PAWTUCKET – Sure, his eyes and feet played a part in guiding Joselito Knapp to the end zone. To the Tolman quarterback, that only begins to cover what transpired with under six minutes remaining in Friday’s Division II quarterfinal matchup with Westerly at Pariseau Field.
“I found my heart,” said Knapp, tapping his chest as he was asked about the 36-yard scoring run that proved just how nibble and cunning the junior is. The play proved to be the difference in the Tigers’ 6-0 grounding of the Bulldogs that vaults Dave Caito’s crew into the semifinals against the winner of tonight’s St. Raphael-Johnston matchup.
What made Knapp’s scoring scamper extra noteworthy was how it unfolded. Knapp appeared in trouble as rolled to his left, but just as several Westerly defenders closed in, the Tolman junior ducked and started to scamper back towards the middle.
With the assistance of a big-time block by Devan Bullard, Knapp started to dash towards the goal line, leaving a confused bunch of Westerly players standing straight up.
“It was about Joe making something and being an athlete,” Caito. “We called a rollout pass and Joe just cut it back. If you sleep on him, he’s going to break one. He’s got that vision where he can cut one back.”
Not only did Knapp’s TD snap what was a scoreless stalemate with 5:48 to play, but it also atoned for a fumble that Westerly recovered near midfield in the third quarter.
“I wasn’t going to let my teammates lose or let them down,” said Knapp, who rushed 102 yards on 23 handoffs. “It was win or go home for us.”
Like a heavyweight fight, Tolman and Westerly traded punches and possessions for three-plus quarters. The first half become a battle of field position, as the two sides combined for six punts. At one point Westerly, standing on its own 1-yard line, opted to punt the ball away on third down rather than risk Tolman recording a safety.
“It was tough out there,” said Knapp. “You could tell they (Westerly) came to play.”
Westerly, which had to win its last three games just have a shot at the playoffs, had the best scoring chance in the first half, driving the ball down to the Tolman 12 after a screen play covered 36 yards. After two straight incompletions by Bulldogs QB Alex Brown, Tolman came with the blitz on third down, with junior Seny Samb bolting his way through the line. Samb ruffled Brown enough that he rushed the throw, resulting in an interception by Homlin Taylor.
“They’ve got a field goal kicker,” noted Caito about Westerly and how timely Taylor’s pick was.
The two teams continued to fight for every inch as the game marched on. The Tigers dogged Knapp’s fumble by forcing the Bulldogs into a three-and-out. Tolman started to show signs of life offensively on the next series as Ousmane Samb staged runs of 13, 33 and 22 yards to get the Tigers out of the shadow of their own goal. The 33-yard scamper, one that saw Samb shake loose of two Westerly defenders and tip toe down the sideline, came with Tolman facing a third-and-32.
“Ousmane had a heck of a game,” said Caito about his senior’s 110 rushing yards. “(On that third and a mile) he made an outstanding stiff arm of the kid.”
Playing with the lead for the first time, Tolman turned the game over to its defense. Westerly was forced to punt after stalling at the Tigers’ 43, the third down play featured a screen play that was snuffed out by Tolman. The Bulldogs got one final crack with 1:25 left and no timeouts. On second down from the Westerly 20 the game was sealed on another strong defensive play by the Tigers.
On a pass intended to Westerly’s Brett Erler, Tolman’s Julien Fernandes tipped the ball into space. Knapp came racing in and came up with the ball as he fell to the turf.
“He had a nice pick to seal the deal,”said Caito.
“I’m not ready to lose,” said Knapp.
Tolman unleashed a new weapon Friday as kicker Kevin Poirier rejoined the team. He finished with a 37.2 punt average on five kicks, which includes a booming 51-yard boot that pinned Westerly deep in its own territory with time winding down.
Westerly 0-0-0-0 – 0
Tolman 0-0-0-6 – 6
T – Joselito Knapp 36 run (pass failed)
First downs 5 9
Rushes-yards 15-31 47-224
Passing 5-17-2 0-0-0
Sacks by 1-11 4-20
Net passing 62 (-11)
Punts-average 6-31.7 5-37.2
Fumbles-lost 3-1 4-2
Penalties-yards 3-25 8-70
Rushing: W – Frank Alviani 6-16, Spencer Read 5-0, Alex Brown 2-16, Ricky Doucette 1-0, Jeremy Octeau 1-(-1)
T – Ousmane Samb 16-110, Joselito Knapp 23-102, Juan Wilson 4-8, Darion Stubbs 2-0, Elvis George 1-2, Andre Gilbert 1-2.
Passing: W – Alex Brown 4-16-2-77, Spencer Read 1-1-0-5, Evan Caval 0-0-0-0; T – Joselito Knapp 0-0-0-0.
Receiving: W – John DiGangi 3-17, Spencer Read 2-65. T – None.