Pilgrim and Toll Gate will look to add to their new Thanksgiving Day rivalry when the two teams meet at Warwick Vets this morning at 10 a.m.
This will be the second straight Thanksgiving Day that the Pats and Titans will meet since the longstanding rivalry between Vets and Pilgrim came to a halt with Vets closing. Hendricken’s annual game against Toll Gate also ended with the closing of Vets, as it only made sense to have a meeting between the remaining two public schools in Warwick every Thanksgiving Day going forward.
The first holiday meeting between the Titans and Pats took their already-existing rivalry to the next level, as Toll Gate pulled off the upset late, breaking a back-and-forth game on a 1-yard touchdown run by Anthony Vann with under one minute remaining. That was Vann’s fourth score in the game, as the Titans’ signal caller accounted for all of Toll Gate’s touchdowns in a 27-22 win over the Pats.
That letdown stuck with the Pats for quite some time, and they’re looking forward to potentially getting in the win column for the first time this morning in the new annual series.
However, although Pilgrim is cognizant of last year’s result, it knows that today will be a new game.
“It’s on our mind, but it’s all about the next game,” Pilgrim head coach Rob Pacifico said regarding last year’s result. “We need to go forward and focus on the task at hand.”
For Toll Gate, last year’s result is giving it some additional confidence going into today’s game.
“It kind of gives us a little edge,” Toll Gate head coach Jim Stringfellow said. “But, it’s Thanksgiving and it’s a rivalry, so going in with a winning record or losing record, anyone can win on Thanksgiving.”
With last year’s Thanksgiving game aside, the Titans should be entering today’s game with momentum after the program’s best season in a long time. The Titans secured their first playoff appearance in 10 years, compiling a record of 5-2 to earn the No. 3 seed out of Division III-B. Toll Gate would ultimately fall in the quarterfinals to Lincoln, which was the No. 2 seed out of Division III-A, but, nonetheless, the Titans encountered a great deal of success throughout the season.
Toll Gate has been led by Vann on the offensive side of the ball, with the quarterback totaling 15 touchdowns, seven passing and eight rushing. Sophomore Kenny Morel has paced Toll Gate’s backfield with eight touchdowns, while junior Michael Negri has displayed his versatility with four rushing touchdowns and a team-high three receiving scores.
The defense has been sparked by Negri and seniors Matt Martinez and Max Laiter. Negri has a team-high 71 tackles, Martinez has a team-best nine interceptions and Laiter is first on the team in sacks (6.5) and second on the team with 68 tackles.
“We just clicked at the right time this year,” Stringfellow said. “I think they just came together as a team, both on offense and defense.”
Across the field, Pilgrim has plenty of talent in its own right, led by senior running back Simon Davis, who has emerged as one of the top rushers in the state. Another senior, James Baldwin, has stepped in nicely in his first season starting at quarterback. Baldwin has utilized his strong receiving group, which includes Steven Rosa, Austin Connors and Jaron Petrozzi.
The Pats endured some struggles this season, but they’ve been playing better as of late, defeating Mount Pleasant in the final game of the regular season, before falling at Chariho by a couple of points two weeks ago.
It should be great matchup between two talented teams – Pilgrim out of Division II and Toll Gate out of Division III.
“I don’t think we feel any pressure going into this game,” Pacifico said when asked if his team felt any pressure to win being in a division above Toll Gate. “It’s a real good football team we’re playing on Thanksgiving. It might be even, if not, maybe they’re a little bit better than us. We’re going to have our hands full.”
Pacifico noted that a key to success for his team is to not look back or too far ahead. Rather, he wants his group to focus on every single play and execute them to the best of the team’s ability.
“One play at a time,” Pacifico said about his strategy. “That’s what we need to do. Stick to the game plan.”