The Warwick Vets football team out-played Toll Gate in the first half of Friday night’s Division II-A opener for both teams, but with only a 14-point lead, the outcome certainly wasn’t set in stone at the break.
A grand total of 11 plays later, the ’Canes were in the clear, as an early second-half surge put the game on ice in an eventual 35-0 victory.
When the final whistle blew Vets had itself a dominating win – one in which it out-gained the Titans by a nearly 4-to-1 margin – and a 2-0 record to begin the season. Toll Gate fell to 0-2.
“It feels amazing,” said senior fullback/linebacker David MacDonald, who ran for 85 yards and a touchdown while also setting the tone defensively. “That’s how the story starts right here.”
MacDonald led a rushing attack that accounted for 288 of Vets’ 300 total yards. Mickenzey Pacheco had 92 yards on 10 carries, quarterback Jesse Sedoma had 48 yards, plus a touchdown, and fullback Dennis Scalzo scored twice and ran for 52.
It wasn’t that Vets couldn’t throw the ball. Rather, it didn’t need to against a Toll Gate team that wore down in the trenches.
“We’re just not a physical team,” Toll Gate head coach Matt Mancuso said. “They’re way more physical than we are, and they’re just tougher than we are up front.”
The Titans finished with only 83 yards of offense, but they still had a shot at being competitive before the ’Canes turned it into a rout. Ahead 14-0 at halftime, Vets fielded the opening kickoff in the second half – an onside attempt by Toll Gate – and then proceeded to score in two plays. MacDonald ran for 27 yards on the first play and then rumbled up the middle for 32 more and a touchdown.
Just 39 seconds into the second half, Vets led 21-0.
“We had a battle plan going into it, and at halftime we knew they were going to come back and do an onsides,” Vets head coach Mike Nappa said. “We were ready for that. That touchdown kind of put the icing on it.”
It only got worse for Toll Gate. On its first play of the second half, the snap went off the hands of quarterback Joe Brosnahan and Vets’ Jarred Pelliccio pounced on the loose ball.
Starting at Toll Gate’s 13-yard-line, the ’Canes ran the ball five straight times – with Sedoma converting a key third-and-6 – before Scalzo broke into the end zone from 1 yard out. Sedoma added his fourth extra point of the night to give Vets a 28-0 cushion, 11 combined plays into the third quarter.
“We had somebody come in yesterday and talk to them about not worrying about the last play, worry about the next play and they just, I don’t know, they’re just not getting it right now,” Mancuso said.
On Toll Gate’s second possession of the half, it lost three yards on first and second down and then Brosnahan threw an interception to Jeremy Morrissette on the right sideline.
For the third straight possession, the ’Canes found the end zone, as MacDonald converted a third down with a 5-yard run, Sedoma followed with a 14-yard scamper and Scalzo finished it off with a 29-yard run up the middle for the score.
“We worked hard all week, waiting for this game,” Sedoma said. “They were talking, but we came out strong.”
The game was all but over at that point, as Toll Gate had one more possession and put forth its best showing of the night, but its drive stalled on fourth down at Vets’ 2-yard line. Chris Durand was met at the line of scrimmage and held out of the end zone.
“That was a big stop,” Nappa said. “We wanted to pitch the shutout. The kids said it all week.”
Vets came out hot in the first half as well, as it held Toll Gate to a quick three-and-out and then scored on its second play from scrimmage, a 52-yard run by Sedoma around the corner.
After another Titans’ 3-and-out, Vets got a 52-yard run by Pacheco and scored six plays later on a 1-yard pass from Sedoma to Morrissette. That put the ’Canes ahead 14-0 not even nine minutes into the game.
“This is all we thought about all week,” MacDonald said. “We came out, coach told us, ‘This is the start right here.’ We had to set the tempo, go out there and do what we did.”
Toll Gate had a great opportunity to get right back into the game before halftime, as Sedoma and Pacheco fumbled a handoff exchange deep in Vets territory with 3:30 to play, and Toll Gate’s Cameron Vickers came away with the ball.
The Titans took over on Vets’ 7-yard line with a first-and-goal, but never got further than the six. Brosnahan’s desperation fourth-down pass went out of the back of the end zone, ending the threat.
“We made some plays in the second quarter and our defense kept us in it,” Mancuso said. “But down near the end zone we’re trying to get fancy with snap counts and stuff like that and not making bright decisions. It should have been at least 14-6 going into halftime.”
That missed opportunity set the stage for Vets’ big third quarter.
The ’Canes are now 1-0 in D-II-A, along with Mt. Hope, Coventry and Woonsocket. They’ll try to go to 2-0 later this week when they welcome in the Villa Novans on Friday night at 7 p.m.
Woonsocket is coming off of a 14-0 victory over Johnston.
“We’ve got a tough one next week and the week after we’ve got Coventry,” Nappa said. “Two tough games in a row. I told them, you’ve got to come out and slap them. They’re physical, Woonsocket.”
Toll Gate will host Coventry on Saturday at 10 a.m., and will be looking for a much stronger performance. Otherwise, it might be in for another long season.
“As a staff we’ll go back to the drawing board,” Mancuso said. “We won’t quit. We’ll draw up a good plan for Coventry.”