Stonington falls to Westerly 28-7

Stonington — One team left the field with its appetite satisfied, the other with an empty feeling after a tighter-than-expected Thanksgiving football game.

Westerly, a heavy favorite, pulled out a 28-7 win over winless Stonington but led by just seven early in the fourth quarter.

The close result didn't surprise Westerly senior Rocco Cillino, who rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns while playing before an estimated crowd of 2,800 at Palmer Field.

"It's the same thing every year," said Cillino, who was named the game's most valuable player. "It doesn't matter the record. This game means so much to both teams."

It was a tough defeat for Bears (0-10) to digest. They fought hard but couldn't overcome numerous penalties and mistakes.

"We did a lot of good things," Stonington coach A.J. Massengale said. "We handed them some gifts there, though. That's on the coaching staff. We could have beat that team."

The Bulldogs (8-3) entered the 101st Thanksgiving meeting between the two programs with the edge in experience and talent. They won last year's meeting, 61-0.

The game appeared to be following the script as Westerly opened the game with an impressive 18-play, 80-yard drive that lasted seven and a half minutes. The Bulldogs converted three times on fourth down and short, including on Cillino's one-yard scoring run. They missed the extra point.

The Bears, who have only six seniors on the roster, didn't buckle. On their next two possessions, they moved the ball into Westerly territory. But they couldn't capitalize.

First, they turned the ball over downs when Lucian Tedeschi was stopped for no gain on fourth and two from the nine. Senior Josh Curtin's 35-yard run off a fake punt was the big play of the drive.

Then a holding penalty negated junior Drew Champagne's 27-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Christian Hudson. The drive stalled when senior Trent Lamb sacked Champagne on fourth and long.

"Huge play," Massengale said. "It didn't need to happen. It was way away from the play. And it wasn't part of the play. There was no reason."

Still, Stonington was in good position at halftime, trailing just by six.

The game started to turn in Westerly's favor in the second half.

On the first play of the third quarter, Champagne's pass sailed over the head of his intended receiver and into the arms of a sliding Cillino.

Seven plays later, Cillino raced into the end zone from five yards out and senior Derek Mason, who finished with 95 yards on the ground, added the two point conversion for a 14-0 lead.

Stonington answered, as freshman Chase Gouvin scored on an 11-yard touchdown run with 4:55 left in the third quarter.

The Bulldogs dug in on defense to keep the Bears scoreless the rest of the way and added two fourth quarter touchdowns on runs by Mason and Cillino.

Westerly piled up over 300 yards rushing and had just one turnover. The Bulldogs were fortunate to recover three of their own fumbles. They've won three straight on Thanksgiving.

Stonington leads the overall series, 74-69-17.

"They showed a lot of things that they hadn't shown and they played extremely hard," Westerly coach Duane Maranda said of Stonington. "You've got that Thanksgiving blood pumping in your veins.

"They did a great job and our guys did a great job, especially protecting the football in the second half. That was the key. We just couldn't hurt ourselves. We had to protect the ball and keep getting positive yards."

It was Maranda's final time coaching in the annual Thanksgiving Day game. He's focusing on his job as athletic director at Prout High School in Wakefield, R.I.

"It's really emotional," Maranda said. "It's not my last game as a Bulldog. It's my last game coaching. I'm going to be a big fan."

g.keefe@theday.com

 

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