WESTERLY — Through the first four games of the high school football season, a lot of attention has been focused on Westerly High's offense.
And rightly so. Running back Justin Tuck has two 200-yard rushing games, quarterback Lance Williams has proved to be an effective passer, and Luke Marley has made several big plays at wide receiver.
And a lot of that was on display in the Bulldogs' 24-6 Division II-B win over Tolman on Friday at Augeri Field.
But it was Westerly's defense that was top-notch, particularly in the second half when the Bulldogs (4-1, 3-1 Division II-B) took control of the game — they didn't allow a first down and limited the Tigers to just 6 total yards. They also didn't have a penalty on the defensive side, unlike the first half.
"We just cleaned it up, did what we were supposed to do. We just went out there and punched them in the mouth," junior linebacker Jimmy Powers said. "We filled our gaps and made sure we were the first ones at the point of attack."
Powers also moved down to the defensive line several times throughout the game, going up against a sizeable Tigers offensive line.
"They were pretty big, but we got off the ball first, pushed them back and made our plays," Powers said.
Defensive lineman Xavier Webster had a big game for the Bulldogs, making a number of tackles.
"I am conditioned; our coach really runs that into us," Webster said. "D-line, O-line, everybody has to be conditioned because we are a second-half team."
Tolman struggled to contain Webster at times.
"I usually try to contain the guy inward, and if the play comes my way, I have some fun," Webster said.
Westerly coach Stanley Dunbar said the Bulldogs focused on stopping the Tolman running game.
"We were just loading the box. We didn't really think they could pass the ball, except throwing it deep down the field," Dunbar said. "We tried to crowd the line of scrimmage to stop the run.
"Our defense has been playing great. I think we have one of the best defensive coordinators in the state in Ron Sposato. He does a great job of getting those guys prepared every time, and we've got the guys to do it."
Westerly scored on its first possession on a 7-yard run by Zack Tuck on a counter play. The Bulldogs caught a break when Tolman was called for a roughing the passer penalty that prolonged the drive after an incomplete pass on third down.
A personal foul by the Tigers on the next play put the ball at the 7-yard line where Tuck later scored.
Tolman (1-4, 1-3 II-B) answered in the second quarter, moving 46 yards in 11 plays capped by a Aaron Carion 2-yard run. Westerly was flagged for roughing the punter and pass interference during the drive. Both came on fourth down.
Westerly caught a big break to start the second half when the Tolman kickoff only traveled 2 yards.
Williams then hit Marley on a 42-yard scoring play down the middle of the field on the first play of the second half. Marley caught the pass in stride at about the 5 and went in with just 11 seconds elapsed in the half.
"I always have a couple of 'shot' plays. And given the situation, I thought it was just the perfect time to call that play," Dunbar said.
Chad Mayne's extra point made it 14-6. Mayne kicked a 22-yard field goal on Westerly's next possession to make it 17-6 with 2:45 left in the third quarter. Tuck, who finished with 101 yards on 19 carries, had runs of 29 and 10 yards in that drive.
Westerly scored again with 6:52 left in the game on perhaps one of Williams' best plays of the season.
The junior right-handed quarterback rolled to his left, eluding Tolman defenders and extending the play until Marley could find his way open near the left sideline of the end zone. Williams delivered a dart on the run that was low, and Marley went to the ground for the TD reception. Mayne's extra point made it 24-6.
"I was telling him to run the ball and get what he could, but he saw something I didn't," Dunbar said. "Our QB coach, Danny Maranda, has been working with Lance on scrambling."
Williams, who completed 5 of 11 passes for 112 yards, was also able to find 6-foot-5 sophomore tight end Ben Gorman open twice in the game for completions of 20 and 16 yards. Gorman could prove to be a valuable weapon for the Bulldogs as the season progresses.
Gorman also had a sack on the defensive side of the ball.
Westerly would have likely scored on its final possession but elected to let the clock run out with the ball at Tolman's 1.
"We are playing complementary football," Dunbar said. "A lot of the guys on the offensive side are on the defensive side, too. Guys are playing all over the field and putting each other in position to make plays."
Westerly travels to Classical next Saturday for a 2 p.m. game. Classical beat Tolman, 21-7, earlier this season.