Playoff races in Division II football get wild nearly every year, and teams caught in the storm often find themselves hoping for one result or another, reduced to Friday night scoreboard-watching.
In the quest to end a four-year playoff drought, Warwick Vets would take a postseason bid anyway it comes, even if that means joining in the hoping-and-praying crew. But the Hurricanes would much rather control their own destiny, and they’ll have a chance to do just that beginning with Saturday’s road game against Westerly.
“We’ve looked at all the ifs, ands or buts, and the easiest way for us to get in is to win the ballgame Saturday night,” said head coach Mike Nappa. “The kids know it. If we secure this one, we’re in the driver’s seat.”
With Chariho and Toll Gate both winless and out of the playoff picture, six teams are battling for Division II-A’s four postseason spots. With a 3-1 record, Vets is in the top half of that group, and it will play three of the other contending teams to close out the year – Westerly, Johnston and Mt. Hope.
There’s still a long road ahead, with scenarios galore, but the ’Canes know that crunch time starts Saturday.
“It’s football – anything can happen,” Nappa said. “But the kids know the goal is to win this one.”
It’s a familiar goal. Last year, the ’Canes were 2-2 at this point in the season and their match-up with Westerly was a must-win. They pulled it off and, as a result, found themselves in the playoff mix the rest of the way.
Vets is in a better position this year but would still love to beat the Bulldogs again.
“We feel confident,” Nappa said. “The kids remember last year so they know what they can do.”
The Bulldogs are 2-2 in league play, with their victories coming against winless Chariho and Toll Gate. They’ve lost to Mt. Hope and league leader Woonsocket, although they played the Villa Novans tough in a 12-7 loss. That’s as close as anyone’s come to Woonsocket in league play. Westerly also hung tough against Division I East Providence last week, losing 20-12.
But Nappa likes the match-up. The Bulldogs have made the playoffs for five years running, but they lost a talented group to graduation last year, and Nappa said their usual powerful attack doesn’t have its usual personnel.
“I feel we’re faster than them and we’re a little more physical, for a change,” Nappa said. “They’re not a typical Westerly team.”
Having beaten a typical Westerly team last year, the ’Canes have good reason to be confident, but they also can’t get ahead of themselves. They committed a host of penalties in their last league game, a win over Chariho, and their win over Coventry the week before could have easily gone the other way.
“Every step when you haven’t been there in a while is tough,” Nappa said. “We know it’s not going to be easy.”
Vets took last week’s break from league play as a chance to get healthy, resting several key players in a blow-out loss to West Warwick. The focus is on the final three games.
“We’re a lot healthier,” Nappa said. “We had to rest and get ready for the stretch run and we did that.”
Saturday’s game is set for 7 p.m., and will be played just across the Connecticut border at Stonington High School. Westerly’s bleachers are in the midst of a renovation, necessitating a move.
It’ll be a long ride for the ’Canes, but they hope to be smiling on the return trip.
“I feel we’re practicing well,” Nappa said. “Giving some kids the week off was big. Hopefully, we put in our prep time and do what we need to do. We’ll be ready.”