TIVERTON — Tiverton High School’s two deep kick returners Nathan Upchurch and Nikoli Manchester bumped into each other trying to catch North Providence’s opening kickoff in Friday’s game.
The ball fell to the ground in front of them and Manchester scooped it up at his own 16-yard line, veered left and raced untouched to the end zone 13 seconds into the game.
“The ball bounced and it gave him just enough time and you could tell right away he was going to score,” Tiverton coach Bob Murray said. “Sure enough he got in that hole and off he went and there was no catching him.”
Late in the first half Tiverton defender Mike Beaulieu was out of position but in the right spot. He intercepted a pass on his 25-yard line and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown with 36 second left in the first half.
“He wasn’t even supposed to be there,” Murray said. “We busted his chops when we went (to the locker room) at halftime. We asked him what defense we were in… But he’s a sophomore and he’s a good little athlete.”
Even when Tiverton did something wrong it turned out right as the Tigers rolled to a 48-0 victory. The Tigers had 343 yards of total offense compared to 137 for the Cougars.
“I thought we played much better defensively tonight. We didn’t play this kind of defense last week against Exeter,” Murray said. And I thought they came right from the first play. I thought that they played much more intently.
“We just executed. We did what we were supposed to do. We were in the right place. We were in better position all around. I thought we had a much better week of practice and it translated out here on the field.”
Matt Gacioch threw touchdown passes of 23, 44 and 13 yards to Nate Upchurch in a span of seven minutes in the second quarter. Those were the lone passes Upchurch caught in the game.
“I saw Matt scrambling and I just got open — on all of them,” Upchurch said.
Murray was pleased to see the way two of the TD passes developed.
“On the screen Matthew drew them and drew them and drew them — he did everything we’ve been talking about — and at the last minute he gets rid of it,” Murray said. “It’s the first time in a long time we got out on the screen and we got our bodies on the people we were supposed to and that gave Nate the grass to go.
“On the swing pass Matthew looked and looked and looked and nothing was there and he checked down to Nate and off he went. His natural foot speed ability is pretty good.”
Gacioch finished 8-for-11 for 198 yards passing and also broke off a 76-yard touchdown run on Tiverton’s first series of the second half. Upchurch scored his fourth touchdown on a five-yard run in the final quarter.
“Our receivers played better. We caught the ball today,” Upchurch said. “We protected Matt and we did what we had to do.”
Tiverton held North Providence to 76 yards of offense in the first half and 61 yards in the second half. The Cougars had 84 rushing yards on 22 carries and 53 passing yards on seven receptions. The Tigers had the pick-6 and Gacioch recovered two fumbles, one after Rajin Ramunno stripped a receiver of the ball after he made a catch.
“We’re playing better defense,” Upchurch said. “Last year we struggled stopping the run and we’ve been working on that a lot. We’ve been working a lot on run defense. We can’t give up big runs.”
Upchurch had the three receptions for 90 yards and 51 yards rushing on eight carries. Gacioch finished with 89 rushing yards on five runs and the Tigers totaled 145 yards on the ground on 17 carries.
Adam Amaral, who successfully booted six of seven conversion kicks, had three receptions for 38 yards, Beaulieu had two catches for 26 yards and Manchester (47 yards) and Ethan Meyers (7 yards) each caught one ball.
Tiverton hosts the North Smithfield/Mount St. Charles co-op squad next Friday in a rematch of last season’s Division IV Super Bowl won by the Tigers.
“Hopefully we’ll get them again,” Upchurch said. “I expect it to be a good, aggressive game. And we have to play defense if we want to win that game because they’re a good opponent.
They only had two seniors graduate so they’re the same team.”