From fumbles and interceptions to onside kicks and long runs, there were plenty of plays that swung the momentum in Saturday’s football game between Pilgrim and Toll Gate.
Neither team could really hold on to the momentum, though, and that made for a wild one. Toll Gate was clicking early while Pilgrim scuffled. Later, the Pats took control while Toll Gate sputtered. And all the way along, the twists and turns made it hard to tell which team was playing which role.
But in the end, even if they didn’t hold on to much momentum, the Pats held on for a win. On the strength of a big third quarter and a late defensive stand, the Pats topped Toll Gate 30-20.
“It’s a big win over a rival,” said Pilgrim head coach Tom O’Connor. “We’ve just got to clean it up. We shot ourselves in the foot too many times. But it’s big. It keeps us in the hunt for things.”
All told, the Pats fumbled the ball six times, losing two of them. Quarterback Lee Verrier was also picked off once.
It was especially rough going early on. The Pats lost a fumble on the second play of the game then went backwards on their second possession, forced to punt on fourth-and-18. And in the meantime, Toll Gate jumped on top. After the first Pilgrim fumble, Mitch Howkins capped a 49-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Arthur LaFazia.
Slowly but surely, though, the Pats started to find their footing. The Titans moved deep into Pilgrim territory on their next series, but on a fourth-and-seven at the 16-yard-line, Alex Leddy sacked Mitch Howkins, giving the ball to the Pats on the turnover on downs.
One play later, Verrier hit Jon DeVito on a slant, and DeVito slipped into the open field after breaking a tackle. He was finally dragged down after a 41-yard gain. Then, on the next play, Carl Sjogren took a toss to the right, got the corner and rambled 39 yards for a score. Verrier found DeVito for the two-point conversion and an 8-6 Pilgrim lead.
Neither team scored again before halftime, but Pilgrim picked up some momentum anyway. With 4:48 left in the half, Toll Gate recovered a fumble and started its drive at the Pilgrim 38. The Titans made it all the way inside the 10 in the final seconds, but on a third-and-goal, Derick Durand was stopped just short of the goal line as time expired.
Pilgrim went to halftime up 8-6.
“The defense picked up for us every time we shot ourselves in the foot,” O’Connor said. “That was the big stop for them. It changes the momentum going in.”
And for once, Pilgrim built on it.
The Pats started the second half by recovering an onside kick from Mike Mallozzi. After a holding penalty negated a 44-yard run, the Pats went right back to work. Alex Leddy broke a 25-yarder then scored from 27 yards out on the next play. He also ran in the two-point conversion for the 16-6 lead.
Pilgrim tried another onside kick after that and recovered it again, with Chad Jackman emerging from a pile with the ball. This time, it didn’t lead directly to points as James Patti intercepted Verrier in the end zone, but the Pats still seemed to be in control. Patti returned the ball to his own 3-yard line and the Titans couldn’t get anywhere. They punted and Pilgrim took over at the Toll Gate 23. Two plays later, Andrew Leddy found the end zone from 19 yards out. The two-point conversion was no good, but Pilgrim still led 22-6.
“The onside kicks gave us a lift and then we started pounding the ball,” O’Connor said.
The Pats did most of their damage on the same type of play – a power run to the left. What made the difference was the personnel. For the first time all year, both Alex and Andrew Leddy lined up in the backfield. With one blocking and one running, it was a tough attack to stop.
“When you put two linemen in the backfield and they both can run and they both can pick up the blocks real well, you can see the difference,” O’Connor said. “They’re used to the collisions full speed, and our other backs were struggling to pick up [Nick Carr] and [Derick Durand] for them. Once we put the Leddys in the backfield together, they knew who they needed to block, they saw them and they finished them off.”
Toll Gate finally got the chance to answer after Andrew Leddy’s score. This time Pilgrim didn’t try an onside kick and the Titans took over at the Pilgrim 45. After two good runs and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Pats, Toll Gate’s David Babcock scored on a 16-yard run. Toll Gate went for two and missed it, keeping it a 22-12 game.
At that point, the Toll Gate sideline was starting to come back to life, but Pilgrim didn’t let the good feelings last too long. The Pats marched 47 yards in six plays, capped by a 10-yard touchdown run from Andrew Leddy. Verrier ran in the two-point conversion to make it 30-12.
“We kept fighting back and all around we had a good team effort,” Andrew Leddy said.
Andrew Leddy finished with 50 yards rushing and the two scores. Alex Leddy tallied 114 yards, all in the second half.
In the fourth quarter, Pilgrim’s pounding offense gave way to a defense charged with hanging on. Carr broke loose for a 59-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter, and Toll Gate converted the two-point try to make it 30-20.
Pilgrim punted on its next series, and Mallozzi pinned Toll Gate deep. Even then, though, the Titans kept coming, getting a 20-yard run by Durand and a 20-yard pass from Howkins to Malique Woods to get into Pilgrim territory. But on the first play after a fourth-down conversion, Babcock dropped a pitch and Pilgrim recovered it.
Toll Gate had one more chance when it took over with 2:49 left but a pair of sacks by Jon Korry left the Titans in a fourth-and-23 with 1:24 left. They eventually turned the ball over on downs, and Pilgrim took a knee to seal the victory.
For Toll Gate, it was another in a line of tough losses. The team is now 0-4 in league play. But compared with shutouts in the first three games, this was a step in the right direction. The Titans actually out-gained Pilgrim, with Durand’s 120 yards leading the charge.
“We got better,” said head coach Matt Mancuso. “We moved the ball well.”
Toll Gate will try to stay on the upward trend with a non-league game against Cumberland on Saturday at 12 p.m. at home. Pilgrim, who’s now 2-2 in league play, will visit Coventry for a non-league game on Friday at 7 p.m.