STONINGTON — With about three minutes remaining in Thursday’s football game with Westerly High, it appeared Stonington High was in good shape heading to halftime.
The score was tied at 7, and the game looked that way — pretty even. Stonington had the ball at its own 28-yard line after a 10-yard completion by quarterback Marco Tedeschi to Jared Rudzinsky.
But on the next play, the Bears fumbled it away and Westerly junior defensive tackle Antonio Laboy was ready.
“I think Rocco Cillino knocked the ball loose. I picked it up and I was like, ‘I just gotta run it,’” Laboy said. “I thought I was close [to scoring].”
Laboy returned the ball 20 yards to Stonington’s 9, and Junie Rios scored on a hard 7-yard run two plays later to make it 14-7 at the half.
“That was huge. That [run] would have been a big play for us,” Stonington coach A.J. Massengale said. “You can’t turn it over.”
Westerly coach Duane Maranda agreed the play was crucial.
“It absolutely was. ... I was really happy for Antonio,” Maranda said. “He’s got a knack for the football. He’s a very football-savvy kid. That was a huge part of the game.”
Westerly defensive lineman and running back Junie Rios received the WBLQ MVP of the game award during the postgame ceremonies.
Rios rushed for 73 yards on 13 carries, scoring a pair of touchdowns.
Rios was also named the defensive MVP for the Bulldogs by the Stonington Police Association. The group has been presenting awards since 1958. Ryan Holloway received the offensive award for Westerly.
Nate Miller was Stonington’s winner for the offensive award, rushing for 85 yards on 23 carries with a touchdown. Josh Georgetti received the defensive honor.
Washington Trust Co. leadership awards were presented to Rios (Westerly) and Georgetti (Stonington).
Max Davis received the Carl Myllymaki Award for the second straight season. It is presented to Westerly’s top lineman for the season.
This was the 99th Thanksgiving Day meeting between the two schools.
Westerly holds a 46-44-9 advantage in Thanksgiving Day games. The first Thanksgiving Day game was played in 1913 and ended in a 0-0 tie. Stonington leads overall, 74-67-17.
Rios’ father, Raul, was a running back on the 1991 Westerly team that beat Narragansett in the Class C Super Bowl, but lost to Stonington, 25-13.
Stonington went on to win the Class SS state title that season and the 1991 Thanksgiving game is one of the better ones in the series. The father never beat the Bears, and neither did his son — until Thursday.
“I love my dad. He’s been there through everything,” said Rios, his eyes misting. “He was at the end zone the whole game yelling at me, getting me motivated, pushing me. I couldn’t be happier with the way we played.”