STONINGTON — Westerly High’s journey from a five-game losing streak against Stonington High and its inability to score in three straight Thanksgiving Day games to a 34-13 win against the Bears on Thursday has been a lengthy one.
Real change did not happen overnight.
“When I got hired a couple of years ago, Westerly was a good football program,” Bulldogs head coach Duane Maranda said. “There were some things missing, and the weight room was a part of that.”
He said the Bears had a physical advantage over the Bulldogs.
“Looking at the film, Stonington was bigger, they were stronger, they were faster, they were in better condition, they were looser and more flexible,” Maranda said. “Ben Carroll, Mike Intrieri, Jimmy Connelly (assistant coaches) — the whole coaching staff — bought into the weight room. And the kids bought into the weight room.”
But Maranda said it takes time.
“It’s not something that takes a month and you’ve got it,” Maranda said. “These kids have been working this hard to get to this place for two years. And finally we have gotten to the point where we can step on the football field and compete with that team.”
At one point in the second quarter, Maranda was probably beginning to wonder if things would not go Westerly’s way once again.
The game was tied, 7-7.
Tristan Turano, the star running back with more than 2,100 yards and 25 TDs to his credit this season, was sitting on the bench with his leg propped up and his ankle on ice. Turano was in obvious pain and out for the game.
Defensive tackle Max Davis might have stripped the ball from a Stonington back at the Bears 18-yard line late in the second quarter. Officials huddled for quite a while, but Stonington kept the ball.
Things could have been going better.
“We saw it on the iPad and it was a clean play. I thought to myself for a moment, ‘We’re snake-bit, there is something about this game,’” Maranda said. “But then, honestly, I just thought about the Lord and thought about how this team has responded and overcome adversity all year long.
“I have all the faith in Ryan Holloway, Junie Rios, Jon Brutcher, Derek Mason and all the others.”
Later in the same series, defensive tackle Antonio Laboy returned a fumble to Stonington’s 9-yard line.
Defensive back Rocco Cillino caused the turnover that led to Westerly’s second TD late in the second quarter and gave the Bulldogs a 14-7 lead at halftime. Westerly was indeed not snake-bit.
The two teams combined for 24 penalties for 202 yards.
Stonington committed penalties in three of Westerly’s five scoring possessions. Westerly had a penalty in one of Stonington’s two scoring possessions.
Stonington also had six personal fouls and one unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Stonington coach A.J. Massengale was frustrated by it all.
“Obviously, we had far too many penalties in a big game,” Massengale said. “You can’t do that. We have to do things differently with the way we approach our preparation and getting the kids ready to play so those things don’t happen.
“Our kids put forth a great effort, but we didn’t play well. Obviously, we didn’t get our kids ready to play for this game.”