PAWTUCKET – The final score may suggest otherwise, but there was a time Friday night when this was Tolman’s game. In fact, some may argue that the Division I newcomers had perennial power La Salle Academy against the ropes.
In the end, La Salle showed why it figures to remain in the thick of the Super Bowl chase. With quarterback Anthony Francis accounting for four touchdowns, the Rams soared to a 42-20 triumph before a strong gathering at Pariseau Field.
Before the Tigers got completely swallowed up by a Maroon & White tidal wave, they enjoyed a 14-7 second-quarter advantage that had everyone on the Tolman sideline believing that the upset was closer than initially believed. From the start of the second stanza until the 8:59 mark, the home team wiped out a 7-0 deficit to go ahead 14-7.
Part of the reason why Tolman enjoyed such a prosperous turnaround stemmed from a pair of special teams’ gaffes from La Salle. The first came when Rams’ Tyneil Cooper muffed a punt return at midfield that Tolman’s Justin Otis recovered. A couple of short passes from quarterback Brandon Dunlop turned into sizable gains as Tolman had first and goal from the La Salle 6-yard-line.
Staying with the passing game, Dunlop fired a ball over the middle that Chris Baldwin corralled in the end zone. The extra point from Andrews Soares tied the game at 7-7.
Tolman’s offense was back on the field in no time flat after Cooper attempted to find a crease to cut through on the ensuing kickoff. Backpedaling just a little too much, Cooper coughed up the ball with Tolman’s Mory Keita coming away with it at the visitors’ 15.
Not wasting any time, Dunlop fired a 13-yard strike to Otis. A facemask penalty gave the Tigers an additional yard before Keita capped off the brief drive with a 1-yard plunge. Just like that, the Tigers were in business and up a score.
Realizing they had a fight on their hands, the now-trailing Rams opted to attack the Tigers through the air. With Francis at the controls, La Salle rallied for 35 answered points, 28 of which materialized in the second quarter.
“We told our guys that Tolman was going to come ready to play and if you sleep on them for a second, you’re going to put yourself in a bad situation, which we almost did,” noted La Salle head coach Geoff Marcone.
The visitors tied the game at 14-14 when John Morris capped off an eight-play, 80-yard drive with a 46-yard scoring gallop. The TD saw Morris use his fellow running backs and wideouts as lead blockers as Tolman was caught stuck in quicksand.
A three-and-out by Tolman put La Salle’s attack back on the field. Two plays into the drive, Francis hit Mitchell DaSilva from 59 yards out to put La Salle up for good at 21-14.
Two interceptions by Dunlop resulted in two more scoring strikes by Francis, both of which were hauled in by Keon Wilson and covered 41 and 19 yards. La Salle’s good fortunate through the air was the result of Tolman trying to bring additional heat on Francis. In turn, that left the Tigers’ secondary in a vulnerable position, having to cover the speedy La Salle receivers 1-on-1.
“We like our matchups in man coverage. We knew that going in, but we wanted to establish our ground game before starting to air it our,” said Marcone. “Once we started having success, we stayed with (the passing game) for a couple of series.”
“We tried to man up and thought that was a good philosophy, but they’ve got too many athletes,” stated Tolman head coach Dave Caito.
Despite being flagged for seven penalties in the opening quarter, La Salle jumped out to a 7-0 lead. The key play on the scoring drive was Francis calling his own number on his team’s own 1, sprinting 30 yards that got the Rams out of danger territory. In fitting fashion, Francis hurled his body through a wave of Tolman defenders from a yard out for the score.
For good measure, La Salle scored on its first possession of the second half as Morris continued his workmanlike night with a 20-yard TD.
“I told the kids afterwards that this team (meaning La Salle) is the best team I’ve seen in my 12 years of coaching,” said Caito.
Marcone was quick to offer praise of Tolman, saying, “They fought hard right to the end and I tip my cap to them. They’re going to win some games in this league.”