The Pilgrim football team could have panicked on Saturday.
On the heels of a non-league loss to Classical, the Patriots visited two-time defending Division II champion Woonsocket, and scored first but had the touchdown called back because of a penalty. The Villa Novans promptly went down the field and took a 7-0 lead.
In the past, that turn of events might have sent the Pats tumbling.
This time, it was just a bump in the road.
Pilgrim came back with three unanswered touchdowns and the defense held strong en route to an 18-7 victory.
“We had the touchdown called back and they came right down and scored,” said Pilgrim head coach Tom O’Connor. “The normal thing is for kids to think, ‘Here we go again.’ But it was just the opposite. The attitude was all positive. The kids said, ‘We’re going to work hard and we’re going to execute.’ It’s the first time since I’ve been here that there was no panic in that situation.”
And no panic meant a big victory.
While Woonsocket lost several key players from its title runs, the win was still a huge one for the Pats. It was their first league victory since 2009, and it undoubtedly turned a lot of heads in the Division II football world.
“The kids were excited,” O’Connor said. “It was a well-played game and it was well-executed. They stepped up.”
Considering Pilgrim’s showing against Classical, it had to be a big step. The Pats had their struggles in that game, committing seven turnovers in a 21-12 loss.
But the Pats weren’t panicked about that either.
“To be honest, that game was like another practice for us,” O’Connor said. “The mistakes were things we don’t normally do, and we knew what we had to do. We came out and had a good week of practice.”
Still, the Pats were in a tough spot on Saturday. After the touchdown that wasn’t, the Novans took the lead on a 28-yard touchdown run by Kyle Mulvey.
But Pilgrim came back strong. After a solid drive was stopped deep in Woonsocket territory, the Pats picked off Woonsocket quarterback Brett Bouchard. One play later, Lee Verrier connected with Mike Mallozzi in the end zone for a touchdown.
Then, just before halftime, Pilgrim took the lead on a two-yard touchdown run by Alex Leddy.
The game stayed close after halftime, but Pilgrim’s defense made sure the Novans were kept at bay. Apart from Woonsocket’s first-half touchdown drive, the Pats limited the Novans to 91 yards of offense.
Andrew Leddy spearheaded the defensive charge, while Shane Kelly, Jon DeVito and Anthony Sousa were strong in the secondary.
“The defense played really well,” O’Connor said. “They had a couple of big plays, but even with those, we were able to stop them.”
Pilgrim put the game on ice in the fourth quarter when Leddy scored his second touchdown of the game. Leddy finished with 114 yards and two scores in just his second game as a running back. He had previously played on the offensive line.
“He did great,” O’Connor said. “He got better as the game went on, and his brother (Alex) stepped up for him on defense so he could get a breather.”
Verrier finished with 114 yards through the air, while Mallozzi had three catches for 55 yards and a score. Pilgrim also cut down on its turnovers, giving up just a fourth-down interception that was as good as a punt.
“They were putting nine guys in the box, but the difference this year is we’re able to execute when that happens,” O’Connor said. “We were disciplined. When they blitzed, we picked it up, and Lee did a very good job throwing the ball.”
The win gives Pilgrim a 1-0 start in league play. That’s unfamiliar territory, and the Pats would like to keep exploring it. They’ll host St. Raphael on Friday at 7 p.m. The Saints lost to Tolman 22-14 on Friday, a week after dropping a non-league game to Hendricken.
“We’re feeling confident,” O’Connor said. “They’re a Wing-T team, and we know what to do against that. We should be okay.”