Toll Gate had a tough time containing Juanita Sanchez/Providence Country Day/Wheeler Co-op First Team All-State quarterback Elijah Matthews on Friday night in a non-league, 34-6 loss to open the season. Matthews tossed for 105 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to rushing for 108 yards and two more scores to lead the Cavaliers to victory.
“Our game plan going in was to try to stop him,” Toll Gate head coach Jim Stringfellow said of Matthews. “I’ve been around football in this state for 20 or 25 years, and he’s the most patient quarterback I’ve seen when running the triple option. I think he’s probably the best quarterback in the state.”
Although the Titans took a 34-0 deficit into the final quarter, they were able to close the game with some momentum on a 2-yard rushing touchdown from Kenny Morel – the lone score of the final quarter. Stringfellow is hoping that positive momentum will carry into the league opener at Smithfield at 7 p.m. on Friday.
“It was good because it showed them that they can score when they block and make the right reads,” Stringfellow said regarding the late touchdown. “That will give us some momentum going into the next game next week.”
The Cavaliers, who went undefeated in regular season play before losing in the Division III Super Bowl a season ago, received the ball to open the game at Warwick Vets Middle School on Friday, and the road team started fast. After a handful of plays, running back Juan Hernandez powered his way past the Titans’ defense for a 44-yard touchdown, giving the Cavaliers a 7-0 lead just under three minutes into the game.
After Toll Gate’s offense couldn’t get anything going on the ensuing possession, Juanita Sanchez once again took over and marched down the field, ultimately resulting in a 1-yard touchdown plunge from Matthews to up the lead to 14-0.
The Cavaliers struck once more before the half was up, too. With 37 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Matthews threw over the top of the defense and found Dennis Gastel in the left corner of the end zone for a 17-yard strike. A missed extra point attempt gave Juanita Sanchez a comfortable, 20-0 lead heading into the break.
Toll Gate’s A.J. Ucci had a nice return to open the second half, sprinting all the way to Juanita Sanchez’s 35-yard line. But, Toll Gate couldn’t turn the good field position into points, with the Cavaliers forcing a turnover on downs.
The Cavaliers scored twice more in the third quarter. First, Matthews connected with Gastel for an 8-yard touchdown pass before Matthews rushed in from five yards out for Juanita Sanchez’s final score of the night. Matthews then converted the 2-point conversion to make it 34-0 with 11 seconds to go in the third quarter.
Morel capped a fourth quarter drive for the Titans with their lone touchdown of the game on a 2-yard run to eliminate the shutout, but the deficit for the home team was insurmountable at that point.
“We were hurt and missing a couple guys,” Stringfellow said. “We know where we want to be and what we have to do to make some corrections.”
Despite being a little shorthanded, Stringfellow was pleased with his team’s compete level. And, although the Titans didn’t win the game, it showed them what they need to improve on in the coming weeks.
“They need to recognize formations better, and we definitely need to work on tackling,” Stringfellow said. “But, they didn’t quit and battled through it.”