CRANSTON – Cumberland High senior tackle Ricky Goodreau's response to what had just transpired at Cranston Stadium summed up his team’s collective mood early Sunday evening, as he walked slowly away from the post-game huddle near midfield with tears in his eyes, then raised his helmet with his right hand and knocked it softly against his forehead.
One year removed from celebrating Cumberland’s first true state championship in decades with a demonstrative 49-0 trouncing of archrival Woonsocket, Cumberland failed to repeat, with head coach Chris Skurka's crew suffering a dismal 48-13 loss to top-seeded West Warwick in the R.I. Division II Super Bowl.
Though the game was much closer than the final score indicated, the Clippers were outplayed in multiple facets by the Wizards. Most damaging were the team’s six turnovers, one shy of the seven it yielded in a 14-0 Wizards' victory at Tucker Field back on Nov. 8.
Second, they allowed W.W. junior quarterback Kody Greenhalgh to complete 19 of 31 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns (with one interception) while Clipper junior signal caller Tyler Calabro managed just an 11-for-26 outing with a TD and four interceptions.
Third, senior tailback/tri-captain Austin Paygai not only snagged three of those picks for the Wizards, but returned one for a touchdown. And offensively, the dynamic Paygai was just as stellar, accumulating 137 combined yards, with six catches for 106 and 10 rushes for 31 more.
Finally, other members of the Wizards' receiving corps – seniors Jonathan Menard and Keevaun Hazard-Page, not to mention sophomore Trevor Lawton, all of whom possess soft hands – combined for 160 yards on 13 more grabs.
“The turnovers were the difference,” Skurka said after his squad ended its campaign with a 9-4 overall mark. “You just can't win football games turning the ball over that many times. There's no way … Our game plan coming in was to control the clock a little bit and shut down Paygai the best we could.
“I just failed at getting that across to the guys; it's my fault we didn't get that done,” he added. “We didn't execute the game plan, and that's on me.”
When asked what he offered his squad following the verdict, Skurka offered this: “These seniors brought something special to this team. I think they lost only eight games the last three years, and I told the kids they had to honor the seniors by playing just as hard next season.
“We have kids like Joe Fine, Chris Hayes, John Sikie, Ricky Goodreau, Josh Pizzarelli, Kyle Masse – I can't name them all – but they were able to rally the guys and bring them together to get all the way back. I can't say enough about them.
“They were just so explosive,” he continued. “They made plays; the quarterback (Greenhalgh) throws a great ball, and Paygai can run with the best of them. He's so shifty, and has a way to elude tackles.”
Paygai – all five feet and several inches of him – was awarded the Frank Morey Most Valuable Player plaque.
Noted West Warwick chief Shane Lagor: “He was amazing. Someone just asked me if he's 5-6, and I told him, 'Are you kidding? 5-5 would be a stretch!' He's a terrific running back, and he's also a wonderful kid.
“Our plan was to run our offense as always – get the ball out to our athletes in open spaces and let them do their thing,” he added. “You know what? In the second half, I think both our offense and defense stepped it up when they thought they could close the game.”
After the Wizards held Cumberland to a quick three-and-out on its opening possession, Masse's 18-yard punt gave them the pigskin at the Clippers' 47, but the visitors held. After off-setting penalties, Skurka’s squad punted again.
This time, Stock muffed the punt, and a fellow Clipper recovered the miscue in the end zone for a WW safety. But officials reversed the decision, stating Stock never had possession, and Cumberland took over at its own 20.
Lagor's bunch took advantage on its third drive of the day, moving 45 yards on six snaps culminating in Greenhalgh's 30-yard toss to Lawton down the left sideline. Menard's PAT boot gave the higher seed a 7-0 advantage with 1:15 remaining in the first period.
On the penultimate play of the quarter, sophomore David Lamountain corralled what like a 55-yard scoring toss from Greenhalgh, but it was called back for offensive pass interference.
Referees placed the ball back at the West Warwick 27, and Greenhalgh immediately completed a 36-yarder to Menard.
Seven snaps later, the quarterback snuck in from the one, and Menard knocked home the extra point to gain a 14-0 lead on the final play of the stanza.
The Wizards again drove into Clippers' territory, but the defense – led by Pizzarelli and juniors Nick Giorgio and Brandon Caouette (at right cornerback) – held on a fourth-and-nine situation.
Four plays after, following Calabro's brilliant 59-yard keeper down the left sideline, Stock bulled a yard off left guard to slice the deficit to 14-6. WW, however, blocked Calabro's PAT kick with 4:34 left before the break.
That's how the half closed.
Lagor and Co. made the most of its initial possession of the third, maneuvering 70 yards (after a five-yard illegal procedure flag to start) on nine plays; that ended on Hazard-Page's one-yard plunge off right tackle. Menard drilled his third of six extra points on the night through the uprights for a 21-6 advantage with only 2:57 elapsed.
Later in the third, following Greenhalgh's 26-yard punt gave CHS the ball at its own 45, the Clippers rolled downfield. The fullback Fine took a shovel pass 24 yards, and Calabro hustled for 19 more on consecutive keepers before he found a wide-open Marcolini on a 13-yard TD slant.
Calabro's extra point knifed the score to 21-13, and it looked as if it would breathe new life into the Clippers with 3:08 left in the period.
Alas, it didn't happen. On a third-and-11 from his own 37, Greenhalgh tossed a 63-yard scoring bomb down the right sideline to Paygai only a minute later.
CHS survived another interception, but couldn't on Calabro's third with 9:11 remaining in the fourth. That's when the Wizards compiled a seven-play, 80-yard drive, culminating in Paygai's four-yard sweep around left end while taking a direct snap.
The Clippers would have had a first down at the WW 42 after a superb catch-and-run by Marcolini, but he fumbled, allowing Lamountain to recover.
On the final snap of the contest, with Skurka and Co. at the WW 35, Calabro threw to a short pass to a teammate, but Paygai snared it and raced 71 yards down the left sideline to end it.
There was no need for a seventh PAT from Menard.
Clippers senior running back Stock closed his career with 63 yards on 10 carries, as well as two catches for 22; Fine rushed for 66 on three touches while snagging a seven-yard reception. Marcolini led the pass-catching corps with 83 on five.
Calabro mustered 76 on 12 keepers.
“They're a good football team, no question,” Skurka sighed. “They lost in the semis last year, so they were hell-bent on (moving a step further) … Like I said, my seniors did a great job of getting the younger guys motivated to get back here. I'm going to miss them.”
Cumberland 0 6 7 0 – 13
West Warwick 7 7 14 20 – 48
WW – Trevor Lawton 30 pass from Kody Greenhalgh (Jonathan Menard kick)
WW – Greenhalgh 1 run (Menard kick)
CUMB – Mike Stock 1 run (kick blocked)
WW – Keevaun Hazard-Page 1 run (Menard kick)
CUMB – Joe Marcolini 13 pass from Tyler Calabro (Calabro kick)
WW – Austin Paygai 63 pass from Greenhalgh (Menard kick)
WW – Paygai 4 run (Menard kick)
WW – Paygai 71 interception return (no PAT try)