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The schedule makers certainly didnâ€™t do the Narragansett football team any favors this season.
Last fall the Mariners didnâ€™t clinch a playoff spot until the second-to-last week of the season and if they wait that long this year they may be out of luck.
â€śWeâ€™re going to have to definitely play well in the beginning because those games in late October and November, they could be tough,â€ť Narragansett coach Dick Fossa says. â€śYou donâ€™t want to be in must-win games against Middletown, Mount Pleasant, Classical and East Greenwich.â€ť
â€śâ€¦You canâ€™t give up any games. You canâ€™t lose a game that you thought you should win. Any week any team top to bottom can beat you on any particular week. Itâ€™s more of a mental challenge just to be ready for every single game.â€ť
Narragansett is set to open the regular season Saturday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. at a young Tiverton team and will take on a playoff team from a season ago in Moses Brown the following Saturday.
The Quakers return one of the best quarterback-wide receiver combinations in the division in Eric Cosmopulos and Sebastian Ferrell and should provide the Mariners with a strong early season challenge.
â€śYes, the Moses Brown game is big but you have to take care of business the first week,â€ť Fossa says. â€śâ€¦Playing Tiverton on a Saturday night is always a nice atmosphere, itâ€™s a bit of a rivalry between us and thatâ€™s one of those games on paper that we need to win but we know Tivertonâ€™s not going to be an easy game. Theyâ€™re extremely well-coached and theyâ€™re always physical.â€ť
After the Moses Brown game Narragansett enters a critical stretch of home games against Burrillville, Ponaganset and Lincoln before defending champion Middletown comes to town on Nov. 2.
From there the Marinersâ€™ final three games will be on the road at three potential playoff teams in division newcomer Mount Pleasant, followed by Classical and East Greenwich.
The Kilties bumped up to Division III this season after winning the last three D-IV Championships, the always competitive Purple return two-year captain running back Allen Tat and few teams boast better skill players than EG quarterback Andrew Miner and running back Carney Crawford.
If Narragansett wants to make its third straight trip to the postseason it is going to have to take care of business early but fortunately for the Mariners they may have the talent to do just that.
Itâ€™s no secret that when you face â€™Gansett itâ€™s going to run the ball and this season the team has plenty of backs capable of shouldering the load.
Between seniors Reed Nelson, Michael Gallagher and junior Deontae Stanley the Mariners have a group with not only big play potential, but equally adept at grinding out short yardage situations.
While the running game will still be the bread and butter for the Mariners, any team looking to load the box with nine defenders could find itself susceptible to the long ball.
Back at quarterback will be Kullen McGill for his second season under center and heâ€™ll have a number of options to throw to in seniors Vincent Santos and Justin Cronin, junior Duke Sterling and sophomores Will Doyle and Connor McKnight.
â€śKullen McGillâ€™s looking really good at quarterback this year,â€ť Fossa says. â€śHeâ€™s really improved his throwing mechanics, his arm has gotten stronger and weâ€™ve got a few guys that can catch the ball. Being able to throw the ball should help the running game too.â€ť
The biggest question the Mariners will have to answer is whether or not the offensive line can create the opportunities necessary for the teamâ€™s skill players to succeed.
Narragansett took a significant hit in graduation on its offensive line and while the team has players with the size and skill to play the position, most will be first-year starters this fall.
â€śRight now our line played for us last year but not starting varsity. They played a few games here and there but starting itâ€™s a whole new line,â€ť Fossa says. â€śLosing Dillon Sheridan, Jared Whalen, Dan Lonczak thatâ€™s going to hurt us.
â€śWe do have the backs, theyâ€™re looked extremely well in camp but if the lineâ€™s not blocking it doesnâ€™t matter how good they are. If the line can just do a decent job we feel pretty comfortable running the ball.â€ť
Defensively the Mariners are in a similar situation as a strong core of linebackers in seniors Jack Salomone, Sammy Kershaw, Nelson, Gallagher and juniors Taylor Kreger and Sterling will have to make up for the teamâ€™s inexperience on the line.
â€śOur linebackers are probably the strength of our defense,â€ť Fossa says. â€śWeâ€™ve got a lot of experience back there, a lot of older players and they have a sense for the game.â€ť
Narragansett will get its first sample of where it stands Saturday at 6 p.m. when it takes on South Kingstown in a non-league game.