When it came time to win critical games against the likes of Smithfield and North Smithfield last season the Exeter-West Greenwich football team fell just short, subsequently missing out on the playoffs with a 3-5 record.
Nonetheless, it was another year in which the Knights were in the hunt for a playoff berth, which has become the norm for EWG over the past seven years.
This season Exeter-West Greenwich has a strong core of returners that should once again keep the team competitive.
“We’re just going to take it week by week,” EWG coach Jim Alves says. “I have no idea what’s out there in the league but we do have a lot of experienced guys out there.”
It will be critical, however, that the Knights stay healthy.
As it is with most small schools, the Knights have a number of players that play on both sides of the ball and one injury to a starter generally means two positions to fill on the field.
“I think we’re going to be OK if we can stay healthy and get everybody healthy,” Alves says. “Right now we have a couple nagging injuries so I’ve held kids out of scrimmages not to worsen their injuries and it’s kind of hurt us in timing and continuity but I wasn’t going to sacrifice them being injured for league games.
“We’re kind of behind in continuity and timing because of that but if we’re at full strength and hitting on all cylinders we should be OK.”
It was a scenario last season’s team became all too familiar with as some key injuries at inopportune times cost the Knights.
“Our quarterbacks and running backs are returning but it’s just a matter of staying healthy,” Alves says. “When you don’t have many kids it drops off quick.
“We’re trying to get in the best shape possible but also mend some nagging injuries before they become bigger problems.”
Senior Jacob Hornoff returns at quarterback for the Knights, while classmates Dustin VanLuven and Dwight Anderson are back after getting the bulk of the team’s carries last season along with the graduated Gary Benedetti.
“We didn’t really lose too many kids to graduation,” Alves says, “so the kids that were on that team have another shot at it.”
The Knights’ offensive line took a hit with the graduation of tackle Tony Tavares and guard Jacob Laperche but should still be very solid thanks to seniors Alex Wharton, Ryan Ricard, Carl Neff and Zach Verrocchio.
One of EWG’s biggest losses came not through graduation but on who elected not to come back this season.
Twins Andrew and Christian LaBrie – two of the country’s best high school wrestlers – elected not to play football this season to focus on wrestling.
“It’s tough to replace those kids,” Alves says. “Their talent, their leadership and obviously their ability to play football. They were very good defensive ends and they helped us a lot on offense and special teams.
“Really where we’re going to miss them is their leadership. They have a way about them with their competitive nature that it spreads throughout the team.”
The surprises haven’t been all bad for EWG though as senior Ian Geyer – who spent the last three years playing soccer – elected to come out for the football team. He is expected to see time at wide receiver but should help considerably in the punting and kicking game.
Exeter-West Greenwich will open the preseason with its first Injury Fund game Saturday at 3 p.m. when it takes on Division I frontrunner Cranston East at Cranston Stadium.
The Knights will have another Injury Fund game Friday, Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. at East Greenwich before opening the regular season at home Saturday, Sept. 21 at 1 p.m. against the Providence Country Day/Wheeler/Juanita Sanchez Co-op.