Last Wednesday night, T.J. Boyajian sat alone on the bleachers at Warwick Vets, looked out at the dark field and let the memories wash over him.
On Thanksgiving morning, Boyajian and his Warwick Vets teammates made another memory – one they won’t soon forget.
Boyajian rushed for 209 yards and four touchdowns and the defense shined as the ’Canes stormed to a 40-0 victory over Pilgrim.
The game was the 50th meeting in the Thanksgiving series between the schools, and Vets celebrated in style. The 40-point margin of victory is the largest for either team in series history.
“It’s awesome,” said Boyajian, a senior running back. “Honestly, we came into this program my freshman year and we knew our senior year, we’d be good. We had struggles. We didn’t win a game for two years, but we never gave up. Our goal was to make the playoffs this year. We didn’t reach it but this is the consolation prize. There’s nothing better than beating Pilgrim on a day like this.”
The ’Canes have now won two straight Thanksgiving games. Last year, they upset a Pilgrim team that had narrowly missed out on a playoff berth. This year, with the roles reversed, the ’Canes didn’t let the winless Pats even sniff an upset.
After Pilgrim intercepted Jessie Sedoma on Vets’ first drive, the ’Canes scored touchdowns on five consecutive possessions to go up 33-0. Tony Lonczak returned an interception for a touchdown just before halftime, and the ’Canes went to the break leading 40-0.
Pilgrim controlled time of possession in the second half, but Vets could coast to the victory. The win capped a resurgent year for the ’Canes, who finished 5-6.
“We had a really focused week of practice and they knew what was at stake,” said Vets head coach Bryan Nappa. “They really wanted it, and they played their hearts out. Everybody out there gave it their all.”
That was just what Vets needed against a hungry Pilgrim team. The Pats struggled all season but had shown positive signs in recent weeks, especially in a non-league loss to Toll Gate. When Robert Ciaramello intercepted Sedoma on the fifth play of the game, it looked like the Pats might be in business.
Instead, Vets linebacker David MacDonald broke through the line on a third-and-1 play and caused a fumble on a hand-off. He then pounced on the ball and Vets took over at the Pilgrim 11-yard line.
Then the parade started.
Boyajian scored from 11 yards out on the second play of the next drive and Sedoma’s extra point made it 7-0. After the Vets defense forced a punt, Boyajian broke a 35-yard touchdown run up the middle.
Another punt pinned the ’Canes in their own territory but they needed just three plays to find the end zone again. Boyajian slipped through the line on the left side, cut back and then rambled 41 yards for another touchdown.
Sedoma’s extra point was no good, but Vets led 20-0 with 52 seconds left in the first quarter.
Boyajian already had 121 yards and three touchdowns. The offensive line – Max Andrade, John McNally, Nathan Brotman, Ricky Antonio and Connor Thompson – opened big holes, and once Boyajian got through them, he was off to the races.
“He wasn’t going to be stopped today,” Nappa said. “You could see it in his eyes all week.”
Pilgrim responded to the third touchdown with its best drive of the day. Quarterback Rob Quaine completed four passes as the Pats moved deep into Vets territory. On a fourth-and-9, Quaine found Zach Ponte on a slant, but he was tackled one yard short of the first down by MacDonald and Dennis Scalzo.
And Vets quickly got right back in gear. On the third play of the next series, Sedoma dropped back to pass but then scrambled through a hole and suddenly found himself streaking down the left sideline. He juked one last defender around the 20-yard line and scampered into the end zone for a 79-yard score. The extra point made it 27-0.
Pilgrim couldn’t get a drive going this time and punted from its 18-yard line. Vets took over near midfield and picked up 24 yards on a hook-and-lateral play to McNally. Sedoma then ran for 17 yards before Boyajian scored from 7 yards out to make it 33-0 with 3:38 left in the first half.
Lonczak then intercepted a third-down pass from Quaine and went untouched 50 yards into the end zone. Sedoma’s extra point made it 40-0.
“It was important for these guys not to take this team lightly,” Nappa said. “You can’t do that in this game. They didn’t want to give Pilgrim an inch.”
Pilgrim made some inroads in the second half but couldn’t get on the board. Quaine hit Kevin Blanchette for a 40-yard completion on the team’s first possession, and the Pats moved inside the Vets 10-yard line after a penalty. But on third down, Scalzo intercepted a Quaine pass to keep Pilgrim out of the end zone.
Vets went nowhere on its next drive, and Pilgrim moved the ball again, but on a first down from the Vets’ 24, Quaine was picked off by Jeremy Morrissette.
The ’Canes threatened to add to their lead early in the fourth quarter, but a 21-yard touchdown run by Boyajian was wiped away by a personal foul penalty. Pilgrim made a stop after that and continued to move the ball. But the Vets defense held strong one more time, with Morrissette intercepting Quaine again.
Vets took a knee, and the celebration was on.
“This is a special team right here,” Boyajian said. “They mean the world to me. We played our best game in four or five years. It was a great game.”
Boyajian’s 209 yards came on just 13 carries and continued his run of impressive Thanksgiving performances. Last year, he rushed for 170 yards to power the Vets upset.
This year’s big game put him over 1,500 yards rushing for the season.
“I was bawling my eyes out this whole week because I knew it was my last game,” Boyajian said. “Last night, I sat in the stands for an hour by myself and just said, ‘This is it.’”
He and his teammates couldn’t have picked a better way to go out. The previous largest margin of victory was 36 by Vets in 1990.
Vets rushed for 378 yards, with Sedoma picking up 145 yards on just five carries. The Vets defense held Pilgrim to 43 yards on the ground. Blanchette caught six passes for 100 yards and Quaine completed 11 of 26 passes for 146 yards, but it wasn’t enough for the Pats to spring the upset.
Thanksgiving belonged to the ’Canes.
“I’ve been on great teams – AAU teams, national teams,” Boyajian said. “This team, I’d put them over anybody. We became a family this year, and to finish it the way we did, it speaks volumes about this team.”