Bears come up big when it matters most

Stonington's Cory Candelet dives to trip up Westerly's Adam Mitchell during the first half of Thursday's annual showdown in Westerly. The Bears overcame an early 13-0 deficit and then held on to beat the Bulldogs 34-32.
Buy Photo Tim Martin/ The Day Stonington's Cory Candelet dives to trip up Westerly's Adam Mitchell during the first half of Thursday's annual showdown in Westerly. The Bears overcame an early 13-0 deficit and then held on to beat the Bulldogs 34-32.

Westerly During the crucial moments of a drama-filled game, Stonington came up Paul Bunyan big.

The Bears stood tall and strong in the nation's oldest Thanksgiving Day football rivalry.

In one of several momentum-changing moments, they chopped down Westerly quarterback Phil Lynch short of the goal line on his attempted game-tying two-point conversion run with two minutes, 48 seconds remaining.

Stonington ran out the clock, holding on for a hard-fought 34-32 victory.

"I don't even know what to say," Stonington coach A.J. Massengale said. "It was quite the game. ... We're very happy with the way things went. This was a great Thanksgiving Day game."

Unfortunately for the Bears, they didn't receive the help needed to earn a Class S state playoff bid.

Nevertheless, Stonington (8-2) still had plenty to celebrate. The Bears extended their lead in the series to 70-66 with 17 ties.

Junior quarterback Divante White, the game's most valuable player, threw three first-half touchdown passes to push the Bears in front for good. He went 7-for-14 for 179 yards.

"It means a lot," White said. "We just tried to get that trophy back and we got it done."

The scene was set for a Thanksgiving Day classic.

Approximately 3,000 fans packed the stands and lined the fence at Westerly High School on an unseasonably warm morning. Big-time bragging rights were at stake in 153rd meeting in the historic rivalry.

The teams delivered the drama.

After falling behind 13-0, the Bears scored 28 straight points and then fought off a feisty opponent.

Sophomore Matt Mitchell scored Stonington's final and perhaps biggest touchdown, bolting 95 yards down the right sideline with a kickoff return for a 34-26 edge with 7:30 remaining.

"It feels great," Mitchell said. "I never really expected that when I caught it. When it was happening, it was just surreal."

Westerly (5-6) scored the game's first two touchdowns on Lynch's 1-yard sneak and his 56-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Garro.

Stonington's potent offense finally responded in just one play. White hooked up with junior Zach Poirier on a 66-yard pass play to cut the gap to 13-7 with 4:14 left in the second quarter. Poirier also rushed for 119 yards on 12 carries.

Given time, White picked apart the defense with accurate throws. He threw two more touchdown passes, hitting Kyle Woodworth (27 yards) and Brendan Gayowski (20 yards) for a 21-13 edge at halftime.

In all, the Bears needed just six plays to score 21 points.

In a pivotal play, Westerly went for it on fourth down and one from its own 39-yard line with 28 seconds remaining in the first half, but the defense smothered Lynch's sneak attempt.

Three plays later, White found Gayowski, who outmaneuvered a defender to catch the ball at the four and then ran into the end zone on the last play of the half.

Stonington extended the lead to 28-13 on its first drive of the second half, as Poirier found daylight on fourth down and three, running 56 yards for the score.

Westerly wrestled away the momentum and began moving the ball on the ground. When Lynch capped a 13-play, 55-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, the Bulldogs cut the gap to 28-26 early in the fourth quarter.

But the Bears' defense showed their teeth, gang-tackling junior Thomas McGuire on a two-point conversion run attempt.

And about five minutes later, after Adam Mitchell's 11-yard TD run, Stonington came up big again on another two-point try to ice the win.

"Those were huge," Massengale said. "Our kids have done those kinds of things several times over the last couple of years. ... They've stepped up in those moments."

g.keefe@theday.com

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