Out of the box and almost into the playoffs
When the Pilgrim football team walked off the field at Mt. Hope high school two weeks ago, it was nothing shy of a devastating end to their postseason dreams.
Needing a victory to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2004, the Pats got crushed 57-6 by a Huskies team playing for its own playoff life.
The loss marked an end to a whirlwind three-game stretch in which Pilgrim upset Ponaganset and nearly did the same thing to West Warwick, a team that finished at the very top of Division II-B.
But no matter what the score was in that Mt. Hope game – it could have been 200-0 and it wouldn’t have made a difference – the Pats should be awfully proud.
Not to be too cliché, but it was them against the world. They were winless in D-II-B last year, and there wasn’t a soul outside of that locker room that thought they would be in a position to win and get in on the last game of the season this year.
Yet, when it came down to it, that’s exactly where they were. They have their outside-the-box philosophy to thank for getting them to the brink of the playoffs.
The Pats and head coach Tom O’Connor approached football games unlike any team in the state. It was as if they only had a certain amount of “good football” for the whole season, and they wanted to budget it for the games that truly mattered or else they would burn out.
Opening the season against Division III Classical, Pilgrim looked awful and lost 28-18. No matter – it was a non-league game. The Pats followed that up with their first league win in two years, an 18-7 victory over Woonsocket.
Two different Pilgrim teams showed up in those two games. The better team arrived for the more important game, and got the win. That was the blueprint.
Pilgrim followed up the victory with blowout losses to St. Raphael and Tolman. The Pats were outscored 93-14 in those two games.
But, with another winnable league game coming up, Pilgrim reached into its bag of “good football” and came to play again.
It beat Toll Gate to even its league record at 2-2, and suddenly it was in the thick of the playoff hunt.
This is where it really gets good, though.
The next week, Pilgrim went to lowly Coventry for a non-league game. Coventry hadn’t won a game of any kind on the season.
Well, once again, that game didn’t matter in terms of the playoffs. So what did the Pats do? They got blown out 38-8.
No need to waste the “good football” there, especially with West Warwick on deck. And it was that West Warwick game when I really started to believe in Pilgrim. And by believe, I mean I thought they were crazy enough to pull it off.
The Pats played as hard as any team I’ve seen this year and led the game into the second half before falling just short in a 22-14 loss.
They aren’t as good as West Warwick – period. But that thought never once entered their minds. It was a magic trick. They tricked themselves into believing that they could compete, and it worked.
The next week, needing a win against playoff hopeful Ponaganset, Pilgrim rolled to a 26-12 win that absolutely nobody saw coming.
That set up the Mt. Hope game, with both teams sitting at 3-3 in the division. The winner would go the playoffs.
Think about that. The Pats had gotten absolutely stomped by St. Raphael and Tolman, lost to Division III Classical and got blown out by winless Coventry, but were a win away from making the postseason.
Obviously, it didn’t end well. Mt. Hope jumped up by three touchdowns at halftime and never looked back. Maybe Pilgrim had used up all of its “good football.” Maybe it just couldn’t trick itself anymore once it fell behind. Maybe Mt. Hope is just that much better, and it played with some desperation.
Whatever it was that caused the loss, it was indicative of one game, not a whole season. That’s because the whole season was a strategic, gutsy showing by a group that believed it was in the upper echelon of its division when everything indicated the opposite.
More than likely, nobody will remember much about the 2011 Pilgrim football team. After all, it didn’t make the playoffs and, after a non-league loss to Johnston last week, the team’s record is just 3-7. With the Thanksgiving game against Vets coming up, they best the Pats can hope for is four wins and a winning percentage of .363.
But the players on that team should remember, and they should be proud.
They were almost crazy enough to pull it off.
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.