The last few weeks have not been kind to the Pilgrim and Toll Gate football teams. The Patriots, coming off a big win over Woonsocket in their league opener, have lost two straight by lopsided margins. And the Titans, who beat Vets in a non-league game in week one, have been shut out for three straight weeks in league play.
But while they’re in the same boat, they won’t be feeling sorry for each other on Saturday. Pilgrim will visit Toll Gate at 10:30 a.m., for a game that’ll help the winner get back on track.
“We don’t have to do a lot of talking about motivation this week,” said Pilgrim head coach Tom O’Connor. “I’m sure it’s the same thing on their side. Pilgrim and Vets is the big rivalry, but Toll Gate is not a far-off second. Our guys want to get a win.”
For both teams, it would be a much-needed win.
Pilgrim dropped a non-league game to Classical in its season opener but turned plenty of heads the next week when it beat two-time defending Division II champion Woonsocket. Since then, though, the Pats have been banged up and haven’t played their best football. Against D-II contenders St. Raphael and Tolman, that spelled disaster. They lost to the Saints 38-8 before getting blitzed by Tolman 55-6 last week.
“You make mistakes against those teams and they make you pay,” O’Connor said.
This week, O’Connor expects his team to be back at full strength, which could make a big difference against the Titans.
“The mindset has been upbeat,” he said. “This is the first week since Woonsocket that we’ve had everyone healthy. We had everybody out there for practice [on Tuesday] and we had a really good practice. It was very physical.”
Across town, Toll Gate head coach Matt Mancuso said the Titans are doing their best to stay positive as well. It’s a tough task considering how league play has gone – Toll Gate has lost its three games by scores of 38-0, 20-0 and 38-0.
But last week’s game against Mt. Hope wasn’t exactly more of the same. The Toll Gate offense struggled mightily in its first two games. It still didn’t find the end zone against Mt. Hope, but the Titans picked up over 200 yards of offense.
That, at least, was a step in the right direction.
“I don’t think the score told the whole story last week,” Mancuso said. “We moved the ball and we had it at the 1-yard line at one point. We know we’re young up front, but we’re looking better.”
Mancuso also saw another positive against Mt. Hope.
“It was the first time since the Vets game that we really came together as a team and didn’t quit,” Mancuso said. “The kids got after it.”
The Titans will try to do that again when they welcome their rivals to town on Saturday – and they’ll have a little bit of a tradition to protect. Pilgrim and Toll Gate play every year, and Toll Gate has won every game in the series since 2004. Last year, the Titans won 38-19.
Mancuso, a first-year head coach, wasn’t around for any of those games, but he’s fully aware of what Pilgrim brings to the table this season.
“Pilgrim is going to be tough,” he said. “They’re physical and they’ve got some big, powerful running backs.”
Pilgrim hasn’t gotten its running attack in gear the past two weeks, but against Woonsocket, the team was at its power-running best. Alex Leddy finished that game with over 100 yards.
It’s no secret that the Pats will be sticking with the same plan this week.
“That’s our game – we’re going to try to pound it,” O’Connor said. “We want to control the ball.”
The Titans would like to take the same approach. Derick Durand hasn’t found much running room the last few weeks but he had a big game against Vets. He and quarterback Mitch Howkins will try to get the Titans going.
“We’ve got to control the ball,” Mancuso said. “Last week, we had some long drives and didn’t score. We’ve got to control the ball and score this week. Our defense has played great but they’ve been on the field too much.”
However it shakes out, someone will leave the field Saturday feeling a little better about where they stand.
“This is big,” O’Connor said. “There are no easy games left but I do feel like we’ve played the stronger edge of our division already. We got away with one win and that was huge. We’ve got to turn it around now.”