Cumberland coach Chris Skurka gives an upbeat message to his players after they beat Tolman 13-9 on Saturday night in a Division II playoff contest. (BUTCH ADAMS photo)
PAWTUCKET â€“ We hear the phrase â€śmaking playsâ€ť from athletes and coaches so often that sometimes the exact meaning of the phrase gets lost in its overuse.
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Cumberland coach Chris Skurka used the term to describe how his underdog Clippers sneaked past favored Tolman by a 13-9 margin on Saturday night in a Division II quarterfinal playoff game.
â€śThatâ€™s what this team does,â€ť Skurka said. â€śWe make plays.â€ť
Cumberland won this game despite a slight statistical disadvantage. Tolman ran 53 plays from scrimmage to 46 for Cumberland. The Tigers gained 150 yards rushing on 41 carries to 72 for Cumberland on 21 rushes.
Until the final four minutes, the Clippersâ€™ rushing game consisted of a 75-yard touchdown run by Erik Travers and negative yardage from everyone else. But with the outcome at stake, Cumberlandâ€™s offensive line won the game with a strong surge at the point of attack.
The Clippersâ€™ defense played so well that Tolman (which averaged 33 points per game while going 6-1 in Division II-B) accumulated just 168 yards in total offense. Cumberland, which averaged only 17 points per game while compiling a 5-2 record in II-A, settled for 142 yards in total offense.
Cumberland quarterback Brendan Guerin, a proficient passer, completed just six of 22 aerials for 68 yards and was sacked three times for minus 22 yards.
Tolmanâ€™s Luis Rodrigues went 3-for-12 for 18 yards and tossed an interception in the desperate final minute when victory was all but gone.
So how did the Clippers win this game? Simple. They made more big plays than Tolman did. Here are a few of them.
Tolman took the opening kickoff and ate up 6 minutes, 35 seconds off the clock while moving from its 34-yard line to Cumberlandâ€™s 25. On second down from the 25, Tolman got called for holding on a six-yard run by quarterback Luis Rodrigues. Two plays later, Cumberland linebacker Ryan Gaumond blitzed through the middle of Tolmanâ€™s offensive line and sacked Rodrigues to kill the drive. Big play No. 1.
The two teams would exchange punts with Cumberland getting the ball back late in the first quarter at its 15-yard line. On third-and-eight, Guerin hit wide receiver Mitchell Baxter for a diving catch at the sideline for nine yards and a first down. Big play No. 2.
And then came the biggest play of the game. Travers, one of the stateâ€™s premier wrestling talents, broke around right end, shrugged off a face-mask tackling attempt, and raced 75 yards down the sideline for a stunning touchdown with 29 seconds left in the first quarter.
In a game that featured 12 punts, the playoff foes exchanged the ball twice. Tolmanâ€™s Anthony Soares drilled a 48-yard punt to the Clippersâ€™ seven-yard line, changing field position and putting the Clippers in a hole. Tolman got the ball back at its own 43 and, aided by a face-mask penalty on Cumberland, moved into the end zone in just five plays, all runs. Darion Stubbs, who rushed for 55 yards on 18 carries, covered the final 12 yards.
It was time for another big play by Cumberland. Soaresâ€™s extra point attempted was blocked by Baxter. There would no more scoring until the fourth quarter as both defenses controlled the game.
Tolmanâ€™s Mamour Samb recovered a fumble at the Clippersâ€™ 12-yard line midway through the third quarter. Stubbs ran for eight yards on first down. Pariseau Field was rocking with home-crowd noise as the Clippers stuffed Mory Keita on second down. On third-and-one, Gaumond again came through the middle of the line and tackled Stubbs for a three-yard loss. That pushed the ball back to the eight-yard line and Soares missed to the left on a 25-yard field goal try.
The Tigers had another chance to take the lead with 9:56 left in the fourth quarter but Baxter stopped halfback Andre Gilbert one yard short of a first down at the Clippersâ€™ 15-yard line. Huge play.
Tolman took the lead with 4:31 left in the game when Soares converted a 28-yard field goal. The Tigers began their drive at the Clippersâ€™ 43 and moved quickly to a first down at the 14 on hard runs by Keita (14 carries for 63 yards on the night). Keita made four yards on first down. On second-and-six at the 10, defensive end Brian Buxton ran down Stubbs for a three-yard loss. On third down, Rodrigues overthrew a well-covered Keita in the end zone.
Soares made his redemptive field goal but Cumberlandâ€™s defense had prevented a touchdown, which would prove large in the final outcome. The Clippersâ€™ defense saved four points in a game decided by exactly that number.
Cumberlandâ€™s next big play came from kick returner Daniel Stock, who grabbed Soaresâ€™s kickoff and ran hard through the middle of the field, going down at Tolmanâ€™s 49.
On second down, Guerin found Gaumond over the middle for a short pass that the hard-running back turned into a 27-yard gain with 4:03 left. Stock then ran for five yards on two straight carries to the 11 as Cumberlandâ€™s offensive line began to push the Tigers backwards.
Guerin threw incomplete into the end zone on first down with Tolmanâ€™s Andre Gilbert throwing a blanket over the intended receiver. On second down, Stock followed his lineâ€™s surge and gained seven yards to the four. At this point, the Clippers were playing on the adrenalin that comes when victory is so near. The Tigers were on the defensive, tiring as they tried to protect a 9-7 lead that should have been larger, had they made enough big plays of their own.
On third-and-three from the four, Stock gained three yards, just enough to earn a first down at the one with two minutes left. Gaumond scored the winning touchdown and then wrapped up the victory by intercepting a pass with 52 seconds left and Tolman stuck on its own 22-yard line.
Those were the big plays in Saturday nightâ€™s game. Tolman played hard and with great effort but Cumberland made more big plays than the Tigers did.
Cumberland 7 â€“ 0 â€“ 0 â€“ 6 â€“ 13
Tolman 0 â€“ 6 â€“ 0 â€“ 3 â€“ 9
C â€“ Erik Travers 75 run (Chris Antunes kick)
T â€“ Darion Stubbs 12 run (kick blocked)
T â€“ Anthony Soares 28 FG
C â€“ Ryan Gaumond 1 run (pass failed)
Rushing: Tolman â€“ Mory Keita 14-63, Darion Stubbs 18-55, Andre Gilbert 4-29, Mamour Samb 1-2, Luis Rodrigues 4-1. Cumberland â€“ Erik Travers 3-75, Daniel Stock 4-20, Ryan Gaumond 8-1, Brendan Guerin 3-(-22), Joseph Fine 2-1, Mitchell Baxter 1-(-3).
Passing: Cumberland â€“ Brendan Guerin 6-22-0-70. Tolman: Luis Rodrigues 3-12-1-18.
Receiving: Cumberland â€“ Mitchell Baxter 4-24, Ryan Gaumond 1-27, Ryan Harrison 1-19. Tolman: Mamour Samb 2-5, Mory Keita 1-13.