In 2008, a playoff bound Toll Gate team almost pulled off a Thanksgiving upset against a Hendricken squad that missed the playoffs in Division I. Every year since, the Hawks have been Super Bowl contenders and Toll Gate has missed the D-II playoffs.
That was the case again this year, and the result was more of the same. Patrick Gill and Power Kanga scored two touchdowns each and the Hendricken defense pitched its third consecutive shutout in the series as the Hawks beat Toll Gate 33-0 on Thanksgiving eve at Hendricken.
The Hawks have now won 21 straight in the series.
“It’s always good to get out there and play Toll Gate,” said Hendricken head coach Keith Croft. “I think they’re a good opponent for us. It’s nice to play another city school, and like I told Coach Mancuso after the game, he should be proud of his kids. They played really hard.”
Toll Gate went winless in league play but picked up some momentum with a non-league victory over Pilgrim. Against the Hawks, though, it was tough for the Titans to carry that momentum. They went three-and-out on their first possession, had a punt blocked and watched Hendricken take a 6-0 lead one play later. The Titans moved the ball well at times, but couldn’t get into the end zone.
“We did some good things,” said Toll Gate coach Matt Mancuso. “They’re just better. They had some kids out and they’re still two or three deep everywhere. But our kids battled. They did it all year long. They’ve dealt with stuff and they’ve kept fighting.”
The Titans showed a different look out of the gate, coming out in a wildcat formation with running back Jose Javier taking the snap. Zach Mitchell picked up 6 yards on first down, but Toll Gate went backwards on its next two plays. Marco DelVecchio then pushed a blocker into punter Colby Connell, which knocked the ball away.
Hendricken took over at the 5-yard line, and Gill scampered in on a quarterback keeper for the 6-0 lead. Hendricken tried a fake extra point for the two-point conversion, but John Arruda’s pass was incomplete.
The Hawks forced another punt and took over at their own 37. Gill hit Anthony Markey for two big gains into Toll Gate territory, then scampered 26 yards to the end zone on an option play. Robert Campbell’s extra point was good, making it 13-0.
The teams then traded punts, and Toll Gate took over at the Hendricken 44. Javier picked up 7 yards on three runs, leaving the Titans with a fourth-and-3 at the 37-yard line. With a first down, the Titans might have threatened, but Mitchell was thrown for a 1-yard loss on the fourth down play.
“In every game we played all year long, there’s always those couple of plays,” Mancuso said. “One thing goes our way, and it can change things around.”
Hendricken, which had taken to the air with little success on its previous drive, went back to the ground and marched quickly down the field. Kanga scored from 15 yards out to make it 19-0.
“For the most part, we did well,” Croft said. “We worked on some things early – we threw the ball out of the gate more than we would have normally. Our running backs showed a little burst and our line blocked pretty well.”
Toll Gate went three-and-out on its next possession, and Hendricken took over at the Titans’ 33. Kanga took a handoff on the first play and burst through the left side of the line, racing 33 yards for his second touchdown. Campbell’s extra point made it 26-0.
The Titans moved into Hendricken territory again on their next drive but the Hawks stopped another fourth down and went into the locker room with the 26-0 lead.
“Toll Gate’s running game was getting to the perimeter and we were missing some tackles,” Croft said. “Their running back showed some pretty good speed, and I thought their line was blocking well. Our defense came up with a few stops and gave our offense a little momentum.”
Backup quarterback John Toppa replaced Gill late in the first half and delivered a big play of his own early in the second. On just the second play of the half, he raced 58 yards for a touchdown.
From there, Hendricken focused on getting opportunities for some of its bench players, while the Titans continued to push for a score. They came up empty on their first drive of the second half but got another chance when they forced a turnover on downs.
What followed was one of Toll Gate’s best sustained drives of the season, a 20-play march that covered 80 yards and took the Titans down to the Hendricken 7-yard line. Quarterback David Babcock completed five passes on the drive, and Javier picked up 30 yards on the ground, but the Titans ultimately came up empty. On a fourth-and-4 from the 7, Babcock scrambled but could only pick up a yard.
Hendricken punted on its next possession, but the Titans couldn’t get anything going on their final drive.
“David was upset up until the last play,” Mancuso said. “He wanted to score. That’s nice to see. The kids don’t quit and as coaches, that’s what we’re excited about.”
Javier was a bright spot for the Titans. He led all rushers with 100 yards on 22 carries. Babcock completed six of 13 passes for 35 yards.
Toppa led Hendricken with 76 yards rushing on five carries, while Kanga had 62 yards and the two touchdowns. Gill tallied 43 yards to go with his two scores.
Hendricken rested several key players who were banged up and came out of the game feeling good about the next step. They’ll host Cranston East tonight at 6 p.m. in the Division I playoffs.
“It’s always good,” said Hendricken head coach Keith Croft. “We wanted to go into the playoffs on the right foot tonight. It wasn’t even so much the win – it was playing clean and playing disciplined football. I think we did that.”