Titans fall short in playoff matchup against Lions

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The Toll Gate football Titans were ousted from the playoffs after a 34-18 loss to the Lincoln Lions during the D-III quarterfinals at Lincoln High school on a chilly Friday night. It was the Titans’ first playoff appearance in 10 years.

Lincoln sophomore quarterback Randall Hien had two rushing touchdowns and junior running back Julian Karraz ran for three. For Toll Gate, sophomore fullback Kenny Morel rushed two into pay dirt.

The Titans struggled mightily during the beginning of the contest, fumbling the ball twice, which led to them falling into a 28-0 hole early, and they were never able to recover.

Toll Gate head coach James Stringfellow attributed his team’s poor play to jitters and the climate.

“I think it was a little bit of both, the nerves, being in their first playoff game, and then the weather had a big part in it,” Stringfellow said.  

Lincoln received first and started from its own 49. On second down, senior running back Justin Rutter rushed 10 yards to the Toll Gate 41. On the next play, Karraz rushed 10 more. Three plays after that, sophomore tight end Kyle Moison ran right, down the sideline, 30 yards to the 7. A few plays later, Hien ran a keeper into pay dirt from one yard out and gave Lincoln a 6-0 edge with 7:10 remaining in the first quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff return, Toll Gate’s Qyon Pichardo fumbled the ball and Lincoln’s Rutter recovered it at the Titans’ 10. Five plays later, Karraz ran it into the end zone from two yards out and extended the Lions’ lead to 12-0. Junior running back Isaiah Oliveira ran in the two-point conversion after that and gave Lincoln a 14-0 lead.

Toll Gate junior running back Michael Negri returned the ball to the Titans’ 30 on the ensuing kickoff. However, on first down, quarterback Anthony Vann fumbled the snap and Lincoln defensive lineman Jayden Nasif recovered it at the Toll Gate 30. Then, on third down from the 21, Hien completed a pass to Rutter, who took it to the 5. On the next play, Karraz ran up the gut and into the end zone and gave the Lions a 20-0 edge with 3:40 left in the first quarter.  

Toll Gate turned the ball over on downs during its next possession and Lincoln took over at the Titans’ 40. On the first play, Rutter ran eight yards up the middle to the 32. After that, Rutter took it again, this time 22 yards to the 7. Three plays after that, Hien charged up the middle for a touchdown, putting Lincoln up, 28-0.

The Titans looked a lot better in the second half, scoring on their first possession after starting from their own 38. On first down, Morel rushed seven yards. An offside penalty against the Lincoln defense on the next play added on five yards for the Titans and put the ball at midfield, giving them a first down. On the next play, Morel rushed 15 yards to the Lincoln 35 and moved the chains some more. Then, on third down, Vann ran a keeper 17 yards and gained another first down at the 17. Two plays after that, Morel plowed his way to the 2. Then, Vann ran a keeper up the middle and into pay dirt and got the Titans within 28-6.

However, Lincoln put together a 91-yard touchdown drive on its next possession to derail any chance of a comeback. That drive featured a 36-yard scamper from Rutter on a third down play. The play after that saw Karraz rush 13 yards to the Toll Gate 22. Lincoln capped the drive with a 1-yard run from Karraz into the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter, making it 34-6.

Toll Gate started its next possession from its own 40. After a five-yard loss on first down, Anthony Calise used a 39-yard scamper on second down and brought the ball to the Lincoln 26. Later in the drive, Morel found the end zone from nine yards out and pulled the Titans within 34-12 with 7:15 remaining in the contest.

The Titans were able to put together another touchdown drive after Karraz lost a fumble deep in the Toll Gate zone, which was recovered by Toll Gate’s Max Laiter at the 28. On first down, Morel ran 46 yards to the Lincoln 26. On the next play, Calise rushed 13 yards, continuing to move the chains. Vann followed that with a quarterback sneak to the 6. Then, Morel ran through defenders and stretched into the end zone and got the Titans within 34-18 with 1:48 remaining.  

Stringfellow was happy with his team’s fight throughout the season, but he would have liked to see how things went had his team not had to battle injuries throughout the year. The team had to go without two of their seniors, Vann and Pichardo, for four games.

“I thought the season was absolutely fantastic,” Stringfellow said. “The kids played their hearts out. I wish we had everybody healthy at the beginning of the season, because I think we could have probably finished off in that second spot. I think if we had everybody healthy, we could have given Central Falls a run for their money.”  

Once the team got healthy, it won four in a row to close the season.

Though Lincoln dominated for most of the game, it didn’t pass the ball much. Stringfellow thinks that may have had something to do with Toll Gate’s standout safety Matt Martinez, who leads the state with nine interceptions and is ranked 21st overall in the country.

With Vann graduating after this year, freshman quarterback Greyson Pasquina is expected to be the Titans’ new signal caller starting next season when he becomes a sophomore. Pasquina ran the offense the four games that Vann was out.

“Greyson did a great job when he filled in for Vann,” Stringfellow said. “Most likely, he will be the starter next year. He has a huge amount of potential. A great kid. He did an outstanding job.”

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