WESTERLY — Westerly High will look to re-establish it dominance up front when it hosts Stonington High on Thursday in the annual Thanksgiving Day game at Augeri Field.
The game, which will be the 100th Thanksgiving game between the two schools, kicks off at 10 a.m.
Westerly (8-2) opened the season with seven straight wins, overwhelming its opponents by almost 49 points per game. But the Bulldogs went 1-2 in their next three games, including a 22-21 loss to Woonsocket in the Division II semifinals. The Villa Novans went on to beat East Greenwich, 37-13, in the Super Bowl on Sunday.
In the loss to Woonsocket, Westerly finished with 222 yards rushing, 185 in the first half. In a loss to Burrillville on Oct. 26, Westerly had 248 rushing yards. Both totals were well below the 380.8 yards of rushing the team averages per game.
Both opponents in the losses put 10 players within a yard or two of the line of scrimmage in an attempt to slow down Westerly’s single-wing offense. Westerly runs the ball 95 percent of the time, averaging just one pass completion per game.
“Burrillville and Woonsocket didn’t give us anything we haven’t seen in one form or another along the way,” Westerly coach Duane Maranda said. “It’s not the X’s and O’s, but the Jimmys and the Joes.
“When you combine a team that has the Jimmys and Joes that is motivated to match you physically, you have a very good football game.”
Maranda said the Bulldogs needed to do a better job of executing adjustments on the field. That failure was a big reason for the Woonsocket loss.
“First, you have to identify it and then make adjustments on the sidelines. Then you have to make sure adjustments are being executed. We had breakdowns in that system. It can’t happen. And it just wasn’t on the offensive side of the ball,” Maranda said.
Senior Tristan Turano leads the Bulldogs in rushing with 1,604 yards and 30 touchdowns. He averages 9.5 yards per carry. Jalen Valentin has rushed for 764 yards at 8.4 per carry with 10 touchdowns.
Maranda said Stonington has played hard on defense this season.
“Defensively, they get people to the point of attack. [Riley] Burnside and [Nate] Miller get to the football. We have to make sure those guys have pads on them,” Maranda said. “We take great pride on blocking and getting hats on everybody. We have to impose our will on them, but not try to do too much.”
Defensively, Westerly has six shutouts among its eight wins.
Linebackers Peter Fusaro and Derek Mason and defensive end Josh Lacerte have been among the leaders for the Bulldogs on the defensive side.
Defensive back Rocco Cillino leads the team with seven interceptions.
Maranda said Stonington’s Miller is an effective runner at fullback. Miller has rushed for 518 yards and averages 4.1 per attempt.
“He has great vision and runs with tremendous power,” Maranda said. “He can also cut back when it’s available. They run him out of the double-wing and their single-back set in the spread. They run zone read, and we had a problem with that play against Woonsocket.”
Stonington continues to lead the series, which started in 1911, 74-67-17. Westerly leads the Thanksgiving series, 46-44-9.
The first game between the two schools was Oct. 26, 1911, a 15-0 Westerly win. The first Thanksgiving game was in 1913, a 0-0 tie. The two teams played again on Thanksgiving in 1914, a 46-0 Stonington win. They did not play again on Thanksgiving until 1922 and have played played on the holiday every year since.