WOONSOCKET – Before officially closing the books on the 2010 football season for Tolman High, please, pass the lemons.
A half-healed wound is in need of one final squeeze.
It’s about the lessons head coach Dave Caito and his Tigers learned from the way Woonsocket took over, and was allowed to take over, supremacy in last season’s Division II Super Bowl that was, by the end, not nearly as close as the 28-14 final score would have you believe.
The ’10 Tigers were a running team whose first three options on the play chart were run, run, and if all else fails, run some more. Passing the pigskin was not their forte. Relying almost exclusively on its ground game did have its merits, resulting in an undefeated regular season and a spot in the season’s biggest game.
Then, on that big and bright stage, Tolman paid a steep price for being far too one-dimensional. Woonsocket stormed out to a two-touchdown lead in the first half, which in turn left Tolman in a quandary. Scores to get back in the game were needed and needed fast, and the quickest way to accomplish that was by traveling through the air.
Given the tenacious fashion in which Woonsocket’s defense grounded Tolman’s running attack, Caito and his assistant coaches turned their eyes towards a seldom-used facet. The results were of the unkindest cut with Woonsocket coming up with three interceptions.
If you were to ask Caito about what stood out about that cold December afternoon at Cranston Stadium, it’s that no offense is complete unless some semblance of balance is achieved. With that as the backdrop, Saturday’s rematch against those same Villa Novans was not about the Tigers exacting revenge or seeking redemption, given so many of the key players who played integral roles for their respective sides had moved on due to graduation.
The old saying “Those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it” need not apply to the ’11 Tolman Tigers. There’s a passing game for opposing teams to be wary of, quarterback Luis Rodrigues sounding the gong with a two-touchdown effort in a 35-6 massacre of the host Novans.
Maybe the first clue a new day had arrived for Caito & Co. came in a non-league loss to Barrington three Fridays ago. With time winding down in the opening half, Rodrigues, operating near midfield, fired a perfect spiral that Jason Maynard hauled in for six points.
It was the type of downfield play missing from last season’s equation and a clear indication that this season figured to be different.
“Last year no one respected our passing game,” Caito said while standing at midfield. “Not to take anything away from (Joselito Knapp, last year’s QB), but Luis can do things that Jose couldn’t do.
“To add that dimension,” Caito continued, “it makes us more balanced.”
Saturday’s opening half saw Rodrigues complete three of his four throws. If the first image that pops into your mind based on those modest figures is Luis Rodrigues, Game Manager, think again. All three of Rodrigues’ pass completions went for 20 yards or more.
He showed he possesses the ability to make all the throws a quarterback needs to make. On a 30-yard scoring hookup with Darion Stubbs in the first quarter, Rodrigues hit his intended target on a crossing route before Stubbs leapfrogged and sidestepped several Woonsocket defenders on his way to the end zone.
Rodrigues’ second passing touchdown was just as impressive. He applied enough deft touch on the pass that Justin Otis and only Otis could make a play on the ball. The end result was a 25-yard score that put Tolman up 14-0 early in the second quarter.
Timely is the best way to sum up Rodrigues’ final completion just before halftime. Tolman was looking at an obvious passing situation: third-and-13 from the Woonsocket 28-yard-line. Instead of reacting before thinking, Rodrigues was the picture of calm, surveying the field before finding Chris Baldwin for a 24-yard gain.
Andre Gilbert took care of the remaining four yards for the Tolman score, one made possible thanks to the contributions of the signal caller.
Afterwards Woonsocket head coach Carnell Henderson was asked based on what he saw Saturday if Tolman did, indeed, learn from the cruel hand his Villa Novans dealt the Tigers in last season’s championship game.
“Do they do some things well? Yes,” Henderson said. “Would I say they’re more balanced? That’s tough for me to answer.”
What is certain based on Saturday’s performance is that Caito has the luxury of being choosey with his running backs. After Elvis George left the game in the first quarter with an ankle injury, Caito rotated the ball-carrying duties between Stubbs, Homlin Taylor and Mory Keita. Thanks to the trio’s elusiveness coupled with the holes the offensive linemen opened up, Tolman racked up eight carries of 10 or more yards.
“It’s like they’re shot out of a cannon the way they go sometimes,” Caito remarked when the subject turned to his cadre of ball runners. “We’re blessed to have good speed and some depth.”
Better save some of those hosannas for the new wrinkle to the Tolman offense this season – a passing game that thanks to Rodrigues could pay major dividends down the road.
Tolman 7-14-14-0 – 35
Woonsocket 0-0-0-6 – 6
T – Darion Stubbs 30 pass from Luis Rodrigues (Andrew Soares kick)
T – Justin Otis 25 pass from Rodrigues (Soares kick)
T – Andre Gilbert 4 run (Soares kick)
T – Homlin Taylor 13 run (Soares kick)
T – Mory Keita 78 run (Soares kick)
W – Kyle McKellick 1 run (kick failed)