PAWTUCKET – It's rare that Tolman High head coach Dave Caito seeks to heap laurels on his squad, and his rationale is understandable: No one makes the proper move or read on every play, and he wants them to learn from their mistakes and correct them – but fast.
Twice in the opening quarter of a Division I tilt against dilapidated East Providence on Saturday night, the Townies delivered gifts to the Tigers' doorstep, fumbling twice in the span of their initial three snaps, with both occurring deep in their own territory.
Tolman failed to capitalize on either, frustrating Caito and his staff to no end.
After that, however, the Tigers were near flawless. Senior receiver Chris Baldwin snared a pair of TD passes and Caito's ground attack mounted a whopping 291 yards on 50 handles as the Pawtucketers crushed EP, 28-0, at Pariseau Field.
Junior tailback Napoleon Johnson led the victors with 91 yards on 10 carries, while senior quad-captain Mory Keita chipped in with 87 yards on 11. Fellow captain Mamour Samb maned 38 more on eight handles, while senior classmate Elvis George contributed 35 on seven and Dunlap another 27 on 10.
The crowd may have been sparse, totaling perhaps 75, but his defense seemingly thickened with each play. It not only sacked two Townie quarterbacks, including senior Jashaun Bennett and junior John Costa, six times for a minus-40 yards, but it also allowed them just two completions in seven tries for 22 yards, and picked the former once.
As for veteran mentor Sandy Gorham's offense, it mustered just 19 yards on 24 handles, and fumbled an amazing eight times, losing three.
“Our defense, it was picture-perfect,” Caito gushed after his Tigers improved to 3-4 overall (2-4 league). “That's just how we drew it up. Our ends, our linebackers, our secondary, they executed to a 'T.'
“We had seen EP on game film, and we saw that (it would) have at least one breakaway in every game,” he continued. “I think they had only two first downs (they did), so that's great … Our defensive line and linebackers, we had told them to play responsible football, play their positions and swarm the ball.
“I wasn't that impressed with our offense for most of the first half, but the defense? It was super, especially in the second half.”
The Townies fell to 1-6 overall and 0-5 in league; that's a position Gorham has seen rarely in his 37 years of varsity coaching.
Gorham told Tolman offensive coordinator Ron Silva how impressed he was by Dunlap's ability, and the latter brought him to Gorham so he could congratulate him on a job well done.
“What's so frustrating is we lost six starters, before this, to injuries, and we lost another one (Saturday night,” he said of senior center/defensive tackle Ben Veiga, who suffered an concussion. “We lost (senior captain and lineman) Jonah Aurelio up front to some ribs (injuries), and we had three out here.
“We just didn't have the depth,” he added. “We had to play the whole JV line in the second half. But you've got to give Tolman a lot of credit. They have an outstanding ground attack, and Dave's got a stable of rushers who can fly. And their quarterback, he looked like Cam Newton out there. He's got a great arm and phenomenal speed to the perimeter.
“They beat the hell out of us upfront; that's a very good team he has. We'd have kids get to the carrier, but they wouldn't make the play. They're fast as heck, and have a great quarterback who makes it happen. He's one of the best I've seen in all my years in coaching.”
On Bennett's very first play, he lost the ball, Keita recovering at the EP 29. Seven plays after, Dunlap's right-flat pass to Keita was batted away.
Junior Joshua Roderick fumbled at his own 26, and the Tigers immediately gained 13 yards to forward the pigskin to the 13.
A Townie encroachment penalty took it to the 8, but two consecutive flags against Tolman pushed it back to the 18, and nothing resulted from the turnover.
After a quick EP “three-and-out,” though, the Tigers began to roll. It maneuvered 38 yards on nine plays, ending on Dunlap's one-yard sneak. Senior Andrew Soares planted his first of four PAT boots through the uprights for a 7-0 advantage.
The Townies' defense stiffened after that, forcing three straight failed possessions, and the offense actually drove into Tolman territory (the 48) before a sack of Bennett drove it back to the EP 47. Senior Codee Bizier picked off his next toss at the Tigers' 38, and – aided by a pass-interference call on Keita's halfback option toss to Samb – Caito's crew needed just five more snaps to get into the end zone.
This time, Dunlap rolled right and found Baldwin on a five-yard TD aerial; it was one in which the receiver had to hit his knees and reach for the back-shoulder throw, and it gave Tolman a 14-0 advantage.
Senior captain James Otis highlighted the drive with a stellar, leaping grab that went for 29 yards.
It looked as if the Tigers would take the third-quarter kickoff into the end zone, until they stalled at the EP 27 – Dunlap's fourth-and-12 toss fell incomplete.
They didn't disappoint their fans on their next drive, as Dunlap capped a 55-yard, seven-snap possession with a 27-yard aerial to Baldwin with 3:34 remaining in the period.
On the penultimate play of that quarter, senior Justin Andrade intercepted Dunlap and returned it to the EP 31. Costa's 19-yard screen pass to Roderick and Tolman's 15-yard personal-foul flag placed the ball inside Tiger territory for the first time, at the 35, but junior Austin Baptista lost the ball, and – who else? – Keita recovered.
That eight fumble accounted for Tolman's final score, and it came courtesy of Samb's 15-yard sweep down the left sideline midway through the fourth.
The Townies utilized Baptista's 38-yard kick return to maneuver to the Tigers' 28, but Keita and senior tackle Craig Mann sacked Costa for a nine-yard loss.
“Our guys ran better in the second half,” stated Silva, Tollman's offensive coordinator. “The kids have speed, but sometimes they'll use it to a disadvantage. They'll try to cut back or stutter-step or bound around, and that's because they think they can outrun somebody. The difference over the last two quarters was they were moving forward, running downhill.”
As for Gorham's praise of Dunlap, Silva offered, “He's coming along. This is his first year with us, as he transferred in from Mount Pleasant. Like all of us, he's a work-in-progress. We give him a lot of responsibility with his reads, but he's doing OK. He's showing us things he can do, like running as hard as he does.
“Still, you have to give the line credit, and his backs doing the lead blocking,” he added. “He's good at grabbing their belts and having them pull him along … If you had told me we were going to win this thing 28-0, I would have said, 'I hope so.' We expect to score 28 in every game, and – if we don't – I'm disappointed in myself. It's my job – our jobs – to prepare the players.
“I never put it on the kids. That's not my M.O. (an abbreviation for modus operandi, Latin for 'the way of operating').”