Westerly overcomes adversity, runs over Stonington
Stonington — Westerly heard the banter from its Thanksgiving Day football rivals.
Five straight losses in the series.
Bulldogs are a one-man team.
There was near silence from Stonington fans as Westerly put the finishing touches on a convincing 34-13 victory at Palmer Field. The Bulldogs pulled it off despite playing all but a series and a half without standout running back Tristan Turano, who piled up 2,124 yards this season.
"Just a do your job mentality as a family," Westerly coach Duane Maranda said. "This team has overcome so much adversity over the course of the year. Today was the same thing. Our star running back, Tristan Turano, goes down with an ankle injury and we took pride in being able to play after that.
"There was a lot of talk from the (Stonington) side of the river about we're a one-man team. And when he went down, I guess we're not a one-man team because we were still able to move the football."
Turano left the game about midway through the second quarter with the game tied at 7-all. The Bulldogs (6-6) broke open a tight game with 21 straight points. They had been shutout in the previous three Thanksgiving Day games.
Stonington (3-7) really never gave itself a chance, committing 14 penalties, including several dead ball personal foul calls. The Bears didn't handle the emotion of the Thanksgiving Day game as well as the Bulldogs.
"Obviously, we had far too many penalties in a big game," Stonington coach A.J. Massengale said. "You can't do that. ... It's frustrating. Our kids put forth a great effort, but we didn't play well. We obviously didn't get our kids ready for this game."
One of Stonington's two turnovers led to a momentum-turning touchdown.
After trading touchdowns early on — Turano capped an 83-yard drive with a six-yard run and junior Nate Miller plowed in from the three for the Bears — the game appeared headed to halftime with the score deadlocked.
Then Stonington quarterback Marco Tedeschi fumbled in his own territory and Westerly junior Antonio Laboy scooped up the loose ball and rumbled 20 yards, setting up a first down on the Stonington 9-yard line.
Two plays later, senior Junie Rios tumbled into the end zone to complete a 7-yard touchdown run for a 14-7 lead with two minutes, 21 second left in the second quarter.
"That was huge," Massengale said. "That would have been a big play for us; That was a good gain. You can't turn it over."
From there, Westerly put Stonington in the meat grinder, exclusively running the ball.
With the trio of Rios, senior Ryan Holloway and junior Jon Brutcher following the blocking of their big offensive line, the Bulldogs wore down the Bears.
Still, the score stood at 14-7 until early in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs scored on three straight possessions as Holloway (three yards), Brutcher (25 yards) and Rios (three yards) all found the end zone.
With the outcome no longer in doubt, Tedeschi threw a beautiful 43-yard touchdown pass to senior Jared Rudzinsky to close out the scoring for the Bears.
Holloway (20 carries, 83 yards) and Rios (13 carries, 74 yards) finished as the top rushers for the Bulldogs. Turano had 55 yards, 53 in the opening series, before departing.
"As a team, we saw Tristan go out and we just kept moving," Rios said. "We didn't let that get in our head and we just played football."
As you might expect, Westerly's post-game mood was vastly improved over previous five seasons.
"A year ago today, I saw the pain in the eyes of the seniors who had never gotten a chance to win the game," Maranda said. "And I saw the pain in the eyes of the parents, everybody, the whole town. This is a personal game.
"... Our kids have been working hard for two years to get to the point we're at right now. I love these seniors and I owe everything to them because they have done a great job bringing our family together and keeping them together and then obviously playing a great game today."
Stonington still leads the all-time series, 74-67-17. Miller led the Bears with 85 yards on 23 carriers and Rudzinsky had four catches for 68 yards.