The Pilgrim football team fell into a hole Friday night.
Hosting Shea in the league opener, the Pats got blitzed early and found themselves trailing 35-0 at halftime. Then after the opening kickoff of the second half, a hole about eight inches wide was discovered in the field next to a sprinkler head, and upon further inspection, the hole proved to be several feet deep. With the field deemed unplayable, the game was called and Shea was awarded the 35-0 victory.
For the Pats, it was a strange finish to a tough night. After a non-league loss to Smithfield last week, they were hoping to take a step in the right direction. Instead, the young squad never got moving – and never got the chance once the field issue cropped up.
Pilgrim kicker Bobby Allen stumbled on his way to kick the ball to start the second half. Initially, everyone thought he had just fallen. But after he kicked the ball and Shea returned it, officials saw the hole.
“We thought Bobby tripped,” said Pilgrim head coach Tom O’Connor. “Turns out he tripped on the edge of the hole.”
And the hole was a bigger problem than it first looked. When Pilgrim staff members put a shovel down the hole, almost the entire shovel went in. It was quickly decided that there was no way the game could continue.
“I’m just glad the kicker didn’t break his leg,” said Shea head coach Dino Campopiano. “Thank God nobody got hurt.”
While school officials tried to figure out what to do about the field after the game, the Pats turned their attention to their own next step.
After Friday’s first half, they certainly know what needs to change.
The Pats started with the ball and picked up five yards on their first two plays. After a false start penalty negated those gains, quarterback Rob Quaine was pressured and threw incomplete on third down. Daniel Johnson then punted, and Dennis Lloyd caught it at the Pilgrim 35 and promptly rambled all the way to the end zone. Boubacar Lemon’s extra point made it 7-0.
Unfortunately for Pilgrim, that was just the beginning.
The ensuing kickoff bounced behind Pilgrim returner Hysom Sabet. He chased after the ball and scooped it but was tackled at the 1-yard line. Three plays later, Pilgrim was forced to punt again and this one landed out of bounds at the Pats’ 21. Shea picked up 10 yards on the next play before Lloyd rumbled to the end zone from 11 yards out. Lemon hit the extra point, and with less than four minutes gone, Shea led 14-0.
“We had poor field position and we weren’t able to execute,” O’Connor said. “They’re big, fast and strong. They’re very physical, very well-coached and disciplined.”
The Pats again couldn’t get anything going on their next drive. Shea took over at Pilgrim’s 35 and Chris Fonseca busted loose on the first play for a 35-yard touchdown.
Pilgrim finally seemed to get its footing on its next drive when Quaine hit Sabet for a 21-yard gain on a fake punt. But on the next play, Quaine fumbled the snap and Shea recovered.
“That’s the youth,” O’Connor said. “You get excited, you’re ramped up and you make a silly mistake that shouldn’t happen. We work on that every day. We’re still struggling.”
Two plays later, the Raiders were in the end zone again, with Fonseca scoring from 25 yards out.
“It’s the way you want to start any season,” Campopiano said. “We’ve had a couple of down years so we wanted to come out and get a good start, and we did. The kids played well. The line did a great job, the backs ran and obviously the defense did well. This group has been together for a couple of years. They work hard together and they play well together.”
Pilgrim started to make some strides from there but still couldn’t put it all together. After a 16-yard run by Mike Turchetta, the Pats went nowhere and were forced to punt again. This time, Johnson’s kick was deeper and it bounced all the way to the Shea 20. The Raiders then handed the ball right back to Pilgrim on a fumble that Jose Hutnak pounced on.
With the ball at the Shea 21, the Pats were optimistic, and three straight runs by Turchetta netted 8 yards. But on fourth down, Quaine’s pass to Kevin Blanchette in the end zone was broken up.
Shea took over on its own 13, and on the first play, Lemon busted an 87-yard touchdown run. He then made another extra point for the 35-0 lead.
Though the Pilgrim offense continued to struggle, the Pats defense showed some life late in the first half. After the teams traded fumbles, Shea took over at the Pilgrim 11-yard line and took it all the way to the 1-yard line on the next play. But Hutnak tackled the Shea ball carrier for a loss on first-and-goal, before two penalties sent the Raiders backwards. The Pilgrim defense then stood strong, forcing a turnover on downs.
The Pats fumbled the ball away again, and Shea took over with 2:46 left on the Pilgrim 27. Again, the defense responded, with Sabet and Gage Potter combining on a tackle for loss. The Pats then kept the Raiders off the board before halftime.
Without a second half to look at, those defensive stops stood out as the biggest positive from a rough season opener.
“They didn’t quit,” O’Connor said. “We were down 35-0 and we were still going. The starters didn’t want to come off. They were itching to get back out there to try to do the jobs they know they can do.”
The Pats will try to do those jobs a little better this week when they visit North Kingstown on Friday at 7 p.m. The Skippers, who are down from Division I, won their non-league opener over Coventry before losing to West Warwick 34-13 this past week.