of speed,” noted Sassi, who was able to see the Raiders in person last weekend as Shea staged a 17-14 non-league win at North Providence. “As much as anything, we’ve got to make sure we line up properly. If they catch you in the wrong alignment, they’re going to hurt you with the speed they have.”
Added Campopiano, “Skill-wise, St. Raphael is very good. All of their running backs can run very well, whether it’s with speed or power. Their quarterback (junior Emmanuel Leake) can run with the ball and he throws it pretty well. They could easily be undefeated.”
When you sprinkle in the fact that two Pawtucket-based high schools are squaring off under the glare of “Friday Night Lights,” it only throws another log on a fire that burns bright with playoff intrigue.
“More than anything else, I think this game is good for the city,” Sassi remarked. “It keeps football where it needs to be.”
“Anytime you get a Shea-St. Raphael, Shea-Tolman or St. Raphael-Tolman matchup, it’s always a big game in the city,” Campopiano expressed. “In my 19 years [at the Raiders’ helm], this is only the third time that we’re facing Saints. For us, it’s a big game because it’s a league game that has playoff implications.”
As for other clashes slated for this weekend, something’s got to give when Tolman travels to East Providence Friday night in a matchup of winless Division I squads. The Tigers have yet to taste victory through five league tries while the Townies are 0-4.
In Division II-B, Cumberland plays host to 0-4 Pilgrim for another 7 p.m. tilt; while Woonsocket looks to get back on a winning track when 0-4 Toll Gate visits Barry Field Saturday in a matchup of II-A squads. The Novans are perfect against league foes (4-0) though are coming off a tough 21-14 non-league loss to Rogers last weekend.
Both of the area’s Division III squads are in action Saturday morning with Burrillville (1-3) hosting Tiverton (0-5) while Lincoln (0-5) travels to Narragansett (3-1).
In Division IV, Central Falls (1-3) heads to Exeter/West Greenwich Saturday afternoon to face the first place and undefeated Scarlet Knights (4-0). North Smithfield is off this weekend.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03