LaSalle outlasts latest EP Thanksgiving Day upset bid

Rams keep slim lead through scoreless second half, beat Townies for fifth time in a row

By Mike Rego
Posted 11/24/23

PROVIDENCE — For the second year in a row the East Providence High School football team came oh-so-close to upending LaSalle in their annual Thanksgiving Day clash, but once again the Townies …

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LaSalle outlasts latest EP Thanksgiving Day upset bid

Rams keep slim lead through scoreless second half, beat Townies for fifth time in a row

Posted

PROVIDENCE — For the second year in a row the East Providence High School football team came oh-so-close to upending LaSalle in their annual Thanksgiving Day clash, but once again the Townies came up just shy.

The Rams won for the fifth time in a row and upped their commanding overall edge in the historic series to 18 after holding off the Townies 17-14 in the 2023 encounter played Thursday, Nov. 23, on the LaSalle campus at Cimini Field.

All 31 points in the game came during the opening 24 minutes and actually the decisive score proved to come on the final play of the second quarter, a 20-yard pass completion by the hosts for the go-ahead touchdown. The point-after kick gave the Rams the three-point lead they would hold at the game's final whistle.

LaSalle, which won last year's contest in a shootout 41-36 with a final-second defensive stand, finished its fall with a 5-6 overall record. The Rams now lead the Townies 55-37-2 in the series, the longest-running holiday encounter between two in-state foes.

(As of this Thanksgiving, Westerly and Stonington, Conn., have met on the holiday 105 times.)

For East Providence, whose previous Thanksgiving victory was in 2017, its 2023 campaign came to a close with a 4-7 overall record. The game was not played in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The way last Thursday's outing began it seemed like it was going to be another high-flying affair. The teams traded scores for the most part during the first half, putting points on the board at the end of five of the seven total possessions.

LaSalle took the game's opening drive all the way back to touch, completing the march with a two-yard run for six by wide receiver Charles Sayegh off a direct snap out of the "wildcat" (single back) formation. The extra point kick by Max Wallace gave the hosts an immediate 7-0 lead.

The Rams used two chunk gains, including a long pass from quarterback Sam Perry to end Grover Moran, to set up the score. Moran picked the ball just off the turf to secure the catch and give the hosts the ball inside the EP 10.

The Townies countered with a 10-play, 61-yard drive of their own to find the equalizing points. Senior fullback Steven Clark Jr. did the bulk of the work during the possession on the ground, setting up EP with a first-and-goal at the LaSalle seven with an 11-yard carry.

East Providence QB Jacob Duarte then did the rest, gaining the last of the yards on a one-yard run and a six-yard keeper to touch off a read-option rollout to the left. Justin Jardine's first kick for point tied the score at seven mid-way through the opening quarter.

The sides each followed with an empty possession. The Rams went three-and-out after starting at their own 34. A shanked punt gave East Providence terrific field position at its own 46, but the drive eventually stalled at the LaSalle 34 early into the second quarter when a fourth-down pass by Duarte fell just of the grasp of a diving Isaac Fox in the redzone.

The Rams' next needed eight plays to drive deep into the Townies' before it, too, sputtered. But unlike the visitors, LaSalle, which employed two QBs and multiple looks in the backfield, was able to hang points on the board with Wallace attempting and making a 31-yard field goal to retake the lead, 10-7. Earlier in the possession, another of the Ram QBs, Grey Iannitti, took a 34-yard keeper to the Townie 25.

East Providence, undaunted, once more answered with an impressive 15-play, 83-yard drive to briefly take the lead. Duarte completed four passes during the possession, a pair apiece to Fox and senior end Cameron Evora, the latter making his return to the Townie lineup after missing the better part of fives games and nearly two months with a knee injury suffered on the first offensive series of EP's game against Mt. Pleasant on October 5.

Fox's two catches included a 23-yard run-after-catch for a first down on a shallow crossing pattern. Evora's were certainly impactful as well. His first, a snatch of a high toss as Duarte rolled left, came on a fourth-and-five play to keep the drive alive at the LaSalle 20. His second two snaps later was for a 15-yard TD with Duarte rolling right and Evora making the grab in traffic with only 38 seconds left in the first half. Jardine's kick gave the Townies what became a short 14-10 ad.

That's because the Rams took full advantage of those few remaining ticks, eventually scoring on the final play before intermission. Perry threw into double coverage for what turned into a 20-yard TD pass, receiver Antonio Bearden catching the ball in between two EP defenders as time expired. The PAT made it 17-14 Rams at the break.

Neither team could muster a scoring drive in the second half.

East Providence's beginning salvo ended with a three-and-out then punt. LaSalle next gave the ball back on downs to the Townies, who in turn fumbled it right back to the Rams on the very first play of the ensuing series.

LaSalle followed, using 11 plays to drive down to the East Providence 11, but the possession was then hindered by a high snap leading to a nine-yard loss and an incompletion. And then on third down, another of the East Providence seniors playing his final high school game, Evan Johnson, intercepted as pass at the goal line to snuff out the potential scoring bid.

The following possession for the Townies crossed into the fourth quarter and included 13 plays before the visitors were forced to punt with just over four minutes remaining in the game. EP reached the LaSalle 33, though no further in part due to a pair of drops. One of Duarte's tosses could not be corralled at the goal line, the other on third down would likely have given the locals at legit shot at a fourth-down conversion or a potential tying field goal attempt by Jardine. Instead the sophomore kicker punted the ball back to the Rams, who took over at their own 16.

From there, LaSalle methodically moved the ball back down deep in EP territory and despite an early 11-yard sack of the Rams' QB by Clark from his linebacker spot on defense.

LaSalle later salted the game away with a 25-yard pass completion from Perry to Herlin Perry out a "trips" (three receiver) formation to the left on a fourth-and-one play from the Townies' 31 with just over a minute to go. The Rams then ran out the clock on two running plays from the EP six.

— Siena Rietheimer, a sophomore at East Providence High School, took the accompanying gallery of photos.

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Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.