Missed opportunities haunt Tigers

Missed opportunities haunt Tigers

Tolman’s Lawrence Benton falls into the end zone after catching a 35-yard touchdown pass with 37.4 seconds left in the second quarter of last Saturday’s Division III Super Bowl. That touchdown gave Tolman an 14-8 lead, but Pilgrim came back with touchdowns in the next two quarters to escape with a 22-14 victory. (Breeze photos by Kayla Panu)
Touchdown with 29.3 seconds left lifts Pilgrim past Tolman in D-III Super Bowl

CRANSTON – With 29.3 seconds left in the Division III Super Bowl last Saturday afternoon at Cranston Stadium, Pilgrim scored the go-ahead touchdown and held on in the final seconds to post a 22-14 victory over Tolman that ended its program’s 44-year championship drought.

It was a tough end to such a successful season for the Tigers, who are 8-3, but it was their inability to consistently make plays, not the undefeated Patriots’ late score, that doomed them in this showdown.

“We had chances to make plays,” Tolman head coach Jason DeLawrence said. “We had a touchdown that we had called back on us. We had another drive that we didn’t score on. We had our chances, but Pilgrim made more plays than we did.”

One big play that Pilgrim made came midway the fourth quarter with the score tied at 14-14. The Tigers had put together a drive that started at their 1-yard line and crossed midfield before they found themselves with the ball on the Patriots’ 39.

But after Tolman lost seven yards on a third-down play, they went for it on fourth down, but quarterback Jordan Cooper was intercepted by Pilgrim’s Laramee. That pick gave the Patriots the ball at their own 30-yard line with under six minutes to play.

The Patriots kept the ball on the ground, as quarterback Michael Borges, who would be named the game’s MVP, and tailback Demitri Ayres were able to find holes and break tackles, bringing the ball up the field.

On third-and-12, Borges gave the Patriots a key first down by connecting with Ethan Laramee at the Tolman 15 with 2:01 left. On the next play, Borges picked up only two yards, and after he got wrapped up in the backfield for a loss, he threw another third-down pass to Laramee, who tried to get into the end zone, but was stopped short at the 1-yard line, with 36 seconds on the clock.

On the next play, Borges kept the ball, bulling through the middle for the touchdown. He went then around to the right side for the two-point conversion to give his team their eight-point lead.

The ensuing kickoff saw Nasier Johnson bring the ball to the Tigers’ 40. Cooper then passed to Isai Prince for the first down at the Pilgrim 49, and with seconds left, Cooper threw a long pass to Lawrence Benton, who got his hands on the ball, but couldn’t hold on to it, as the Patriots celebrated their Super Bowl win.

“It hurts,” DeLawrence said. “It’s an emotional game. We’ll be back to fight another day. We will be back and we will be working hard.”

There was no score in the first quarter, but the Tigers had a golden opportunity to jump on the board on the game’s opening drive. They brought the ball from their 38 to the Patriots’ 5-yard line, but they could not break into the end zone on four straight plays. Two plays gave them a third-and-goal on the 1-yard line, but they eventually turned the ball over on downs when Cooper got sacked on fourth down.

The Patriots then took an 8-0 lead with 7:07 to go in the second quarter on a seven-yard touchdown run by Ayres and a two-point conversion run by Borges, but Tolman quickly responded. The Tigers had the ball on their own 36, and after Jamarus Godette picked up five yards on a run, Cooper connected with Leandro Depina on a 59-yard touchdown pass.

Cooper then hit Aaron Carrion with a two-point conversion pass to Carrion, and with 6:33 on the clock, both teams were tied at 8-8.

But Tolman wasn’t done. With 37.4 seconds left in the half, the Tigers took the lead on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Cooper to Benton. The two-point conversion was no good, and the Tigers took their 14-8 lead into halftime.

The Patriots eventually tied the score with 7:31 to go in the third quarter, when on fourth-and-four, Borges threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Connor Fallon. The ensuing two-point conversion was no good, and the score was again knotted.

The Tigers then came back with a drive that started at their own 43 and saw a 20-yard run by Jose Baez give them a first down at the Pilgrim 37. Three plays later, Cooper threw a long pass down the field that was caught by Baez, who brought it into the end zone, but a penalty wiped out that touchdown.

The Tigers were brought back to the Pilgrim 46 to replay third down, and after Cooper threw an incomplete pass, they were forced to punt.

“(The defense) kept us in the game, but (Pilgrim) just made the plays and we didn’t,” DeLawrence added. “You can’t get to the 1-yard line and not score. And we can’t have a touchdown called back on us. That’s the game. We get those two scores and we win.”

The Tigers will get one more chance to end their season on a winning note in their Thanksgiving Eve game against Shea on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Max Read Field. The Raiders, who lead the series, 9-8, have won four of the last five matchups.

“I want to play against Shea and fight against Shea, but right now, it hurts,” DeLawrence said.

Tolman running back Jose Baez, #21, follows teammate Cute Today down the field as he races for the first down marker in the first quarter. Pilgrim won the Division III Super Bowl by defeating the Tigers, 22-14.