If the first minute of Friday’s contest was any indication, Spruce Mountain appeared to once again have its hands full with the Knights. But that opening minute proved nothing more than a mirage.
The Phoenix took Poland’s best punch in the first minute, but it hardly made Spruce Mountain flinch by the time the final bell sounded. After spotting the Knights a six-point lead in the first 37 seconds, the Phoenix responded with 55 unanswered points en route to a 55-6 victory at Griffin Field. It was a far cry from a year ago, when Spruce Mountain snuck by Poland by three points.
“That was most definitely in the backs of our minds,” Spruce Mountain coach Walter Polky said. “I was like, ‘Not again.’ That’s the one thing about having as many seniors on this team as we do. They’ve been in these situations. They know what it’s like to play from behind. They know what it takes to push over the barrier.”
Poland (2-3) needed just two plays to take a 6-0 lead. Quarterback Adam Mocciola hit receiver Nick Cote for a 45-yard completion on the opening play from scrimmage and Mocciola scrambled 34 yards to cap the 37-second drive.
The Knights stopped the Phoenix on their first drive when Spruce Mountain was unable to convert a fourth-and-4 from Poland’s 16. The Phoenix were done messing around after that.
Spruce Mountain’s Austin Darling intercepted Mocciola on Poland’s ensuing drive — the first of two picks by the free safety. The Phoenix took advantage of the short field as Dillon Webster scored from 12 yards out mid way through the first quarter to give Spruce Mountain an 8-6 lead, an advantage it wouldn’t relinquish.
The Phoenix (5-0) were just getting started on the ground as the offensive line made huge running lanes in the middle of the field. Webster and Matt Vigue each rushed for over 100 yards. The running back duo did most of their damage in the first half, rushing for 150 of their 229 yards in the opening 24 minutes. Webster’s second touch of the game went for a 51-yard touchdown to make it 16-6 at the end of the first quarter.
“Our offensive line, it’s all them,” Spruce Mountain quarterback Peter Theriault said. “They were blocking great. First quarter, we didn’t really come out like we wanted to, but coach made some adjustments and we rolled from there.”
Theriault ran for three touchdowns and passed for another. He finished with 80 yards rushing on nine carries and completed 6 of 12 passes for 73 yards. He scored on back-to-back possessions to open the second half to give the Phoenix a 42-6 lead.
Theriault, like the rest of the Phoenix, weren’t interested in playing another close contest with the Knights.
“We were mad about that because we almost lost that game,” Theriault said. “We had a little bit of a chip on our shoulder.”
Even Spruce Mountain backup quarterback Caulin Parker got in on the action, rounding out the scoring with a 13-yard touchdown run with 9:48 remaining. The Phoenix finished with 375 rushing yards on 38 carries.
“Our offensive line is senior led,” Polky said. “It’s their last homecoming game. They take a lot of pride in what they do. They paved the way for us.”
As for the Knights, they were never able to get their offense going after that opening drive. The Phoenix forced three turnovers, sacked Mocciola twice and blocked a punt.
“I had two good play calls and then they adjusted really well to what we were trying to do,” Poland coach Tedd Tibbetts said. “They just physically outplayed us. They’re a hard, physical team.”
Mocciola rushed for 103 yards on 10 carries, almost all those yards coming on three rushes. He was limited to three yards on three carries in the second half.
Robbie Porter did the bulk of the work on the ground, carrying the ball 16 times for 62 yards before exiting the game with an ankle injury.