The Warwick Vets football team has been in almost this exact position before, and it wasn’t very long ago. Just last year, the Hurricanes played Mt. Hope in the final game of the regular season with a chance to clinch a playoff spot.
The ’Canes lost that game, badly. Mt. Hope won 39-14 and went on to the postseason.
But this year is different, and so is this team. The plan is to make the result different as well.
Vets will visit the Huskies on Friday night at 7 p.m., with another chance to lock up its first playoff berth since 2008. It nearly clinched a spot last week in a tough, 22-21 loss to Johnston, but now will have to wait until this weekend to try again.
And despite the pressure that comes with trying to clinch a spot and the heartache that came with last week’s loss, Vets head coach Mike Nappa believes wholeheartedly that his team is ready to meet the challenge head on.
“On Monday when we started practicing for the week, the attitude was upbeat,” Nappa said. “They’re working hard this week, and they never even mentioned the past game. It’s a good sign. It makes them more focused on our game coming up.”
Vets is currently 4-2 and in third-place in Division II-A, while Mt. Hope is 3-3 and tied for fourth place with Westerly and Coventry. The top four teams in the division make the playoffs, meaning that Mt. Hope is also fighting for its playoff life.
It’s a match-up of two teams with their fates essentially in their own hands.
“They know what’s at stake,” Nappa said. “They’ll be playing to the best of their ability. We play with the hand we’ve got and now we’ve got to go out there and execute.”
There are plenty of playoff scenarios still in play. If Vets wins, it’s guaranteed to be the No. 3 seed. If it loses, it will still make the playoffs as the No. 4 seed if Johnston beats Westerly and Woonsocket beats Coventry. In that scenario, Mt. Hope would jump up to the No. 3 seed.
That, however, is the only scenario in which Vets can make the playoffs with a loss. If it loses to Mt. Hope and either Coventry or Westerly win, or they both do, the ’Canes will be one of the odd-teams out in a three or four-way tiebreaker for the final two spots.
Because of that, Nappa has made it much more simple for his team – win and there will be nothing to worry about.
“That’s all we told them,” Nappa said. “We try to keep the other scenarios to ourselves, so that nobody knows about them. We want them focused on winning, not waiting for somebody else to lose.”
It won’t be easy against an equally desperate Mt. Hope team. The Huskies will make the playoffs with a win and a loss by either Johnston or Woonsocket. If Coventry, Westerly and Mt. Hope all lose, the tiebreaker will be points allowed for the final spot among the three teams, and Westerly has a 24-point edge on Mt. Hope at this point and a 30-point edge on Coventry.
The Huskies have struggled at times this year, although they’re coming off of a 28-6 victory over Toll Gate that kept them alive in the playoff race.
Still, they’ve been outscored this year 113-100, compared to Vets outscoring its opponents 117-90.
But the ’Canes know that all of that will be out the window come Friday.
“We talked about (the significance of a win), but we don’t want to focus on it where it would make them not play to their ability,” Nappa said. “We want them to play to win. We don’t want them to play to not lose.”
Mt. Hope is led by its duo of solid running backs, quarterback Kyle Valenzuela and linebacker Will Francis. Valenzuela has thrown for 383 yards and a pair of touchdowns while rushing for 342 and four scores.
Running backs Nick Murgo and Jesse Raiola have combined for nearly 800 yards on the ground to go with six touchdowns. Corey Jackson is also a threat to carry the ball.
On the outside, receiver Matt Mendonca is their biggest weapon, and he’s picked up a pair of touchdowns this season.
“They have several good players,” Nappa said. “They’ve got a good fullback. They’ve got a good tailback and a couple of receivers. They had been alternating quarterbacks, but (Valenzuela) seems to be their mainstay now. He’s been in there two games in a row. He runs a little bit better than the other kid did.”
Vets certainly has weapons of its own, too, with quarterback Jesse Sedoma leading the way and running back David MacDonald doing plenty of the heavy lifting. Receivers Jeremy and Kyle Morrissette have come up big at times, as have backs Dennis Scalzo and Mickenzey Pacheco.
The ’Canes are also in good shape health-wise, and they’ll need everybody if they want to pick up their biggest win as a program in five seasons.
On Friday night, Vets will learn its playoff fate.
“We’re just focused on this game,” Nappa said. “We don’t talk about past history.”