Pilgrim High football coach Rob Pacifico wasn’t playing for overtime.
His Patriots were banged up against Chariho High, so once Pilgrim got the ball back down seven points with 4:20 remaining in regulation, Pacifico had determined he was going for the win.
A 14-play, 70-yard drive culminated in an improbable 23-yard touchdown pass from James Baldwin to Jaron Petrozzi with just 15 seconds left in regulation. But, the ensuing two-point conversion play failed, leaving the Patriots on the wrong end of a 26-25 score in a Division II crossover game in Wood River Junction last Thursday night.
“There was no doubt in my mind when we got the ball with four minutes left and gave the ball to [James] Baldwin, he was going to make something good happen,” Pacifico said after the game. “We were one hand away from catching the two-point conversion.”
Pilgrim (3-7, 1-7 Division II) overcame an early 6-0 deficit to hold a 19-6 lead entering the fourth quarter only to see the Chargers (3-6, 3-5 Division II) come roaring back. Chariho put up three fourth quarter touchdowns, including the go-ahead score on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Evan Judkins to Rick Evola.
Pilgrim running back Simon Davis racked up 86 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns before exiting with an injury, so Pacifico entrusted Baldwin to march downfield and put the Patriots in a position to win.
The Pats were 3-for-4 on third downs on the drive, with the one they missed resulting in a successful fourth down conversion. Baldwin was flinging the ball around with ease, with all four of his completions on the drive going for 14 yards or more.
Pilgrim got as close as the 8-yard line, where it spiked the ball with no timeouts remaining. On second-and-goal from the 8, Chariho’s Ryan Pater broke through the offensive line and nearly sacked Baldwin. While he didn’t succeed in bringing down the Pats’ quarterback, he did goad him into an intentional grounding penalty and a 15-yard loss.
But, Baldwin was undeterred as he dialed up Petrozzi in the corner of the end zone on the longshot third-and-goal from the 23.
Considering the circumstances of bitter cold, injuries and the fact it was a crossover game, Pacifico never considered lining up for the extra point attempt.
“We did get a little dinged up tonight, so that’s why we decided to go for two,” he said. “If it was four quarters and we weren’t a little dinged up, we would have kicked the extra point and kept playing. That’s where that decision was made.”
Paul Marshall created the pressure on Baldwin to force his pass to fall incomplete and all but sealing the deal for the Chargers. Pilgrim lined up for an onside kick, to no avail.
Baldwin finished the game 13-for-24 passing with 189 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
The inability of the Pats to put Chariho away came on a fateful sequence at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Brine Wotherspoon scored on a 1-yard run on the second play of the fourth to pull the Chargers within a score at 19-12, and he’d find the end zone again exactly two minutes later after Pilgrim fumbled the kick return.
Chariho had its PAT blocked, leaving it down 19-18, but the Pats turned the ball over once again their next time out offensively. On third-and-four from the Chargers’ 33-yard line, Aaron Bliven picked off Baldwin to set the stage for Chariho’s game-winning drive.
“Give it to Chariho, they kept playing hard,” Pacifico said. “A lot of teams would have folded at that point. They kept going after it. We had a fumble on a kick return, that’s just tough to overcome. That was a huge momentum swing with them scoring. With the interception, them scoring and then the fumble, those two turnovers you just don’t overcome. That’s simple football.”
Even though Pilgrim came up short, Pacifico enjoyed the competitive nature of the game. The Patriots had two close losses earlier in the season (Oct. 13 vs. Johnston High, 26-12 and Oct. 27 vs. West Warwick High, 26-20). But, Pilgrim was also on the wrong end of some blowouts, which Pacifico at least partly attributed to the discrepancies within each subdivision of Division II.
“I’m a fan of smaller leagues where teams are more balanced,” Pacifico said. “There’s a huge discrepancy in the 14-team spread in Division II. There would be two great leagues if they could get the upper echelon into one and the rest in another. That’s what I’d be a fan of. I’m a fan of teams having games like this every week, whether you’re on the right or the wrong end of the score. I’m opposed to a lot of the 20 and 30-point games that I’ve seen with the ridiculous 14-team leagues.
“Instead of worrying about cute numbers for the Super Bowls and playoffs, they need to worry about the kids and kids’ health on the field.”
Pilgrim will play crosstown rival Toll Gate High on Thanksgiving at 10 a.m. at Warwick Veterans Middle School.
The Titans (6-3, 5-2 Division III) came up short in their playoff game vs. Lincoln High last weekend, 34-18.