Tigers fall in Super soaker
Tiverton loses 21-20 heartbreaker in D-IV championship
A bold move by Tiverton Head Coach Bob Murray came up short as Tiverton lost a 21-20 heartbreaker to North Smithfield/Mount St. Charles Co-op team in the Division IV championship at Cranston Stadium on a stormy Sunday night.
Tigers senior quarterback Matt Gacioch, playing in his second Super Bowl in two years, had been down against this same team before. With two minutes left in the game and a cold rain whipping across the field into his face, Gacioch stepped back and threw a screen pass to running back Nate Upchurch. The senior muscled through a pair of tackles and ran 40 yards into the left side of the end zone for a touchdown that closed the gap to 20-21 with 1:44 left in the game. The Tiverton crowd erupted.
After the touchdown, coach Murray sent Gacioch and the offense out to the field for a two-point conversion attempt —one play from the 2-yard to win or lose the championship. Earlier in the game, Tigers placekicker Adam Amaral missed a point after kicking into the wind.
The co-op team, with their point-after defense out on the field, quickly called a time out.
Coach Murray huddled with the offense and left them out on the field.
Gacioch walked up behind center, got a look at the co-op defense and called a Tiverton time out.
Excitement grew in the crowd as the two teams again gathered to discuss strategy. Coach Murray gave the Tigers the play and they left the huddle to line up.
Gacioch fired a quick pass to wide receiver Nikoli Manchester as he ran a slant into the end zone. Manchester was hit hard by co-op cornerback Paquale Camastro as the zippy pass sailed up and off his hands and the fell to the ground.
The co-op team and fans erupted in celebration — the game was essentially over.
“We played some good rainy smash-mouthed football,” said Tigers sophomore receiver Mike Beaulieu. “We practiced all year for this. We knew it was going to be a tough game. And it came down to one play. That’s all it was.”
Later Coach Murray was asked if he had considered kicking the extra point for a tie instead of going for the two point conversion, Coach Murray said “No.”
“We felt that we struggled to stop them most of the day,” said coach Murray adding, “We felt that we had an opportunity with 1:44 left that we should be able to put ourselves in a better situation than we did. If anything, I’m going to blame myself for taking a time out. We probably should have run the play because we got the defense that we wanted.”
Tiverton has gone to nine Super Bowl championships under coach Murray and has won four titles.
Upchurch, was visibly upset after the game. The two way player had left his heart on the field. He was in on nearly ever tackle on defense and on offense, he would not be denied, scoring two touchdowns for the Tigers — a 12-yard run in the first quarter and a 40-yard touchdown catch and run in the fourth quarter. Gacioch had two touchdown passes. He threw a 65-yard bomb to Nikoli Manchester in the second quarter and a 40-yard strike to Upchurch in the fourth quarter. Gacioch also connected with Upchurch for a two point conversion.
“I can’t ask more from Matt and Nate. I can’t ask more from any of the boys. I thought they all played real well,” coach Murray said.
Upchurch capped a quick Tiverton scoring drive with a 12-yard touchdown run. Place kicker Adam Amaral struggled kicking into the wind and missed the point-after giving Tiverton a 6-0 lead with 12 minutes left to play in the first quarter.
The co-op team came right back. Running back Jordan Allard scored from the 1-yard line and Camastro Pasquale kicked the point-after to give the co-op a 7-6 lead.
After Tiverton punted, The Co-op drove down inside the Tigers 20-yard line. Quarterback Jack Puccetti saw two of his receivers in the end zone and threw up a pass, but, it was intercepted by Tigers sophomore cornerback Christian Polofsky and he ran it out to the 5-yard line before he was brought down.
The Tigers drove to midfield and stalled. Gacioch took a high snap and quickly got off a punt into the wind. The kick dribbled to the left sideline and the Co-op began a scoring drive from their own 40-yard line. Five plays later, Allard took a hand off from Puccetti, ran up the middle and looked to be tackled by defensive tackle Jonathan Camara. But Allard squeezed out of his grip and ran down the left sideline for a 40 yard touchdown run to give the Co-op a 14-6 lead with 22 seconds left in the half.
Tiverton recovered the Co-op kick off on their own 35-yard line to start the second half. On their first play from scrimmage, Gacioch heaved a deep pass to Manchester running a crossing route. He caught the pass at midfield, zipped between two defenders and streaked to the end zone for a 65 yard touchdown to cut the Co-op lead to 14-12 with 12 minutes left in the third quarter.
The Tigers went for two. Gacioch rolled right and found Upchurch in the end zone to even the score 14-14.
Gacioch dribbled an onside kick for Tiverton and they recovered the ball on the co-op 45-yard line. The quarterback nearly connected on another deep pass to Manchester, but the ball sailed just out of his reach and into the end zone. Tiverton gave the ball back on downs on the Co-op 35-yard line.
Allard led the co-op on a nine play scoring drive capped by Puccetti’s 1 yard touchdown run for a 21-14 lead with 1:26 left in the third quarter.
The teams traded drives. The co-op team gave the ball back on a missed field goal, and Tiverton the gave the ball back on downs. Tiverton Defensive lineman Nick Ekstrom sacked Puccetti and forced the co-op to punt.
Gacioch and the offense got the ball back deep in their own territory with 3 minutes left in the game and down 21-14. Gacioch and Upchurch each ran for first downs as the offense fought its way over mid-field. Coach Murray called for a screen play to Upchurch and it went for a touchdown.
“They had been pressuring Matt all day,” said Coach Murray. “And we just felt it was time.”
“We hadn’t used it all day,” the coach said of the screen pass. “We didn’t want to run from our regular formation so we ran it from that five wide. Nate got the ball but the kid sat right on him. There was a little chip block that freed him and Nate did the rest with his feet,” Coach Murray said.
“The play got us to where we wanted to go, but we did’t finish it.”
“The kids played hard. They gave their best effort,” the coach said of his team.
“We struggled early stopping the run, but as the game went along we got a little more stout and that’s why the game became what it became.”