Patriots aren’t big — or big on excuses
Every time the Pilgrim offensive line takes the field for the first time in a Division II-B game, it's already behind the eight ball.
Maybe the lightest line in the division, the Pats routinely get down in their stances, come off the ball and get hit harder than they ever do in practice.
Then they dig in some more, and try to return the favor.
"They knock you in the mouth at first," said senior left guard Oluwaseun Akinnusotu. "But it doesn't matter how big you are, it's all technique. I don't care if you're 300 pounds, I'll still knock you down if I've got the technique."
That's the prevailing attitude of all the Pilgrim linemen, most of whom weigh significantly less than their counterparts from some of the traditional Division II powers.
The size difference has shown on the scoreboard, as the Pats have struggled to produce wins. But just because they're not quite as big doesn't mean they aren't playing with the same intensity.
"They've never used an excuse," Pilgrim head coach Tom O'Connor said. "We never use excuses. This is our schedule, this is where we play, this is our lot in life."
And even though the Pats' offense hasn't put the up the numbers it would like to, the offensive line's true colors have shown when Pilgrim has faced teams that are on a similar level, size-wise, as it is.
In a season-opening win against Smithfield, Pilgrim got 165 yards rushing from back Owen Kelly. In its most recent game, a D-II crossover match-up with Toll Gate, the Pats got 100 yards rushing from quarterback Rob Quaine and nearly 50 more from Zachary Ponte.
Not coincidentally, Pilgrim won each of those games - its only two wins of the season.
The line led the way.
"It felt pretty good," said center Dan Johnston about the Toll Gate game. "We got a couple good hits, a few pancake blocks. Just pounded the ball straight off-tackle."
Making life difficult for the Pats this season has been a slew of injuries on the line. They lost Jacob McMullen and Antonio Bolarinho for the majority of the season and have had to move other players from the line back to fullback to mitigate some injuries in the backfield.
Junior Evan Broccoli has been a mainstay at left tackle, with junior Henry Cascella holding down the right tackle job. Junior Griffin Potter has been the right guard, while Johnston has stepped in at center. Akinnusotu has played left guard. Junior Joey Borges has played center as well.
The revolving door of players has slowed down the group's progression a bit, but it still has adopted the next-man-up philosophy. Much like approaching the issue of being under-sized, Pilgrim has no interest in excuses.
"We took a few injuries on the line," Potter said. "It would have been fantastic. The younger kids had to step up and they stepped up and filled their spots pretty well. We're going pretty strong."
Right now, Pilgrim's line feels like it's playing the best it has all season. With Thursday's showdown against Vets looming, the Pats have another opportunity against a team that won't be significantly bigger than they are.
Then again, even if the 'Canes were as big as some of Pilgrim's other opponents, it wouldn't change the way the Pats approached it anyway.
"You just try not to think about (the size)," Potter said. "It's a factor, but when it comes down to it, it's technique. It's about who has better form. They could be 300 pounds, you could be 100, and if you get low and get under them, it'll work out."
The season has been tough, but the Pats haven't backed down yet. With one game left, they don't plan on breaking that streak.
- Kevin Pomeroy