It may go into the record books as the final chapter, but the 2013 Thanksgiving Day game between Warwick Vets and Pilgrim will not go down as a classic.
The Hurricanes don’t mind one bit.
With a big crowd braving blustery winds, the ’Canes turned the potential series finale into a second consecutive blowout, exploding for 28 second-quarter points en route to a 44-0 win. It’s the largest margin of victory in series history, breaking the mark Vets set just last year in a 40-0 triumph.
“It’s absolutely the best feeling,” said Vets senior captain David MacDonald. “We wanted to end this season on the right note and that’s what we did.”
The game had extra meaning thanks to the school closure talk that has swirled for most of the fall. It remained at the forefront Thursday, with volunteers handing out fliers encouraging fans to attend Monday’s school committee meeting and alumni flocking to the field for one last taste of the 51-year-old rivalry.
On the sidelines, the ’Canes tried not to think about it, but emotions still ran high from pre-game speeches to the final whistle.
“We tried not to put that pressure on them,” said Vets coach Bryan Nappa. “They kind of played in a pressure cooker all year. Come the end of the season, every game was a must-win game to stay in the race. I think that kind of ham-strung us a little bit. We took the pressure off and got back to just having fun – focusing on the reasons we play this game and the reasons we’re out here all together. We tried to focus on playing the game between the lines.”
And they did it very well.
The teams needed a while to warm up in the biting cold, with Pilgrim going four-and-out on its first series and Vets losing a fumble on its first offensive play. But the ’Canes got a safety on a botched Pilgrim punt then surged in the second quarter, scoring four touchdowns in six possessions to blow the game open. Pilgrim committed five turnovers and was limited to 94 yards of offense.
“Lot of nerves going, but it was good nerves,” said Vets quarterback Jesse Sedoma. “Everybody was ready to put in their all. We just came out and did our thing.”
The ’Canes won the coin toss and deferred, choosing to get the stiff wind at their backs in the first quarter. That set them up to win the field position battle in the early going, and they made good on it.
Pilgrim picked up 6 yards on its first three plays, went for it on fourth-and-4 but couldn’t convert. Vets immediately handed the ball back on a Sedoma fumble, but Pilgrim went nowhere again. After a 14-yard pass was negated because quarterback Rob Quaine was over the line of scrimmage, the Pats punted and a low kick by Quaine hit the Pilgrim offensive line. The ball bounced into the end zone where Quaine fell on it for a safety.
“Pilgrim came out strong,” Nappa said. “We knew they had some talent. They took some chances and they weren’t able to capitalize. We stopped a couple of things they tried and we took advantage of some field position.”
From there, each team turned it over on downs twice, but Vets continued to win the field position battle. When Sedoma was stopped on a fourth-down run at the 1-yard line, Pilgrim took over with its back against the goal-line. Three plays later, Quaine lined up to punt but tucked the ball and tried to pick his way through the line. Instead, Vets stuffed him for no gain and a turnover on downs on the final play of the first quarter.
When the second quarter began, Vets wasted no time. Sedoma scored from a yard out on the first play to make it 8-0.
The Patriots started to get their feet under them on their next drive, getting near midfield thanks to a personal foul penalty on the ’Canes. But on the next play, Zack Ponte fumbled and Luke Cardillo pounced on it for Vets.
The Pilgrim defense looked poised for a stop, but on third-and-10, Sedoma found Sean Suzadelis for 31 yards to the Pilgrim 14. Sedoma then ran for 13 yards and Dennis Scalzo plunged in from a yard out for the 14-0 lead.
“This is the first time all year we really capitalized on opportunities the other team gave us,” Nappa said.
The ’Canes then recovered a squib kick, but Pilgrim delivered a much-needed stop. After a three-and-out, a punt and a personal foul penalty pinned Vets at its own 4-yard line. On the third play, Scalzo lost a fumble and Darren Grant recovered for Pilgrim, which took over at the 6-yard line.
With the score still just 14-0, it was a golden opportunity for the Pats to get back in the game.
But it vanished quickly.
After a 4-yard run by Quaine, Ponte fumbled and Cardillo again recovered for Vets. On the second play of the ensuing drive, Sedoma broke a 97-yard touchdown run – and broke the game open in the process.
“That was a big play,” Nappa said. “We noticed they weren’t adjusting to our over set. You give your playmakers the ball and they’ll make plays. Couple of really nice blocks by Jeremy Morrissette and Jesse made it happen.”
Sedoma ran left, got outside thanks to the blocks by Morrissette, then cutback right near midfield and was off to the races.
“I wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t have the blocking in front of me,” Sedoma said.
The big play, plus a two-point conversion run by David MacDonald, made it 22-0 and put the ’Canes firmly in control. A promising Pilgrim drive ended on a Kyle Morrissette interception with just 1:17 left, and the ’Canes scored three plays later on a 25-yard run by Mickenzey Pacheco. Nick Beaufort ran in the extra point to make it 30-0.
“They were taking the middle away and once we were able to figure out what they were doing, we were able to gash them a little bit,” Nappa said.
Morrissette had another interception before halftime, and the ’Canes added to their lead early in the second half on a 36-yard touchdown run by Sedoma, his third score of the day. The rest of the quarter was uneventful until Pilgrim dropped a pitch in its own end zone on the final play of the period. Kyle Morrissette pounced on it for the touchdown and the 44-0 lead.
“We had to come out, play hard and make it happen,” Morrissette said. “We had a habit of coming out slow. This could possibly be the last game on this field, so with all the emotion, we talked about how we needed to come out focused, play hard and leave it all on the field.”
The Pats had their best drive of the day to start the fourth quarter, getting a 10-yard pass from Grant to Owen Kelly and a 26-yard run by Kelly, but they ultimately came up empty. They finished with four first downs and ran just four offensive plays in Vets territory.
Sedoma led the Vets offense with 173 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Pacheco added 53 yards, MacDonald chipped in 33 and Scalzo had 23 yards and a touchdown. The ’Canes ran for 282 yards, while completing just one pass for 31 yards.
Kelly led the Patriots with 41 yards rushing.
The victory for Vets capped the program’s best season since 2008. The ’Canes have won three straight Thanksgiving games.
“It feels great,” Sedoma said. “It’s been a fun experience these last four years. It’s an amazing feeling, an amazing ending.”