PAWTUCKET – A well-balanced Ponaganset offense put a scare into unbeaten Tolman on Friday night at Pariseau Field. The Chieftains never really took command of the game but they walked off the field with their heads held high following a 26-10 loss to the explosive Tigers.
“We just had too much speed and too many athletes for them,” Tolman coach Dave Caito said after his club stayed unbeaten in Division II-B at 6-0.
Caito understood his team had been tested in this game.
“Ponaganset is a tough team,” he admitted. “We shot ourselves in the foot when we fumbled down at their goal line and then threw an interception in the red zone.”
Ponaganset could point to an apparent Tolman fumble early in the third quarter that the officials blew dead (perhaps prematurely). Ponaganset’s Michael Paquin had picked up Joselito Knapp’s fumble and returned it for a touchdown that would have put the Chieftains ahead 9-6 at the time.
“That was a momentum-changer,” Ponaganset coach Brian Gendreau admitted after the game. “But Tolman is a fantastic team. Their speed is incredible. Our defense did a good job stopping them for awhile.”
Tolman rushed for 347 yards on the night. Halfback Ousmane Samb led the way with 150 yards on 13 carries, capping his night with a 17-yard scoring run midway through the fourth quarter. The Tigers also got a 49-yard TD run from Juan Wilson and two shorter scoring runs by speedy quarterback Knapp, who added 104 yards on 24 carries (the final three were one-yard losses as the 135-pound junior took a knee to kill the clock at the end of the game.
The two teams exchanged fumbles on their opening drives. Ponaganset turned the ball over on Tolman’s 40. The Tigers then quickly moved 59 yards in five plays before botching a handoff at the three-yard line that Will Girard recovered in mid-air and returned 24 yards back to Ponaganset’s 27.
After the Chieftains punted, Tolman’s offense moved 55 yards in six plays for the opening score. Knapp hit Shane Taylor out of the backfield for a 36-yard catch-and-run that put the ball at Ponaganset’s 14-yard line. Knapp ran twice for 11 yards, then finished off the drive with a two-yard bootleg for the touchdown.
The Tigers moved down to Ponaganset’s 10 on their next possession with Samb’s 36-yard sweep of right end the big play. On second down, Knapp got into some trouble and hoisted an ill-advised pass that safety Lucas Jaffa intercepted.
The Chieftains then put together their first sustained drive as quarterback Chris Larrabee completed three passes and big fullback Scott Peterson started to gain yardage between the tackles.
Ponaganset had a size advantage at the line of scrimmage and used it well on this possession. Tolman’s defense finally stopped the Chieftains at the 22-yard line when Larrabee overthrew an open receiver at the 12.
After Tolman punted for the only time all night, the Chieftains moved the ball 51 yards. As time was running out in the half, Ethan Walsh, perhaps the best kicker in the state, booted a 32-yarder to make it a 6-3 game at intermission.
The Tigers may have received a break early in the third quarter on the quick whistle but they demonstrated their superiority in the final 16 minutes of the game, reeling off 20 points. Knapp showed off his speed, cutting skills and toughness with a succession of hard runs through the middle of Ponaganset’s defense. His inside moves complemented Samb’s ability to get outside on a succession of sweep plays that usually began with an inside handoff from Knapp.
Knapp scored from one-yard out late in the third quarter. Juan Wilson’s 49-yard TD run down the left sideline broke the game open with 8:34 left in the final stanza.
Ponaganset responded with its only touchdown drive, a 9-play, 53-yard journey that ended when Peter Mathieu swept right end and beat Tolman’s defensive backs to the flag.
Samb’s 21-yard TD run completed the scoring with 90 seconds left in the game.