GLOCESTER — The ball sat on the 37-yard line — which at the time was more mud than grass — as quarterback Zach Silvaggio and the Ponaganset High School offense took the field staring down the biggest 63 yards of their lives.
Five minutes and 26 seconds later, Silvaggio dove over his center and left guard into the end zone for the go-ahead score, and an interception by Griffin Ferretti sealed the deal as the Chieftains continued their impressive season with a 35-32 win over Tiverton on Friday night.
For a team that didn’t win one game last season and whose senior class entered the year with a combined 3-19 record in division play, Friday’s result confirmed that these aren’t the same-old Chieftains.
“It’s been a rough last three or four years on this team,” said Ponaganset’s Evan Calise, who ran for 123 yards on nine carries, including an 82-yard romp for the team’s first score. “I think we have a good shot at the championship.”
“It’s a whole new atmosphere for the kids,” Ponaganset coach Jim Cook said. “It’s just unbelievable for the boys.”
The last drive was simply Ponaganset doing things right while Tiverton struggled to stop them.
After holding the Chieftains to 11 plays on offense in the first half — two being 50-yard plus touchdowns, though — Tiverton couldn’t get out of its own way in the second half as Ponaganset sustained drive after drive.
“They’re a good football team, don’t get me wrong,” Tiverton coach Bob Murray said, “but so are we, and I feel we beat ourselves in so many areas.”
That was apparent on the final drive, when the Chieftains had some big gains on the ground, and a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty turned a 13-yard pass by Silvaggio to Calise into a first-and-10 at the Tiverton 15-yard line.
Silvaggio found Ferretti for a 12-yard gain on second down, putting the ball on the 1. After a failed first attempt, Silvaggio converted for the score, his second-straight 1-yard TD run, with 1:53 left to play.
“Pretty much it was just put the ball in the end zone,” Silvaggio said.
When you have a quarterback like Tiverton’s Matt Gacioch, the lead was hardly safe. Gacioch carved up the Ponaganset defense and finished with 247 yards passing, completing 17 of 31 passes. But a game-winning drive wasn’t in the cards. On second-and-2 from the Tiverton 44, Gacioch threw deep for Daniel Garde. The ball ended up in the hands of Ferretti.
It was a roller-coaster ride for Ponaganset in a game that featured eight lead changes. But the Chieftains improved to 5-0 in Division IV, the most wins the program has seen since the 2009 team that went undefeated en route to a D-III title.
The loss was Tiverton's second in the division.
“Here’s what we tell the kids every single game once it ends,” Cook said. “Celebrate tonight, because on Monday, you’re all dogs again.”