WILMINGTON – Friday is a must-win.
If the Wilmington High School football team wants to compete in the playoffs, then the Wildcats have to beat Burlington before the home crowd with kick-off scheduled for 7 pm.
A loss and the 'Cats chances are basically all but done.
"We have to win this week to have any chance for the playoffs," said head coach Craig Turner. "If we win, we'll get 19 points (in the power ranking system) and that'll be huge for us. We could possibly leap over several teams. I really believe that last week's game (with Watertown) started our playoff run."
Under the MIAA's power ranking system, Wilmington is currently ninth out of eleven teams in the Division 4 North Bracket, with the top eight making the playoffs. The 'Cats currently have 6.85 points, which is significantly lower than Burlington (12.00), Dracut (11.85), Wayland (11.70) and Wakefield (9.00) who are ranked five through eight, however, the schedule does not favor any of those four teams and Wilmington needs to take advantage of that.
Burlington's last three games are against Wilmington, Melrose and Stoneham. Dracut faces Acton-Boxboro, North Andover and Tewksbury, so there's a possibility that both Burlington and Dracut could go 0-3, assuming Wilmington wins on Friday. Wayland faces Newton South and then Lincoln-Sudbury, and Wakefield has Winchester, Watertown and Wilmington.
The 'Cats have Burlington, Stoneham and Wakefield.
Under the format, teams get 12 points a win against an opponent in a higher division and 10 points against an opponent in the same or lower division. Additionally, teams get three more points for every win by an opponent you defeated, 1.2 points for every win by an opponent you lost to from a higher division and then 1 point for every win by an opponent you lost to within the same or lower division.
Realistically, two wins for Wilmington, should land them a spot in the top eight.
"I think we match up very well with Burlington," said Turner. "And I'm expecting a good crowd. For us to be successful it's all about if we can run the ball and take care of it, then add in some passing plays when we can."
Since entering the Middlesex League in the fall of 2011, Wilmington and Burlington have played each other nine times, eight regular season games and one playoff game. The Red Devils have held the edge with a 6-3 series lead, including last year's 42-7 triumph. Besides a 14-7 game in 2016 and the terrific 33-32 game in '11, all of the other games have been either high scoring battles or one sided. Burlington has scored an average of 31 points a game compared to just 15 for Wilmington including the two shut outs on back-to-back weeks in 2015.
This Friday, Wilmington will once again have their hands full with a potent offensive attack by Burlington, led by senior quarterback Khyle Pena. Last year he only completed 4-of-10 passes for 148 yards but had a pair of TD passes in the win over Wilmington and the year before he was immense, completing 26-of-44 passes for 317 yards with four touchdowns in the 'Cats 47-30 victory. He also combined to throw four interceptions in those two games.
Last week in the team's upset loss to Wakefield, he started off hot completing all four passes for 52 yards and a TD pass, before struggling the rest of the way completing just 11-of-25 passes for 73 yards with three interceptions.
"Pena is very good and is one of the top quarterbacks in the league," said Turner. "The wide receiver (Shawn Pinkham) is talented and their left tackle, Chris Jones, is one of the best linemen in the league."
Turner added that defensively, he feels that the 'Cats have played alright — with the exception of Melrose — and it's just a matter of his offense staying on the field for as long as possible.
"I think we have turned the ball over twelve times already and it's impossible to win if you are turning the ball over at that rate," he said. "Last week we took care of the ball and we won. We should have beaten Woburn but we didn't take care of the ball, so we have to establish the run and hang onto the ball if we want a chance to beat Burlington."
And dramatically increase the team's chances of getting into the playoffs.
BREAST CANCER AWARENESS GAME
The Wilmington High Football and Cheerleading programs have a plan to ‘Tackle Breast Cancer’ as Friday’s game will be ‘Breast Cancer Awareness Night’.
The Touchdown Club will be raffling off a $100.00 scratch ticket board, and the cheerleaders will be selling ‘Smith Strong’ bracelets and magnents, on behalf of Debbie Smith, the mother of captain Bailey Smith and former Wilmington Pop Warner President and Cheerleading Coach.