Playoffs are in sight for young Clippers

Playoffs are in sight for young Clippers

Cranston East quarterback Ben Harding, #10, is in big trouble and has nowhere to hide as he is sacked by Cumberland senior defensive tackle Julian Brooks, #66, junior defensive back Marc DiSalvo, #11, and senior linebacker Ed Inscoe, #52, during last Friday night’s game at Cranston Stadium. The Clippers evened their Division I-A record at 3-3 by defeating the Thunderbolts, 21-7. (Breeze photos by Eric Benevides)
Back-to-back victories set up Friday night’s key Div. I-A football clash with Saints

CUMBERLAND – It was two months ago when head coach Josh Lima sat in a classroom before one of his team’s morning practices and confessed that he had no idea what to expect from his Cumberland High football team this season.

With nearly every Division I-A team entering this season with a veteran roster, the Clippers were on the opposite end of the spectrum. Lima and his coaching staff found themselves with their hands full in the preseason, not only coaching the basics to a young roster that was loaded with juniors and sophomores, but also one that had just four returning starters.

“We were that young,” he recalled. “But I said to everyone at the beginning of the year, ‘If we click early, we’re going to be really good early, and if we don’t click early, it’s going to take us time to get going.’”

Unfortunately for the Clippers, they didn’t click early. They lost four of their first five contests, including a last-minute defeat in their non-league opener with Killingly, Conn., and held a 1-3 mark in the division that put any playoff hopes they had in jeopardy.

But the Clippers threw themselves back in the postseason picture these past two weekends by not only blasting South Kingstown, 49-8, two Fridays ago on their Homecoming Night, but also downing Cranston East, 21-7, last Friday night at Cranston Stadium.

With unbeaten Bishop Hendricken returning to the state championship game and North Kingstown (5-1) and Shea (4-2) locked into two of the Division I-A’s playoff spots, that leaves two spots open for the Clippers, St. Raphael Academy (3-3), and East Providence (2-4) to grab.

East Providence, which visits Cranston West (5-1) – fresh off last weekend’s stunning 34-13 triumph over La Salle – on Friday night, is a longshot to capture one of those remaining spots. That leaves Cumberland and SRA in the driver’s seat, and they will face each other on Friday at 7 p.m. at Tucker Field.

“I told the guys, ‘We’re taking everything week by week,’” said Lima, whose team holds a head-to-head tiebreaker with East Providence, thanks to the Clippers’ 30-21 over the Townies on Sept. 27. “’Let’s just focus on that and keep stacking up W’s.’ But it’s nice to get back to .500 in the league, which is huge.”

Lima talked about the Clippers’ season after last Friday’s win over the Thunderbolts, which saw his team jump out to a quick 14-0 lead on a 26-yard touchdown run by quarterback Dante Aviles-Santos and a 29-yard touchdown pass from Aviles-Santos to senior co-captain Shane Meerbott.

Unfortunately for the Clippers, they also made their share of mistakes over the next three quarters, but their defense kept the Thunderbolts off the scoreboard until they scored a touchdown on the contest’s final play.

“These guys work hard, but again, we’re a young football team,” Lima said. “We’re playing freshmen and sophomores, and some of them are stepping up, which is huge. But they’re making a lot of mistakes and things like that and we have to keep correcting them and keep growing. That’s the biggest thing.”

Aviles-Santos threw for an even 100 yards in last Friday’s game, 29 coming on a third-quarter TD pass to sophomore Jack Proctor (which was his first varsity reception), and ran for a team-high 64 yards on eight carries, and while he’s enjoying an excellent year in his first season behind center, he’s not the only player who’s contributed to the Clippers’ cause.

Senior tailback Isaiah Cole, who had big games in Cumberland’s victories over S.K. and E.P., junior wide receiver Ryan Larson, and Meerbott have also found their names on the stat sheet, and first-year senior kicker Ben Fogell has been a welcomed addition on special teams.

Up front, junior Adam Barboza has led the way on the offensive line, and after last Friday’s game, Lima pointed out the defensive play of senior linemen Julian Brooks, Sean Toure, and Ed inscoe and junior co-captain Emmanuel Ireland, as well as junior linebacker Aidan Faria – and he wasn’t done.

“There has been a lot of guys,” he said. “Patrick Conserve is a freshman who has been playing extremely well on defense. (Junior) Nick Chowning has kind of come out of nowhere from the beginning of the year and earned a starting guard spot. And (sophomore) Dylan Powers is starting at right tackle and rotating through on the D-line.”

“Like I said, there has been a lot of guys who have been playing well, especially some of the young guys, and I think they have a very bright future.”

Speaking of the future, if the Clippers qualify for the playoffs, it will mark the third straight season that they have reached the D-I tournament. They will visit either Cranston West, Portsmouth (5-1), or La Salle (4-2) in their quarterfinal-round opener on Friday, Nov. 8.

Cumberland sophomore wide receiver Cam Pedro, left, congratulates senior wide receiver Shane Meerbott with a simple handshake after Meerbott caught a 29-yard touchdown pass with 5:14 to play in the first quarter.
Cumberland senior quarterback Dante Aviles-Santos, shown running toward the first down marker during the second quarter of last Friday night’s 21-7 victory over Cranston East, ran for a touchdown and added two TD passes to highlight the win. Aviles-Santos, who threw four touchdown passes in the Clippers’ first victory of the season over East Providence, will lead the Clippers into their Division I-A showdown against St. Raphael Academy on Friday at 7 p.m. at Tucker Field.