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North Kingstown (R.I.) charting a new course

11/5/2014

Perfection.

Rhode IslandThat’s something North Kingstown High has a chance to achieve for the first time since the school began playing football in 1946. Or to put it another way, the Skippers never have finished a season undefeated – let alone win a Super Bowl championship since the Rhode Island Interscholastic League established the Super Bowl format in 1972.

North Kingstown already has clinched the Division II-B championship (6-0) along with a high seed in the upcoming Division II State Tournament. “All” the Skippers have to do in order to finish the regular season with a perfect record is beat Chariho on Nov. 8, in the teams’ last league game and then polish off South Kingstown in their annual Thanksgiving Day game.

Considering North Kingstown was 0-24 from 2009-11 in Division I and 1-6 in II-B in 2012, coach Joe Gilmartin’s first season as the team’s head coach, the improvement the Skippers have made is like football’s equivalent of the distance between the Earth and the moon.

In his wildest dreams did Gilmartin ever envision his team would be in this position so late in the season?

“No, not really,” said Gilmartin. “During the course of the winter a lot of kids slacked off in terms of weight training. But I knew we had some pretty good pieces. Yet I didn’t anticipate things would come together as well as they have.

“We have a good sophomore class. But it’s all come together better than I might have anticipated.”

One thing that makes North Kingstown’s improvement even more impressive is that last season it finished 5-2 in II-B but missed out on qualifying for the state tournament as the result of a five-way tiebreaker for the four tournament berths. Ergo, North Kingstown was the odd team out.

“Honestly, I didn’t give it much thought at all,” said Gilmartin. “We controlled our destiny and didn’t play well. We had control over the whole deal including an outright division championship.

“Even though we took a big step forward, it showed we weren’t really ready to play a big game yet.”

In order to prepare the Skippers to play games –big or otherwise – this season, Gilmartin and his staff utilized some psychology.

“We’ve tried to stress the importance of every game,” he said. “In games where our kids might have looked past somebody, we explained every contest is equally important.

“You must play every game with the same intensity and desire.”

Perhaps no game this season was more intense than the one against Tolman on Oct. 24. The Skippers won, 24-22, when Dave Poirier kicked a 20-yard field goal with2:39 left in the game which clinched the division title.

“They’ve been very businesslike in their attitude,” Gilmartin said while explaining one reason for the Skippers’ success. “There hasn’t been a time when they’ve been really high or really low. They’ve even won a game on a late field goal.

“If you’re going to have a season when you’re going to get over the hump you have to win a bunch of different games. You explain to the kids you’re going to have to do this – play against the (poor weather) conditions plus the other team. The kids have met those challenges.

“It’s been a tribute to the way they approach their job every day,” continued Gilmartin. “We say if you want to do it you’ve got to get ready for the next guy.”

One aspect of North Kingstown’s game plan that makes its opponent have a difficult time “getting ready” is the Skippers’ offense.

“Quarterback Matt Madoian is a senior who’s done an excellent job,” said Gilmartin. “His command of the offense is incredible. We run a no-huddle offense so he has to make decisions at a high rate of speed. He’s a big reason why we’ve been so successful.”

Rhode IslandThe Skippers have been so successful on offense that, through their first eight games, they’re averaging 42.1 points.

“We been in a huddle once this year,” said Gilmartin. “If I told them to go into a huddle they wouldn’t know what to do.

“Running a no-huddle offense is part of a team’s personality. It doesn’t matter what the conditions are. You have to be that way. That’s what we’ve been preaching for a couple of years.”

Conversely, the Skippers also have improved on defense which had been their Achilles’ heel in the past.

“Safety Dave Poirier is on the career record board with 13 career interceptions,” said Gilmartin. “He has six this season. Cornerback Jake Porter has four interceptions.

“Glenn Vallee’s done a great job at middle linebacker. He’s done a great job understanding what we want to do defensively. One of the reasons we’ve improved our record is because we’ve improved our defense,” continued Gilmartin. “We’ve spent a lot of time working on defense.”

Time that could pay off in a big way come the end of the season.

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey, plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y. he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.