The Warwick Vets football team went into Coventry last week hoping for its second league win of the year, one that would put it in prime position in the race for one of Division II-A’s four playoff spot.
Instead, the ’Canes got a healthy dose of the Oakers ground game and lost 40-8.
There wasn’t much solace in losing by 32 points, especially after losing by 29 to Woonsocket the previous week. But there was some solace in looking at the big picture.
While Vets was losing games it expected – or at least hoped – to win, the rest of the league was following suit. Westerly, which was previously the top-ranked team in all of Division II, lost 19-18 to Woonsocket this past weekend.
Previously winless Mt. Hope, thought to be perhaps one of the division’s bottom feeders, dominated a solid Chariho team 27-7.
Vets, now at 1-2, finds itself on the outside of the playoff bubble at this point, but it also has the hope in knowing that just about anything can happen in the wild world of D-II.
What seemed like an obvious pecking order just one week ago can now be thrown out the window. It’s all still up for grabs.
Johnston leads the division at 3-0 and Toll Gate is alone at the bottom at 0-3. In between, six teams are at 2-1 or 1-2, and beating each other with no rhyme or reason other than cementing the fact that parity has become commonplace.
“Division II has always been a tough division,” Vets coach Bryan Nappa said. “There’s always been a couple that are on top of the league, but in our division it’s anybody’s game at any point. Everyone is pretty evenly matched, for the most part.”
The ’Canes’ opponent this week is Chariho, a 1-2 team that is in exactly the same boat as Vets. With a win, it would get a little higher up the chain in a crowded division.
With a loss, it would fall below the cut line and would have to either run the table or come very close to get in playoff position.
“With everything that happened this weekend, everyone is right in the mix,” Nappa said. “With a non-league game next week, we’re playing this like it’s our last game of the season. This is our big one. The boys all understand that we still control our own destiny. We make our own choices this week, and how hard we work is going to determine if we’re still in the race or not.”
In fact, the parity – and unpredictability – of the division is serving as both a positive and a negative.
On one side, teams are rarely out of it because of the weekly upsets.
However, one loss against another team in that middle pack can send a team spiraling, losing a precious game in the standings and a tiebreaker, something that will almost certainly come in to play when determining the four playoff teams.
Nappa has a total number of wins set as a goal for the team, a number that he thinks Vets needs to reach in order to get in that top group. While he won’t reveal it, he knows that every game is crucial from here on out in order to get there.
“We do have a number in mind,” Nappa said. “We’re going to keep that in house though. I think every coach compares himself up to the league, and everybody’s got a target number. We know where we stand on that. We’ve got to work a little harder to get there, but it’s definitely within reach.”
The ’Canes are hoping to get a big boost this week with the return of some injured players. Some younger linebackers are finally healthy, while first-teamers Dennis Scalzo and David MacDonald are in practice and hoping to play for the first time in three weeks.
And right now, with so many teams still in it and the games being so important, Vets needs all hands on deck.
“It’s definitely still anybody’s race at this point,” Nappa said.
And that includes the ’Canes, who have lost their last two games by a combined 76-15 but sit one-game out of a playoff spot.
With a win, and a couple of D-II’s patented upsets, Vets could just as easily be on the inside of the bubble next week.
The ’Canes have put the losses in the past. They want to be the ones pulling off the big win this time around.
“A lot of it is just teaching them how you can relate these things to the adversity they see in their own life,” Nappa said. “You have to put things that set you back in life behind you, just like on the football field. It’s no different here between the white lines than it is in life or in the classroom or at work.”
The game against Chariho will be played on Friday at Vets at 4:30 p.m.