Football season is always the big one for high school sports.
I remember back in August when I was running around like a mad man trying to do previews and acquaint myself with my teams … it was my first football season in Rhode Island and I felt like I was playing catchup in the early going.
Of the six teams that we cover here at Beacon Communications, I’d say Pilgrim had the least amount of buzz heading into the season.
The Patriots were in the middle of a playoff drought, they hadn’t won a postseason game in 23 years, they had a new coach, from everything I had seen and heard, it seemed like the Pats were in for a rough year.
The first time I saw them in action was the injury fund game against East Greenwich. Although East Greenwich got the win, I remember thinking that the Pats had much more energy than a bottom-dwelling team, and played with a lot of toughness. Would I have guessed that they would have made the Super Bowl though? Probably not.
As we all know, the Pats got off to a rocky start. After getting wins against Classical and Chariho, they would drop three consecutive games in three lopsided defeats. It seemed like the Pats finally came back down to earth, and the season would continue to spiral the rest of the way.
But as we all know, again, the Pats would surge throughout the final three regular season games, go 3-0 and clinch the third seed in the Division III playoffs.
I was there again for the Smithfield game, in which the Pats cruised to a 42-0 blowout win. Sure, Smithfield was in last place, but it was much more than a good team beating up on a bad one. The Pats were clicking in all areas, and it felt like it was the beginning of something special.
Heading into the first round of the playoffs, the Pats were up against a tough Tolman team that cruised past them in a 42-18 shellacking in the regular season. They were the underdogs, as usual, but picked up the 30-14 win to clinch the upset and their place in the Super Bowl.
Top-seeded Central Falls was also flying high, and beat the Pats 36-6 in the regular season. Yes, Pilgrim was on a hot streak heading into the game, but not many people gave the Pats a chance against Central Falls in the Super Bowl.
Despite being considered a bottom team heading into the season, despite dropping three straight blowouts, despite being the underdog in the first round, despite being the big underdog in the Super Bowl, the Pats played the Warriors to a nail-biter, and came within five points of winning the school’s first title since 1975.
When looking at how the second half of the season went for Pilgrim, there is quite a lot to chew on.
The first thing in my eyes is the power of momentum.
We see it all the time at different levels, sometimes when a team surges, even if it’s not the most talented, it can create an energy that is almost like an instant infusion of talent on the roster. When a team is playing with confidence and has found its rhythm, it can be a scary thing for opponents.
That is exactly what we saw here with this Pilgrim team. The Pats dealt with some big injuries in the early part of the season, were on a losing streak, were still adapting to a new head coach. Once they got rolling though, they became what seemed to be an unstoppable force. They were the best team in Division III during that four-game stretch.
However, to say that momentum is what caused them to reach the heights that they did would be false, and discrediting what they did accomplish.
Don’t get me wrong, momentum was big, but Pilgrim definitely proved that it is a legitimate team and this turn around was for real. Had Central Falls blown their doors off in the Super Bowl, then we may be faced with a different narrative, but the fact that Pilgrim was within arms reach of the title shows that this wasn’t a fluke.
Between guys like Mike Borges, Ethan Laramee, Demitri Ayres, Connor Fallon, Jaron Petrozzi, Cesar Pascual, Mark Brown among many others, the Patriots did in fact have enough talent to compete for a title.
Not only was Pilgrim’s talent legitimate, but so was its mental toughness, which in football is impossible to overstate. As much as those three early-season losses stung, those may have been blessings in disguise down the stretch. I know it’s cliché, it really is, but when a team goes through so much, it usually pays dividends when the time comes that that team finally finds its way.
And of course, you have to give Blake Simpson and his staff a lot of credit. There is nothing tougher than turning a losing program around, especially in a year. It doesn’t matter what level you are at, finding the right head coach is sometimes the most painstaking process in all of sports, and it can force teams into decades of mediocrity.
That wasn’t the case with Simpson, who took control from day one and refused to let the Patriots miss the big dance in November.
This team’s run was a perfect storm of things. Whether it be momentum, unrealized talent that emerged, a new coach, everything came together at the right time and the Pats really did complete the underdog story, despite coming up five points short.
I can’t wait to see the buzz next August … I have a feeling it will be much different.