It had been a long time since Warwick Vets could take a knee to end a football game, and it had been just as long as since it was undefeated at this point in the season.
But after a dominant performance from start to finish against Toll Gate on Saturday, ’Canes quarterback Jessie Sedoma took three knees to end it and the team improved to 2-0 with a 26-6 victory.
On the heels of a 33-8 victory over PCD/Wheeler/Juanita Sanchez last week, Vets is now 1-0 in Division II-A and 2-0 overall. The win total matches the number of wins it has registered over the past three seasons combined.
“We’re not the old Warwick Vets,” said senior running back T.J. Boyajian, who led all rushers with 213 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. “We’re here, and we’re working hard.”
It wasn’t a perfect performance, and the ’Canes were certainly helped out by some Toll Gate miscues along the way, but any win in league play is big for a program that had only one of them since 2009 entering Saturday’s game.
“They finished the game, and they came out strong,” Vets coach Bryan Nappa said. “We haven’t used the victory formation in a few years. That was nice to see.”
The Titans dropped to 0-2 overall and 0-1 in D-II-A, and there was little to be excited about.
Toll Gate managed only 117 total yards, including just 27 in the first half. It’s only points came after a bad snap on a Vets punt set up the Titans deep in Vets territory late in the game.
Other than that, it was a constant struggle.
“We just kind of stopped playing,” Toll Gate head coach Matt Mancuso said. “Vets played a great ballgame. My guys just didn’t show up. We kind of quit out there. I don’t know what to say.”
The ’Canes wasted no time setting the tone, as they scored on three of their four first-half drives. Plus, the defense did its part.
After Vets botched the opening kickoff and Toll Gate began play on the ’Canes 43-yard line, the Titans picked up one first down on a 22-yard run by David Babcock. But the drive halted after that, and despite getting all the way down to Vets’ 18-yard line, Toll Gate turned the ball over on downs and came away empty.
“We let up one first down early, and after that we pretty much shut them down,” Nappa said.
Then Vets went to work. Sedoma completed three passes to three different receivers on the opening drive, Boyajian broke off runs of 10 and 28 yards and fullback David MacDonald capped the 12-play, 74-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown run. Sedoma’s extra point gave Vets the early 7-0 lead.
A quick three-and-out for Toll Gate and a poor punt gave Vets the ball back on the Titans’ 36-yard line, and again the ’Canes moved the ball.
Boyajian started the drive out with a 22-yard run, and three plays later he finished it with a 12-yard touchdown scamper. The extra point missed, but Vets led 13-0 with 11:18 to play in the first half.
“He’s a good ballplayer,” Mancuso said of Boyajian. “He moves. We told them all week. It’s not like we don’t practice. We practice form tackling all week, we do it in drills and stuff like that.”
The Titans gained only one yard on the first three plays of their ensuing possession, and they lined up in a punt formation on fourth down. But Vets’ John McNally burst through the middle of the line and blocked Bruce Soscia’s kick, and then McNally recovered the ball.
The ’Canes took over at Toll Gate’s 25, and though they didn’t score, they were dominating every facet of the game. When Toll Gate got the ball back but once more went three-and-out, Vets struck again.
Beginning on its own 41-yard line, the ’Canes marched 59 yards on 11 plays for their third touchdown. Sedoma put the points on the board when he scrambled into the end zone from 14 yards out on third-and-10, giving Vets a 19-0 lead with just 11 seconds to play in the half.
Vets was happy with its offensive performance in the first 24 minutes, but it was the defense that controlled the game.
“We came together,” senior linebacker Tony Lonczak said. “We came out a little slow on the first drive, kind of asleep. After that we were like, ‘This is our defense, this is our game.’ Especially after the offense came out after we gave up some yards, they punched it in, we decided, ‘Let’s go.’ That’s what we ride this team on, this defense.”
The second half stayed the course, as Vets controlled the flow, albeit with some mistakes. It moved down to Toll Gate’s 8-yard line on its first possession before an interception halted that drive, and an interception in Titans territory ended its next drive as well.
Toll Gate finally broke through with some success on the ground, getting a 47-yard run from Jose Javier on its second drive of the half to get all the way down to the ’Canes 14-yard-line. That’s where it stalled though, and Vets took over there after a turnover on downs.
And then Vets delivered the final blow. On the first play of the drive, Boyajian took a carry and headed for the right sideline. Two cutbacks later, he was on his way to the end zone for an 86-yard touchdown that made the score 26-0.
“Coach told me all week that Toll Gate would over-pursue a little, so that’s why we were running counters and some of that stuff,” Boyajian said. “I just saw them all run that one way, so I ran the other way. The line played a hell of a game.”
With the game out of reach, Toll Gate did manage to get on the board. Vets tried to punt in the middle of the fourth quarter, but the snap went over Sedoma’s head for a loss of 33 yards. Toll Gate took over on the ’Canes’ 20-yard line, and Javier found the end zone three plays later on an 18-yard run, putting the final points on the board for the day.
“Jose ran hard,” Mancuso said.
From there, the clock wound down and the game came to a close. The win, though, came with a downside for Vets, as MacDonald had to be taken off the field in an ambulance in the third quarter when he injured his knee on a 10-yard run. Nappa had no update on his status. Fullback/linebacker Dennis Scalzo was also injured during the game.
Now Vets will try to keep on winning. It plays at Woonsocket on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. The Villa Novans are coming off of a 43-6 loss to Johnston on Friday.
Toll Gate will travel to Coventry Friday night at 6 p.m., as the Titans search for their first win on the season.