Friday night was all too familiar for the Warwick Vets football team.
Playing Mt. Hope for the second consecutive year in the regular season finale with a chance to clinch a Division II-A playoff berth, the ’Canes never found their footing en route to a 25-0 loss and a disappointing end to a season that seemed destined to result in the program’s first playoff berth since 2008.
“Basically what we told them is that they allowed someone else to dictate who they were going to be, and take apart their soul,” Vets coach Bryan Nappa said. “That’s what made us a good football team. They played with a lot of heart and they played together. That’s what made us good. That’s what pushed us through a lot of games.”
The loss dropped Vets to 4-3, which put it in a three-way tie for the final two playoff spots with Mt. Hope and Coventry. Despite beating Coventry during the regular season, the ’Canes ended up being the odd-team out, as Coventry earned the No. 3 seed and Mt. Hope is the No. 4 seed based on quality points.
Vets is on the outside looking in for the fifth consecutive year, but this one hurt the most. The ’Canes were 4-1 at one point and controlled their own destiny, needing just one win in their final two games to make the playoffs.
A last-second touchdown and the ensuing two-point conversion resulted in a 22-21 loss to Johnston two weeks ago, and the Mt. Hope debacle ensued. Vets still would have made the playoffs even with the two losses had Coventry lost to previously-unbeaten Woonsocket on Friday, but the Oakers managed to hand the Novans their first league loss by a 27-12 score.
It was a situation where everything had to go wrong for Vets to miss the playoffs – and everything went wrong.
“We were in control of our own destiny, and all of a sudden one of the four scenarios that could have played out is playing out and we’ll be out,” Nappa said on Friday night, before the Coventry game was official.
Last season, Vets was 3-3 entering the game and needed to upset a strong Mt. Hope team. The Huskies won that game 39-14.
It was different this year, as Vets came in with a better record and was the favorite based on both teams’ body of work up to that point.
Instead, it was even worse than a year ago. The ’Canes were really never in the game. They totaled minus-12 yards of offense in the first half and managed just one first down – which came on a 10-yard Jesse Sedoma run on the first play of the game.
Mt. Hope scored on three of its first four possessions, and took a 19-0 lead into halftime.
“One mistake steamrolled into the next,” Nappa said. “Then we kind of let them dismantle our core of who we are as a team. They pulled us apart mentally. They put it too us in the first half it was too much to overcome in the second.”
Vets punted twice in the first half, had another punt blocked, lost a fumble and turned the ball over on downs in its own territory.
The Huskies took a 7-0 lead just five minutes into the game on a 27-yard run by Jesse Raiola, and made it 13-0 when Raiola scored again early in the second quarter after a David MacDonald fumble gave Mt. Hope the ball at Vets’ 22-yard line.
“We had a good feeling coming down,” Napp said. “The kids were focused on the bus. Then they put us on our heels a little bit. We started out slow.”
After consecutive punts and the MacDonald fumble, Vets got the ball back for a fourth time and moved eight yards in three plays, setting up a fourth-and-2 on their own 39-yard line.
Nappa elected to go for it, but Dennis Scalzo was swarmed in the backfield for a loss of four yards and a turnover on downs.
“My father [head coach Mike Nappa] went up top and saw a crease that we could have taken advantage of on the right side,” Bryan Nappa said. “But we didn’t get any blocking on the back side and that’s where they made the tackle. When you run a power off-tackle away, you don’t expect the backside defensive end to make the play.”
Mt. Hope took advantage, as Aidan Silva scored on a jet sweep on a fourth-and-14 play. The two-point conversion was no good, but the Huskies led 19-0.
At the break, the ’Canes tried to get back in the game, but the Huskies never gave them a chance. Mt. Hope held the ball for the first four minutes of the third quarter before punting, and then forced Vets into a three-and-out.
On its next drive, Mt. Hope held the ball for 11 plays and ran out the rest of the third quarter. The ’Canes’ second possession of the half didn’t come until there was 11:35 left in the game.
“They did really well controlling the clock,” Nappa said. “That helped keep our weapons off the field. They took advantage of a couple of weak points, where we knew we were weak on defense.”
The ’Canes picked up just two more first downs in the second half, and only once got into Mt. Hope territory, where Sedoma lost a fumble on the Huskies 11-yard line.
For the game, Vet had just 33 total yards.
Mt. Hope added the finishing touches to the win with 7-yard touchdown run by Nick Murgo with just over five minutes to play.
When it was over, the ’Canes looked shocked at how quickly a potential playoff berth had come unraveled. The loss was actually the third consecutive year that Mt. Hope has ended a Warwick team’s chances of making the playoffs in the season finale. Besides doing it to Vets last year, the Huskies also defeated Pilgrim in 2011 in what was a de-facto play-in game.
“They just weren’t clicking tonight,” Nappa said. “We felt good coming in, we had a good week in practice – better than we had last week actually. Whatever it was, we came up here and they were apart. They weren’t together.”
Vets will likely now have a crossover game with a D-II-B opponent who also didn’t make the playoffs, probably North Kingstown, which came in fifth in that division.
Then there is still Thanksgiving, where the ’Canes will be looking for their third straight win over Pilgrim. The game was originally scheduled to be at Pilgrim, but with the potential school closing happening at Vets, the teams agreed to play there.
That still gives the ’Canes plenty to play for in 2013.
“I’m sure they’re going to be drooling over Thanksgiving to make that one final stand for us,” Nappa said.