NARRAGANSETT — The opening kickoff was a sign of things to come, and not a good one for the Narragansett football team.
In the highly anticipated matchup of Division III unbeatens, Pilgrim kicked off, recovered a mishandled pooch kick and scored a touchdown just three plays later. The Mariners briefly righted the ship after the brutal start, but couldn’t keep up as Pilgrim pulled away in impressive fashion for a 48-13 victory at Jim Zepp Field.
“Hey, they’re a good team,” Narragansett head coach Matt Blessing said. “We knew they would be. But early, the breakdowns on special teams – we lost two onside kicks. The one early gave them momentum right out of the gate. That hurt.”
The win secured the top seed in the D-III playoffs for Pilgrim, which finished league play at 7-0. Narragansett is 5-1 and must win this week’s league finale against Chariho to avoid falling into a potential three-way tie for second place with the Chargers and Tolman. The Mariners are in the playoffs regardless, but a three-way tiebreaker would leave someone matched up with Pilgrim in the semifinals.
“You’ve got to try to bounce back,” Blessing said. “You don’t want to go into the playoffs with two losses. You’re looking to take this, get some momentum, take a step back. We’ll be in film for a long session on Sunday. There are always things as coaches – Chariho played them a lot tougher than we did. They ran a different scheme. They went to a five-man front. It slowed that inside run game. Our stack, we just weren’t filling quickly enough or reading well enough. Going into Chariho, that’s going to be a big game for us.”
The Mariners had been rolling since a close game against Tolman in September, winning their next four games by an average of 33 points. As Pilgrim kept winning in similar fashion, Friday’s matchup loomed as the league’s game of the year.
The first kickoff sent it careening away from the Mariners quickly. Demitri Ayres recovered the kick and the Patriots quickly marched 40 yards for the opening salvo. Quarterback Mike Borges capped the drive with a 26-yard touchdown run.
After a turnover on downs by the Mariners, Pilgrim used another special teams surprise to get moving again. Lined up to punt, Ayres ran to the right on a rugby-style kick and kept running, picking up a first down and then some. He scored soon after on a 9-yard run, giving Pilgrim a 12-0 lead.
Narragansett got on the board with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Eddie Blessing to Colby Corson. Blessing then picked off a Borges pass, but the Mariners quickly turned it over on downs. From that point on, it was all Patriots as they scored two more touchdowns before the half and another early in the third quarter. Narragansett stopped the bleeding momentarily with a 50-yard touchdown run by Blessing, but Pilgrim answered with two more scores to finish off the win.
Pilgrim racked up 297 yards rushing, with big nights from Ayres and Borges. The rushing attack also served to keep Narragansett’s offense off the field as Pilgrim dominated time of possession.
“We broke down a lot of what they did this week. We statistically were putting numbers on it, and I think sometimes you can over-coach a game, in the sense that it’s information overload,” Matt Blessing said. “As a coaching staff, that’s a little bit on me. Sometimes, it’s about just getting them to read their correct keys. We didn’t do that well. Our backers were seeing jet when they were running power and pulling guards. We’ve got to be able to read those pulls and we didn’t do a good job of it tonight . . . They were able to just pound us and grind away.”
On the other side, it was Narragansett’s lowest offensive output of the season.
“It was more of not getting the ball out quickly and early, making some in-game adjustments,” Blessing said. “Some of our route concepts, they give the receivers some freedom to read and sit down on a route when it’s capped. Sometimes, we were running into things out there and not getting rid of the football quickly enough. They brought a lot of heat.”
Narragansett hopes it’s learned some things for a potential rematch. It will also have some fire. Pilgrim’s entrance to the field included a small smoke bomb, and the Mariners didn’t like it.
“I didn’t care for their fireworks show – I let the coach know about it,” Blessing said. “I would never pull that on somebody else’s home stadium, on their senior night.”
If the Mariners can secure the No. 2 or No. 3 seed, a potential rematch would come in the Super Bowl.
“That’s the goal,” Blessing said of a rematch. “They came in. They’re the big school. They’ve got 1,500 kids up there, combined two high schools. They should be the team to beat. They were. last year, four yards from winning a Super Bowl – they couldn’t put it in. They’re hungry and I think that’s fired them up.”