The last time the Warwick Vets football team won a season-opening game, what followed was one of the best regular seasons in the program’s history.
That was five long years ago.
Since knocking off Toll Gate 36-20 in 2007 en route to a 7-0 league record, the ’Canes have lost the first game on their schedule four consecutive times, and that loss in the initial game – although traditionally a non-league contest – has almost always set the tone for the rest of the season.
Vets went 5-2 in league play in 2008 after losing the opening game, but that was the exception, not the norm. The next three seasons, Vets won just one total game.
The ’Canes are looking to set a different tone this season.
In a year in which hopes are higher then they’ve been since that 2008 season, Vets doesn’t want to waste any time before establishing itself as a team with a chance to make some noise in the crowded Division II.
It wants to win this Saturday.
“If you drop that first game, there’s always this thought in the back of your head, ‘Is this going to be like seasons past?’ It’s something that we’ve tried not to concentrate on very much,” Vets coach Bryan Nappa said. “The only thing that they’ve really been focusing on is moving forward and setting a good start to the season with a win off the bat.”
And a win is there for the taking.
Vets will be hosting a non-league game Division IV Providence Country Day/Wheeler/Juanita Sanchez (PCD), a team that has won just five games over the past three seasons in the state’s lowest division.
That’s a big change from the recent past, when Vets has taken on rival Toll Gate – a fellow D-II team – in it season opener.
This year, Toll Gate moved into the same D-II subdivision as Vets, meaning that the two teams will play a league game during the season. The ’Canes will actually open their league slate next week against the Titans.
That paved the way for the game against PCD, and the match-up is a golden opportunity for Vets to get a win under its belt and lend some validation to its high expectations right before it dives in to league play.
“What we’ve been stressing this year is we have to play every game like it’s a playoff game, otherwise we’re not going to make it there,” Nappa said. “That’s the attitude we have and that the kids have coming into the first week. They’re excited to show exactly what they can do and kind of set the tone for the season coming in.”
Vets enters this weekend with some mixed emotions about how it played during its Injury Fund game last Friday against Bishop Hendricken.
The ’Canes played one half against the Hawks and lost 27-0. But after falling behind 14-0 just minutes into the game, Vets was competitive from there on out against one of the best teams in the state.
It was far from perfect, but there were positive takeaways, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
“We actually stopped them on two goal line stands inside the 20, which was really kind of a boost for us,” Nappa said. “It built their confidence up a little bit to believe that they can actually hang with some of the better teams in the state. Obviously, Hendricken is going to be a premier team again.”
Vets also had the added benefit of being able to see PCD play, as PCD had its Injury Fund game at Vets earlier in the night, where it beat Scituate 20-14.
Without having a ton of familiarity with PCD due to not playing them over the past few years, seeing the team play allowed Nappa and his staff to get some much-needed scouting in prior to this weekend.
“I think we match up well across the board, and I think we can take advantage of a few things they do defensively,” Nappa said.
And if Vets can take advantage of those things, and play the way it believes it can, then it’s got a chance to make a statement.
The past three years, teams have looked at the ’Canes on the schedule and penciled in an easy win. That began to change last year when Vets beat Coventry, and it changed a little more when Vets beat Pilgrim on Thanksgiving.
Nappa wants Saturday to put an end to that idea for good.
“We’re pretty confident going into this game,” Nappa said. “It’s not going to be a walk in the park by any means, but the kids, they’re looking forward to actually proving to the league that they’re for real. They want to prove that they’re not just going to get rolled over every week like they have in years past.”
Saturday’s game is scheduled for a 1 p.m. kickoff at Vets.