There is no substitute for experience and execution. That was on display Saturday afternoon as the veteran Johnston Panthers stayed unbeaten with a 48-0 victory over a young Toll Gate team at the Toll Gate athletic complex.
The Panthers have 20 seniors on their roster, while the Titans have only four, and the gap showed. While Toll Gate dropped to 0-3 in league play, Johnston improved to 3-0 in league play and 4-0 overall. The Panthers have out-scored opponents 195-12 in four games.
“We have a solid team but we are not looking ahead at anybody," said Johnston head coach Joe Acciardo. "Hard work got us here – you can have 30 seniors and all the depth you want but if we are not focused it will not matter. If you don't put the time and effort into practice it will not matter. Teams are going to get better as we go on."
Titans head coach Matt Mancuso, a former JHS assistant coach, couldn’t spring the upset against his former team.
“We have only four seniors on our team – most of our guys that start for us are sophomores and juniors,” Mancuso said. “We did some things well but when things go bad we do not know how to bounce back.”
Once again, the Panthers scored like lightning. On their first play from scrimmage, Phil Ndifon ran untouched for a 45-yard touchdown run and on their second play from scrimmage, quarterback Mike Caparco found Evan Hopson for a 55-yard touchdown pass play. Just like that, on two plays, Johnston had a 14-0 lead only minutes into the game.
“Those first couple of plays took a lot out of them and any hopes of them upsetting us,” Acciardo said.
On the Titans’ next series, the JHS defense forced a three-and-out and a punt – one of seven on the day. The Panther defense also allowed only one Toll Gate first down in the first half. Caparco's shovel pass to Victor Halton then fooled the Toll Gate defense and he raced 75 yards for a score.
"Johnston's athletes were just beyond our athletes – they did a good job, " Mancuso said . "Their defense comes at you and they do not quit – JHS goes hard all 48 minutes.”
JHS looked to increase their lead in the second quarter, but the Titans Aaron Travers knocked down Caparco's pass in the end zone to prevent a touchdown. When the Panthers went back on offense, Ndifon scored from 5 yards out to make it a 28-0 JHS lead at the half .
"We have a young team," Mancuso said. "I some times get frustrated but I know there is no quit in our team. Our kids practiced their butts off all week in practice – we just have to put what do there on to the field."
Toll Gate began the second half with an unsuccessful onside kick attempt. Ndifon, who rushed four times for 117 yards, tallied his third touchdown of the game, this one a 65-yard burst. Ndifon also contributed with two quarterback sacks on the afternoon.
Justin Caparco scored from 9 yards and Marc Conte from 5 yards out to complete the JHS scoring. Hopson was perfect on all six of his extra point attempts.
Mike Caparco, a sophomore, had a solid day under center.
“This was good experience for Caparco – he does a good job and runs the offense well and it was an opportunity for him to get some reps,” Acciardo said. “We had a good scheme and changed things up. Our line did well and executed the plays we wanted to and made the proper adjustments.
“We have so much depth in our running game and as long as we stay healthy and focused we will be a team to contend with. Our goal is to be in the Super Bowl and win it but one game at a time is how you are going to get there."
Acciardo also spoke about his friendship with Mancuso.
“You make sure that you are friends after the game but as the game is going on you play to win – it was just our day today,” Acciardo said.
In the wake of another loss for the Titans, Mancuso was looking for positives.
“We had a bunch of guys that I thought played well today – Derryck Anderson who is one of our senior linebackers has played well all year as well as lineman Jackson Burgos,” Mancuso said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”
Another JHS connection with the Titans is their offensive and defensive line coach, Mike Soto, who is a member of the JHS Hall of Fame. He made first team All-State for the Panthers in 2009 and played a big part in their 2008 Division III Super Bowl season.
“It was a bittersweet feeling," Soto said. "You want to beat them – we worked so hard in practice this past summer. Johnston has a good team this year and they have so much depth. I wish them the best of luck this year."
Johnston travels to Coventry Friday night for a 7 p.m. game. The Oakers beat Warwick Vets last week, 41-8 and have a 2-1 record in Division II-A. The Titans will make the long trip to Westerly to play the Bulldogs Friday night at 7 p.m. Westerly lost to Woonsocket last week 19-18, to drop to 2-1 in division play.