It’s hard to get too excited about a 54-18 loss, and the Toll Gate football team certainly wasn’t happy with it. But as the Titans walked off the Cranston Stadium field on Friday, they definitely had something to build on.
The Titans opened their season against Division I Cranston East, the second-ranked team in the state and one of the leading contenders for the state championship. As expected, it was a mismatch in many ways, but the Titans flashed a much-improved offense, got a few stops on East’s vaunted attack and – most importantly – they never packed it in.
For a team that’s trying to regroup after two straight winless league seasons, it was a start.
“It’s hard to be excited for 54-18, but the kids did a lot of good things,” said head coach Matt Mancuso. “The East coaches all recognized that we definitely looked better than we did against them last year. If you just came to watch the game, you’d think maybe we didn’t play well, but if you know football, you know the kids played tough tonight.”
Toll Gate also opened last season against Cranston East, when the ’Bolts were just beginning their rise to prominence. That score was 41-12, and though the margin was larger this time, the Titans felt different. For one thing, East may be better than it was last year. And the Titans did a lot of good things against East’s first-team units.
“They were much improved from a year ago,” said East head coach Tom Centore. “Definitely. Offensively, they had a plan, they knew what they wanted to do. They seemed to have better skill than they had last year. They did a nice job tonight. Big difference.”
Flashing a new smashmouth attack, the Titans picked up a first down on the game’s opening possession, before Jimmy Saab picked off a Joe Brosnahan pass and returned it for a touchdown to give East the lead.
The Titans went three-and-out on their next series, but Aaron Travers intercepted East quarterback Alex Corvese. The ’Bolts eventually broke through with a 34-yard scoring drive on their next possession, which Corvese capped with a 3-yard run on the final play of the first quarter. Still, it was a 7-0 game for the majority of the period.
“I thought the kids really came out fired up,” Mancuso said.
East started to flex its big-play muscle in the second quarter. After forcing a punt, East took over at its own 37. One play later, Corvese found All-State receiver Marven Beauvais on the edge and he weaved his way 63 yards for a touchdown. Logan McConaghy’s extra-point made it 21-0.
Instead of getting buried, though, the Titans responded. A good kickoff return from Josh Thibeault plus a face-mask penalty set Toll Gate up in East territory. Brosnahan, Chris Durand and Nick Lemioe picked up good yardage on runs for a first down before Aaron Travers broke a 28-yard run to the 3-yard line. Durand ran it in from there, making it 21-6. The extra point was blocked.
“We ran the ball well, we scored on their ones,” Mancuso said. “If you really watched the game, it was closer than it looked, especially in the first half.”
The Titans then kept it up by forcing a turnover on downs, but they couldn’t capitalize. Mike Rodriguez recovered a fumble and gave East the ball at the Titans’ 24. Two plays later, Corvese found Beauvais on a fade to the end zone for another score.
The Titans punted with 1:09 left in the half, and the ’Bolts made the final ticks count. On a second-and-10 with 18 seconds left, Corvese dumped a screen pass to Marquem Monroe, who bounced off a defender and then scampered 26 yards to the end zone. Toll Gate’s Jackson Burgos blocked the extra point, but, just like that, it was a 34-6 game.
“Not too many teams in the state are going to stop them,” Mancuso said. “They’re really explosive.”
From there, the Titans focused on executing well and came away happy with the result. After giving up two more scores early in the third quarter, they broke a big play of their own. Lemioe took a jet sweep to the left side, cut through a gap and then raced 75 yards for a touchdown.
“I give them credit,” Centore said. “They played hard. The way they scored – nobody runs away from us that way.”
The Titans added another score early in the fourth quarter with a 10-play, 37-yard drive that came against most of East’s first-team defense. Brosnahan found Travers for 13 yards to convert a third-and-long early in the drive and Thibeault had a 12-yard run to get the Titans inside the 10. They scored on a fourth-down quarterback sneak by Brosnahan.
The second-half scores represented the most positive signs of the night.
“Our big thing tonight was not quitting,” Mancuso said. “In the past, the kids have quit. I don’t think we did that tonight. I think they played hard all night long.”
The Titans rushed for 186 yards. Lemioe, a junior, led the way with 118 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Durand had 44 yards on 15 carries.
Mancuso felt it was a solid debut for the new offense.
“It’s quick hitting,” he said. “There’s not a lot of thinking. As the season goes on, if we can get some confidence, we’ll be alright.”
Toll Gate will be back in action this weekend when it opens league play against cross-town rival Warwick Vets on Friday at 7 p.m.
“I think we’re doing the right things as a staff and the kids are starting to believe in it,” Mancuso said. “Next week is a big week for us. If we can go in there and play hard against Vets, we’ll see what happens.”