(PHOTO BY LARRY YIN)
BY CHARLIE ADAMS, TSM LEAD WRITER
(Cranston, RI) - When Cranston West was opened in 1958, a rivalry with Cranston’s original high school, then renamed Cranston East, was inevitable. The biggest facet of the rivalry for the years of its existence has been the Thanksgiving Day football game. Entering their 49th matchup on Thanksgiving, the rivalry was split evenly with both teams winning 24 of the past 48 games played on the holiday. After winning the past three Turkey Day matchups, the Falcons stretched their streak to four with a strong second half to beat the ‘Bolts, 35-26.
Led by Marcus Chung and their defense forcing turnovers, the Falcons’ victory was really never in question once they extended their 14-6 halftime lead in the third quarter with two scores. The ‘Bolts moved the ball well throughout the game, but consistently stalled out when it mattered.
Cranston West won the coin toss, electing to receive. On their opening drive, Hudson Carvalho dropped a sure-fire touchdown on the second play of the game. That didn’t stop them, as Chung went on the ground, and in the air on a 32-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Kelan Cornell that set them up in the red-zone. Chung punched it in on third down, and Jack Majcher kicked through the first of his five extra points on the day to put the Falcons up 7-0 early.
The ‘Bolts mixed up their attack on their first drive, presenting heavy rush but finding success through the air when they looked for it. Facing a third-and-8 on Cranston West’s side of the field, Romeo Cordero caught a screen that only gained 5 yards. Attempting it on fourth-and- short, the chains were needed to determine that Peyton Ginolfi was just short.
Following forcing the turnover on downs, the Falcons drive spilled over into the second quarter. Facing a third-and-19, the Thunderbolts’ defense held up in a situation that had plagued them all year, and forced West to punt.
Ginolfi’s 28 yard rush on the first play of the drive set the precedent for the rest of their drive. The ‘Bolts nearly exclusively ran the ball, until fourth-and-6, when they attempted to pass. Sacked on the play, Foster and the ‘Bolts were forced to turn the ball over on downs in enemy territory for the second time in the first half.
Cranston West wasted no time as a bootleg pass from Cornell to Dimitri LeBlanc - eerily similar to a Cameron Alves to Andrew Dionizio touchdown in 2019- broke off into a 72-yard touchdown. Majcher’s extra point was again put through as the Falcons increased their lead to 14-0.
East continued to make pushes into West territory, and once again appeared to be out of gas until a Naz Milien gave them a 4th down conversion on a key strike from Foster. The next play saw Foster get sacked for a large loss, putting the ‘Bolts back out of the redzone. Again on fourth down, Foster hit Antonello Lucchetti in the seam - the same play Lucchetti had dropped a few plays earlier - and into the end zone to pull within one score of their rivals. The missed extra point put the score 14-6.
After a stalled drive, West took over following a Ginolfi fumble inside of East territory with under a minute to play. They had a final chance to score in the first half, but instead East's Milien intercepted the pass by West’s Cornell in the endzone. The ‘Bolts brought momentum into halftime as they trailed 14-6, starting the second half with the ball.
Looking to come out of halftime quickly and take the lead, the Thunderbolts did the exact opposite as they went three-and-out and punted to start the second half.
Chung, one of the state’s best players in 2022, ran through the ‘Bolts defense on the first Falcon drive of the second half. When they abandoned the run and were forced to attempt a 4th down conversion, the ‘Bolts defense held them short and got the turnover on downs.
Following the stop, the Thunderbolt offense turned the ball over as Foster attempted to reach Nachbi Chery up the sideline. West’s Hudson Carvalho was able to intercept it and give the Falcons the ball back.
Chung didn’t waste time, breaking off a 41-yard touchdown run. Majcher’s extra point put the ‘Bolts down 21-6 halfway through the third quarter.
The ‘Bolts strung together a couple of first downs and pushed the ball past midfield. Unfortunately, the Thunderbolts coughed up the ball again, this time fumbling it away, their third turnover of the day.
In their second drive in a row following a turnover, came the second rushing touchdown in a row for Chung. Following Majcher’s fourth PAT, the Falcons led 28-6 as the fourth quarter got underway. Many of the fans on the East side of the stadium headed for the exits, not sticking around to see another presumed West victory and celebration.
On the ensuing drive, Foster aired it out 42 yards to Chery to push the ‘Bolts to the Falcons’ eight-yard line. Foster then hit Lucchetti for their second scoring play of the day, this time a deep out. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful, but the ‘Bolts were now within two scores, 28-12.
Desperately needing a defensive stop, East still had no answers for Chung. His third touchdown of the half, a 16-yard run, seemingly finished the ‘Bolts off, pushing the lead to 35-14 with six minutes left.
Now in crisis mode, East took to the air. Foster hit Milien on a middle screen which he appeared ready to take to the house from 77-yards. However, Milien lost the touchdown to an unnecessary block in the back penalty ten yards behind the play. On the next play, Foster found Cordero in the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown. The ‘Bolts continued to show life as the score sat at 35-18. Electing to go for two rather than attempt a point after that would have pulled them within two scores, Foster’s pass for Chery was knocked down, leaving East’s chances on life support.
After forcing the Falcons to punt for the first time all day, the ‘Bolts almost caught a huge break as errant snaps forced punter Majcher to scramble on consecutive attempts (the first one negated by a penalty). A one-yard punt set the ‘Bolts up inside Falcon territory, this time at the 49-yard line.
On their next play, Foster again connected with Cordero on a 49-yard touchdown pass. The two-point conversion was good as the Falcons led by just 9 points with three minutes left, 35-26.
Looking to ice the game, the Falcons kept the ball on the ground with Chung. Cornell kneeled out the clock as Cranston West secured their fourth straight Thanksgiving victory, 35-26. Following the game both teams named their MVPs on offense and defense. Cranston East chose Milien as their defensive MVP and Codero as their offensive player of the game. Cranston West chose Steven Girouard as their outstanding defensive player, and not surprisingly, Chung as their offensive MVP.
The ‘Bolts knew coming into this game that they would have to stop Marcus Chung to give themselves a chance. They, as most everyone in the state found out this season, could not. They also knew they could not turn the ball over and needed to finish scoring drives. Their inability to finish in the first and third quarters ultimately built a hole too big to climb out of. However, their effort on this day cannot be ignored, and getting the best performances of the year from several players allows the team to hold their head high despite the defeat.
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