The No. 4 seeded Toll Gate Titans were dropped by the No. 1-seeded North Smithfield/MSC Co-op Northmen 56-8 during the Division IV Football Semifinals at Tucker Field in Cumberland on Saturday afternoon.
North Smithfield junior quarterback Jack Puccetti tossed three touchdown passes, all to senior wide receiver Jason Meriwether, while sophomore running back Jordan Allard added two scores on the ground.
Toll Gate was without its star Michael Negri, who was sick in the hospital.
“We were down a lot of guys,” Toll Gate head coach James Stringfellow said. “We lost three starting varsity players in the EWG game. We had three freshman linemen. And we had to piece it together to get an offense out there. I mean it was lack of size and lack of experience.”
The Titans received the ball first and after a three-and-out deep in their own territory were forced to punt. That punt attempt was blocked by North Smithfield junior defensive end Ethan Garneau and recovered by the Titans in the endzone, which resulted in a safety, putting the Northmen up 2-0, two minutes into the contest.
North Smithfield also received the ensuing kickoff, which was returned to the Toll Gate 49.
After an eight-yard rush from junior running back Cade Curran, sophomore fullback Jared Beaudoin took the rock 13 yards up the gut to the 28. Two plays later, Puccetti threw a dart to Meriwether, who took it in for the touchdown and extended the North Smithfield lead to 8-0 with 8:09 remaining in the first quarter.
The Titans suffered a miscue on the first play of its next possession when quarterback Greyson Pasquina’s handoff to running back Ezra Cox was fumbled during the transfer and recovered by Northmen junior defensive tackle Cole Dubois at the Titans 15.
Then on third down, Allard rushed up the gut eight yards and into pay dirt and increased the Northmen’s advantage to 14-0 with 6:39 left in the first quarter. Sophomore kicker Pasquale Camastro added the extra point after that and made it 15-0.
Following that, Toll Gate went for it on a 4th-and-4 from its own 38, but Pasquina’s fourth-down pass attempt to wide receiver Anthony Shaw fell incomplete, giving North Smithfield the ball at the Titans 38.
On second down, Curran ran up the gut 13 yards to the 25. Beaudoin then plowed his way 19 yards to the 4. Then on first and goal, Curran took the ball in for the score and upped the Northmen’s lead to 22-0 with 1:50 remaining in the first quarter.
After another Toll Gate three-and-out, the Northmen took over at midfield.
On first down, Puccetti found sophomore tight end Michael Paiva, who took it to the Toll Gate 28. Next, Puccetti connected with Meriwether for his second score of the contest and gave the Northmen a 29-0 cushion with 11:45 left in the second quarter.
An interception by North Smithfield junior cornerback Joshua Carufel gave the Northmen the rock at the Toll Gate 42 after that.
On second down, Curran took it up the middle 10 yards to the 32. Two plays later, Curran rushed again and brought it 12 yards to the 19. Next, Beaudoin took it to the 9 before Allard ran it in for the score and put North Smithfield up 36-0 with 7:52 remaining in the first half.
Toll Gate got as far as midfield on its next drive before turning the ball over on downs.
Then on a 2nd-and-9, Puccetti launched a 49-yard touchdown pass to Meriwether and ballooned the Northmen’s advantage to 43-0 with 4:57 remaining in the half.
North Smithfield got the ball first to start the second half and got right to work from their own 40.
On second down, Curran rushed right 17 yards and took it to the Toll Gate 45. Next, senior wide receiver Xavier Croteau carried it 20 yards to the 25. Croteau took it again, this time left to the 6. Croteau finished the job with a touchdown run up the middle that gave North Smithfield a commanding 50-0 lead with 9:55 remaining in the third quarter.
The Northmen started their next possession deep in Titans' territory at the Toll Gate 8 after Dubois blocked a punt.
However, the Titans defense showed up and denied the Northmen, who had just put in their backup quarterback Colby Shannon for the drive.
On a 3rd-and-8 from the Toll Gate 25, Pasquina heaved a pass to a wide-open Shaw, who took it all the way to pay dirt for a 75-yard score and that got the Titans within 50-6 with 2:00 left in the third quarter. Pasquina also connected with Shaw during the two-point conversion and inched Toll Gate to 50-8.
The Northmen got their final tally of the game on a 35-yard touchdown rush from Tim DeVries, a senior, which made it 56-8 with 44 seconds to play.
With the victory, North Smithfield earns a spot in the D-IV Championship opposite No. 3 Tiverton. It will be the first-ever Super Bowl appearance for the Northmen.
A lot of young players had to step in for Toll Gate this season and Stringfellow hopes the experience will help heading forward.
“Overall, I think the kids that we put in there did a fantastic job this year,” Stringfellow said. “A lot of freshmen got thrown into the fire. We had to use them.”
“We’re a young team going into next year,” Stringfellow continued. “I think we only have three seniors next year. We graduate five seniors this year. So, we were a young team coming in. So we got them a little experience and hopefully it’ll help.”
Some key players that will return for the Titans next season include Pasquina, Shaw, Kenny Morel, and freshmen Alex Matera who saw a lot of playing time this year.
Stringfellow was pleased with the progress of his signal caller in his second season as a starter.
“I couldn’t ask for more,” Stringfellow said. “Greyson did a fantastic job this year. He got beat up, he got dinged, but he battled back and never quit. He never had any doubt in his ability. It’s just going to make him better his junior and senior year. We just have to find guys to work around him with his experience going in as basically a three-year starter.”
“Anthony Shaw’s a fantastic defensive player and offensive player,” Stringfellow added. “He’s going to have a lot of experience to teach the younger guys.”
“Kenny Morel, he’s just a beast,” Stringfellow said. “If we could keep him healthy and had the full backfield together, I think it would have been a different season this year. But Kenny’s back next year. He puts in the time and work during the offseason. He just needs to stay healthy.”
“And the freshmen are going to be sophomores, so it’s just another year under their belts,” Stringfellow said. “They’re going to get better. They’re going to grow and they’re going to get bigger. And, it’s going to be hopefully another playoff run.”