Ponaganset football team seeks success in new-look Division III

Ponaganset football team seeks success in new-look Division III

Big contributions are expected this year from Ponaganset High seniors, in front from left, Andrew Arsenault, Zachary Pierce, and Phil Cummings; in back, Hayden Braga, Zachary Wilks, Zachary Phillips, and James Bergin. The Chieftains will face the North Smithfield/Mount Saint Charles co-op team in their Injury Fund opener on Friday at 6:45 p.m. at Johnston High. (Breeze photo by Kayla Panu)
Despite small numbers, Chieftains hope to put end to seven-year playoff drought

GLOCESTER – After spending last season adjusting to a new head coach, as well as a new coaching staff, the Ponaganset High football team hopes to improve upon its record from last year and maybe even make a playoff run in a brand new Division III.

“We haven’t made the playoffs since 2009, my senior year,” head coach Steven Kitson said. “We’re hoping to get in this year. I believe this team can do it. Our main objective is to get enough wins to reach the playoffs.”

Last season, the Chieftains went 1-7 in Division III play and had a tough time against certain opponents, but this year, the Rhode Island Interscholastic League, along with the state’s coaching association, voted to do away with Division IV and move all nine of those teams into a Division III that still contained the Chieftains, Lincoln, Narragansett, Hope, and Toll Gate.

The Chieftains will play in the III-A subdivision along with defending Division IV champion Smithfield, Exeter/West Greenwich, the Juanita Sanchez/Providence Country Day/Wheeler co-op team, Lincoln, Narragansett, and the new North Smithfield/Mount Saint Charles co-op team.

“I love the new division,” Kitson added. “I’m a big fan. The teams in our division are a similar size to us. East Greenwich was always a powerhouse in D-III and we couldn’t compete against them. Plus, this is our lowest population in the school, about 650 kids.”

Despite being in the same division as Scituate, they are playing in different subdivisions, and their annual rivalry game will still be a non-league contest. They will face off on Saturday, Sept. 10, at Ponaganset High School.

On Saturday, Oct. 8, the Chieftains will host Smithfield, whose head coach, Chris Branch, used to coach at Ponaganset. Kitson said his coaching staff is friendly with Smithfield’s, and he also has a former Smithfield player on his staff, Nick Patrie.

“A lot of bragging rights will go to the winner of that game,” Kitson said. “The coaches are friendly and a lot of our staff played against Smithfield. It should be a good game. I’m real excited.”

The Chieftains will also face North Providence for their one crossover game on No. 14. Kitson said that in the past, they had played North Providence in their Injury Fund game, and he said that he’s glad his team will get to face a competitive team like the Cougars.

One team that the Chieftains have not faced that they will see this year is Exeter/West Greenwich. Kitson said that would be a game to circle on the schedule.

The Chieftains graduated about 12 seniors last year, and Kitson said that this year has been a total overhaul of the team. With the young coach and staff, he said they did not emphasize player development, but this season, they are ready to ramp up the younger players quickly.

The program has a lot of new kids, with not a lot of players returning for one reason or another. Kitson said that they all have been striving to do the best they can and have been participating in offseason workouts throughout the summer. They currently have close to 40 players.

Kitson said they have around “eight to nine” seniors and a lot of them have been with the program all four years. They don’t have captains yet, but they will choose them before Friday’s 6:45 p.m. Injury Fund game against the North Smithfield/MSC co-op team at Johnston High.

Andrew Arsenault, a senior, was the starting quarterback on the junior varsity team last year while Logan Courtemanche finished out his senior year. But Arsenault is now the starting QB on varsity, and Kitson said that he is a very athletic kid who had made an easy switch from wide receiver to quarterback.

Returning in the backfield is Zach Pierce, who did well until an injury sidelined him for most of last season, Kitson said. Another tailback who has now moved to right guard is Jimmy Bergin. Hayden Braga, a wide receiver, will also be a defensive back, and Kitson is hoping he has a big year on both sides of the ball.

Kitson said that along with the newcomers, they have a couple of transfer students as well. Two of the newer impact players Kitson highlighted were Marco Russo, a tailback and slot receiver, as well as sophomore Evan Calise, who Kitson said “has good potential.”

The Chieftains return the same coaches from last year and include a few new ones as well. Joining the staff are Josh Hayes, a 2015 Ponaganset graduate; John Greenhalgh, a 2011 Ponaganset graduate who spent four years playing football at the University of Rhode Island; Wyatt Houston, a 2009 Ponaganset graduate who played football at Plymouth State, and Mike Sullivan, a 2009 graduate of Cranston West. Kitson said that both Houston and Sullivan went to the Police Academy together and decided to coach football.

The Chieftains’ first league game will take place at Exeter/West Greenwich on Saturday, Sept. 17, at 2 p.m. Kitson is hoping they can start the season in the same manner they started last year – with a win – and continue to build on that.

“We’re just excited to be in a new division,” he said. “We’re excited to see what we can do with our limited number of players.”