D-III con­tests take cen­ter stage

North Smith­field, Bur­ril­lville host Val­ley foes to start league play

Pawtucket Times - - SPORTS - By BREN­DAN McGAIR bm­c­gair@paw­tuck­et­times.com

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.

Photo by Ernest A. Brown

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.

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