PROVIDENCE – The Tolman High football team did everything it possibly could to help create an All-Pawtucket Division II Super Bowl matchup with St. Raphael Academy.
Facing high-powered Classical High and its speedy All-State wide receiver, Marquis Buchanan, in last Saturday afternoon’s D-II semifinals at the Purple’s Morro Athletic Complex, the Tigers turned in a tremendous job defensively and limited the Purple, which had averaged a hair over 30 points per game in their previous nine contests, to just two second-half touchdowns.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, they saw three trips deep into the Purple’s end of the field result in no points, and as a result, the Purple were able to come away with a 13-0 victory and a trip to Saturday’s noon Super Bowl at Cranston Stadium against the undefeated Saints.
While the victory raised the Purple’s record to 8-2, the loss dropped the Tigers’ record to 4-5 and ended a marvelous run to the semis that began after Tolman had suffered a 21-0 loss to the Saints on Oct. 15 that was their fourth straight defeat.
Needing to win their final two Division II-B regular-season contests in order to claim the Division II-B’s final playoff spot, the Tigers, with senior tight end Aaron Carrion moving to quarterback, got the job done by downing Rogers and Mount Hope, and in their quarterfinal-round opener, they raised plenty of eyebrows throughout the state by topping the II-A’s co-regular-season champion, Mount Pleasant, 20-6.
The Tigers averaged 35 points per game in those three must-win contests, but last Saturday, they totaled less than 150 yards of offense and didn’t pick up any yardage through the air. And Tolman made two trips inside the Purple’s 15 on drives in the second and third quarters, only to turn the ball over on downs.
“A couple of guys went the wrong way, we jumped offsides, and we turned the ball over,” said Tolman head coach Jason DeLawrence. “But to hold (Classical) to 13 points? That’s all I wanted. I wanted a rock-fight game with them, and we got what we wanted, but we didn’t score.”
Defensively, the Tigers kept Buchanan, who has scored 16 touchdowns and amassed over 1,000 receiving yards this season, in check for most of the afternoon and out of the end zone. But Buchanan’s classmate, Elijah Nyahkoon, stepped up and scored both Classical TDs on an eight-yard pass from quarterback Jalen Dennis with 1:58 to play in the third quarter and a 65-yard run down the Purple’s sideline with 5:42 left in the game.
“We took their quick game and their deep game away and I was daring them to run,” said DeLawrence. “I didn’t think they could run against my defense.”
As for his team’s marvelous run to the semis, “We’ve been in the playoffs since the St. Ray’s game,” said DeLawrence. “And that’s why this (loss) hurt. The kids believed they could get this done, which they could have, and listen, if you would have told me a month ago that we would be one game away from the Super Bowl, I would have took that.”
The Saints, meanwhile, earned their return trip to the Super Bowl last Friday night at Max Read Field by winning one of their toughest tests to date, a 28-20 victory over Westerly that improved their record to 9-0.
Westerly, which is coached by former SRA quarterback and 2007 R.I. Gatorade Player of the Year Stanley Dunbar, held a 7-0 lead after a quarter of play, but SRA, which received an outstanding game from senior quarterback Andre DePina-Gray, came back to take a 14-7 lead at halftime.
Midway through the third quarter, the Bulldogs tied the score at 14-14, but less than a minute later, the Saints went ahead to stay on a 75-yard touchdown run by DePina-Gray and the third of four extra points by junior kicker Jonah Costa.
DePina-Gray scored all four of the Saints’ touchdowns, as he ran for a career-high 226 yards on 20 carries. He is now 90 yards away from the 1,000-yard mark.
Defensively, the Saints were led by junior linebacker Moses Meus, who recorded 10 tackles, a timely interception in the game’s final minutes, and a fumble recovery.
The Saints, who had won six times this season by 21 or more points, had posted a tougher-than-it-looks 38-19 victory over Classical in their II-B regular-season battle for first place on Oct. 30 in Providence.