Buccaneers Bring Home the 2021 Thanksgiving Classic Trophy after an 8-3 Win over Burlington

Before the game, the teams and coaches lined up with the Thanksgiving Classic trophy ~ Image (c) Jennifer Naylor, 2021 all rights reserved

None of them was born the last time Bedford and Burlington High Schools met on the gridiron. Heck, many of their parents weren’t born when the 16-year Thanksgiving rivalry ended in 1972.

But the Buccaneers didn’t want to exit Burlington’s Varsity Field early Thanksgiving afternoon – not after defeating their old/new holiday rival, 8-3.

That’s eight touchdowns to three. The scoreboard actually said 55-18.

So the Bucs, who finished 9-2 and set records along the way, savored the occasion after the final whistle, joined by coaches and parents and relatives and fans. They posed for pictures with the ginormous new Thanksgiving game trophy. They posed for pictures without the trophy. They embraced, high-fived, shared happy memories of what had transpired over the past two-and-a-half hours.

A Gallery of Images From the Thanksgiving Game
~ the article continues below the photographs ~

What transpired was historic. Bedford totaled 475 yards of offense, even with a running clock throughout the fourth quarter, which the rules mandate when the point differential is at least 30. Bedford did not punt, did not turn the ball over, did not trail.

All the touchdowns were on the ground. Eric Miles, the dynamic junior running back, scored four. He has 26 this season – believed to be an individual record. Jake Morrison, the senior quarterback, added three, and the other was by senior Mike DeLia, who also made an interception late in the first quarter that was as close to a turning point as a 55-18 game can have.

Head Coach Tom Tone, who was on the receiving end of blowouts for his first three Thanksgivings dealt by Concord-Carlisle, had praise for all of the Buccaneers.

But he mentioned, in particular, the offensive line: senior center Eli Almonte, Jamie Buchannan, Emil Colon, Dylan Lykins, and Chris Puglielli, along with tight end Richie Fedele. “I think we won the game upfront,” the coach declared.

Indeed, it didn’t take long to establish that. Bedford received the opening kickoff after the Red Devils won the toss and deferred. After Morrison was stopped for no gain from his 35, Miles took a handoff and exploded through a gap created by the left side of the line. He accelerated through the secondary and into the endzone.

Nick Tatarczuk kicked the first of seven extra points. (The other one hit the crossbar after a less-than-perfect snap-and-hold. Or maybe his leg was tired after so many kickoffs and PATs.)

Burlington managed a first down in response, but quarterback Ronan Noke then absorbed a nine-yard Fedele sack. But on third-and-17, Noke spiraled a pass to a sprinting Sammy Doherty, two strides ahead of the coverage. It was a 57-yard touchdown pass; the kick was no good.

Obviously, Burlington had done some scouting. If this Bedford team has an Achilles heel, it’s the deep pass. The Bucs lost two games, to Newburyport and Grafton, and long completions over the Bedford secondary were crucial.

The first Bedford scoring drive took 35 seconds. The next one took 17. After a short kickoff, Morrison found DeLia for an 18-yard gain, with a key block by Tatarczuk. Miles then got the call and again ran left, this time 18 yards for the TD.

Burlington stuck to its game plan, with immediate results. This time the receiver was the quarterback’s brother Aidan Noke, again outpacing the defensive backs. The play covered 61 yards; again the kick was wide. “Those were plays we weren’t prepared for,” the coach acknowledged.

So Bedford led 14-12 with more than seven minutes remaining—in the first quarter.

This time the Bucs engineered a sustained drive: 69 yards, 10 plays, including an acrobatic catch by Charlie Naylor near the sideline. The only third-down play was from the two-yard line; Morrison powered it across the goal line.

Here’s where the coach changed things up defensively. “We were able to get some pressure,” Tone said. “That helped a lot.” Noke did throw deep to Doherty on second down, but that one didn’t connect. Four plays later, DeLia snagged the pass at the Bedford 41.

Then he got involved in the offense, catching consecutive throws for a total of 15 yards. The drive stalled, but on fourth-and-two from the Burlington 36, Morrison ran his patented read option to the left and burst 36 yards downfield for the TD.

Now it was a two-score advantage, and the Bucs started coming after Ronan Noke. “Once it became a one-dimensional game, it was much easier,” said Tone. Ryan Cohen sacked Noke near midfield, and three plays later the Red Devils had to punt.

The Bucs scored their fifth touchdown after an opening holding penalty made it first-and-24 from the 30. Bedford got out of that hole with a classic third-down completion to Fedele, Morrison and the line rolled to the right; then the quarterback stopped, turned to his left, and fired to Fedele, who was uncovered. The play was good for 23. Morrison (36 yards) and Miles (seven into the endzone) finished that drive.

Burlington did complete another bomb, to Doherty, despite tight coverage by Naylor. But the Bedford safety made the tackle at the 14, and Burlington ended up with four incomplete passes, all hastened by rushing Buccaneers.

Bedford’s longest drive, 81 yards, featured a mix of runs and passes, capped by a 40-yard completion to Fedele that was ruled out of bounds at the one. Morrison kept the ball and rallied with 10 seconds remaining in the half.

The Bucs added two more TDs in the second half. The Devils had been keying on Miles inside, so he swept around the left end for 53 yards early in the third quarter. DeLia scored the final TD of the season on the first play of the fourth quarter, a six-yard run.

Burlington had a respectable 354  yards of offense. But if you subtract the four long completions, the total shrinks to 132. The Red Devils rushed for 98 net yards on 24 carries—and 40 of those were on a meaningless final play of the game.

Now for the Bedford offensive numbers.

Rushing: 223. Passing/receiving 175. Total 398. In the first half.

For the game, the Bucs ran for 320 and threw for 175 for 495. Morrison only attempted two passes in the second half, the clock kept moving all fourth quarter, and the junior varsity ran the final possession.

Miles (187) and Morrison (133) combined for one of the largest two-man ground attacks in 65 years of Buccaneer football. Perhaps it was the best – it takes time to check.

Naylor caught five passes for 61 yards, DeLia added three for 51, and Fedele’s two receptions totaled 63 yards.

The Buccaneers scored 425 points this fall season, a per-game average of 38.6, also likely school records. Over nine wins, the average margin of victory was 275 – that’s more than 30 per game.

Coach Tone lauded the play of his seniors, mentioning Almonte, DeLia, Morrison, Naylor. There are seven seniors in all. “The core of our team,” Tone said. “is juniors.”

See you next fall.

Linemen with the Thanksgiving Classic trophy ~ Image (c) Mike Rosenberg, 2021 all rights reserved

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763

1 Comment

  1. I do not know what Mike Rosenberg was trying to accomplish by listing the score as 8 – 3 but it was entirely lost to me and most likely many others. Football has always been scored by points not touchdowns to touchdowns which fail to take into account conversions and field goals.

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