D-III contests take center stage
North Smithfield, Burrillville host Valley foes to start league play
Lincoln High football head coach Sean Cavanaugh calls it the dawn of a new season. In many respects, this weekend’s Rhode Island high school football schedule is just that for the area’s entries.
The time has come to put what has amounted to nearly five weeks of preseason camp in the rearview mirror. The 2017 campaign begins in earnest Friday night with the opening of league play, a time where teams battle it out for division championships and jockey for position in league standings, all fighting toward a common goal: to make it to that next – and final – “new” – season, a.k.a. the playoffs.
“The lights are now shining a little bit brighter,” Cavanaugh said. “The kids are enjoying the grind, but now they get a little something back from it … just to be able to compete and know that it counts.”
The march to the postseason gets underway with a “Friday Night Lights” lineup that includes three Division I games that kick off at 7 p.m. – Tolman at South Kingstown, Woonsocket at Barrington, and Rogers at St. Raphael.
On Saturday, the games of local note include a rematch of last year’s Division II Super Bowl as defending champion Shea visits Moses Brown in a 1 o’clock contest. The Raiders and Quakers faced off in each of the last three postseasons, two coming with the Super Bowl crown on the line. It’s a healthy rivalry where the hits keep coming, but so too does the respect.
“It’ll be a great game like it always is,” noted Shea head coach Dino Campopiano. “It’s a game we look forward to and I’m sure (Moses Brown head coach Willie Edwards) does too.”
At the same exact time as SheaMoses Brown, Cumberland will entertain Portsmouth in a Division I battle. The Clippers are coming off a last-second 33-32 win over Attleboro while the Patriots venture to Tucker Field as the 2016 Division I (nonstate) champion.
At 2:30 p.m., Cavanaugh’s Lincoln club travels to face last year’s D-III title winner, Burrillville.
“You might as well face the iron and really find out what you’re made of,” the Lincoln coach said. “We know what we’re going to get with Burrillville. They’re a well-coached, physical, and an aggressive group. It’s going to be a challenge, but for us it’s about trying to execute and being competitive.”
Saturday’s busy slate concludes with a 6:30 Division III contest with Central Falls at North Smithfield/Mount St. Charles co-op.
Before, it was tune-ups, scrimmages, and non-leaguers – items on the checklist whose sole purpose is to prepare players and coaches for the true litmus test. Starting Friday night, everything counts now with everyone officially playing for keeps.
By Saturday night, the glut of “zero-and-zero” records will be replaced with something far more tangible on the standings page.
League play represents a golden chance to see if the laying of a foundation that’s done over the course of several months can materialize into a successful season.
The natural progression starts with spending the winter and spring in the weight room before shifting outdoors for the summer and the 7on-7 passing leagues. Next, you’re in preseason mode and taking part in a couple of scrimmages. The arrival of September yields a two-quarter Injury Fund contest and lastly a fourquarter non-league game that serves as the final hurdle during the monthlong buildup to division contests.
Then, you finally get the chance to compete for what you signed up for.
Everyone has a fresh start and every team has high hopes entering league play. From a win-loss perspective, this Friday and Saturday represents the only time when everyone is on equal footing. After this weekend, the process of separating the wheat from the chaff begins in earnest. Contenders will rise to the top, while the pretenders are forced to take a backseat. It’s all part of a fascinating journey into the unknown – at least for now.
While last week’s non-league contests may not have had any direct bearing on the standings, it’s fair to wonder just how much stock or significance is placed on a game that featured an out-of-division opponent.
Undoubtedly, there are plenty of coaches like Campopiano who believe you’re doing the players a major disservice when mentioning the outcome doesn’t matter just because the opponent doesn’t reside in the same division as you. Why wait until this week before flipping the proverbial switch?
“We go into every game preparing the same way whether it’s a league game or a non-league game,” Campopiano said. “Last week, we had a game against Lincoln, a great rivalry game that’s been going on before all us were born. Now it’s on to Moses Brown and preparing like we always do.”
At this stage, teams hope that the long road ahead results in playing meaningful football once the second weekend in November rolls around. Remaining in the present, it’s a matter of seizing the moment and using every opportunity to put the helmet on as a prime chance to improve.
Still, there’s no denying that this weekend has a special aura surrounding it. The preseason scrimmages, Injury Fund contests, and last weekend’s non-league games are all history. Now the high school football games, pitting division opponents against each other, mean something.
Now it’s officially decreed – the games count.
The Burrillville football team looks to bounce back from last week’s non-league loss when Lincoln comes to Alumni Field tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. for a Division III Valley showdown.