Defense Dominates, Thomastown trumps Mahar 14-6

Defense Dominates, Thomastown trumps Mahar 14-6

Defense Dominates, Thomastown trumps Mahar 14-6

THOMASTOWN – Thanksgiving looked much more like Christmas and first-year Thomastown head coach Bill LaRose got the best gift of all, a victory over rival Mahar.

The Raiders’ defense dominated from start to finish, limiting Mahar to just 28 yards rushing on 28 attempts, en route to a 14-6 victory in the 79th annual Thanksgiving Day football game.

“I couldn’t be happier for my kids right now,” said Thomastown head coach Bill LaRose. “They played a heck of a ball game and the defense was stout. This is a great group of kids.”

Senior defensive end Erik Aikey led the defense with 3 1/2 sacks and took home the Timothy Donelan Award as the game’s Most Valuable Player. Aikey was part of a dominant Thomastown front that sacked Mahar quarterback Sam Paul six times and bottled up bruising tailback Aaron Briggs (13 carries, 32 yards). Aikey was joined by O’Brien Family Award winner (Outstanding Lineman) Ryley Saisa (one sack), Nick Whelpley (one fumble recovery) and Mark Brighenti (one sack) up front and the Mahar offense had no answer for the foursome.

“Our four guys up front are a solid high school line,” said LaRose. “They have a nose for the football and they came to play today.”

After struggling offensively throughout much of the season, the Raiders turned to a Wing-T offense for the game. While they only amassed 176 yards of offense on the day, it was more than good enough to beat the Senators.

“I think the Wing-T was the difference,” said LaRose. “I think our kids bought into the system and I think we’re sold on being a Wing-T team next year. Hindsight is 20/20, but we probably should have started the season with that. The Wing-T is a perfect offense for us and I think it will be for years to come.”

Speedy sophomore Tyler Lutz found the new offense to his liking as he carried 12 times for 76 yards and broke free from the grasp of Mahar’s Nick Newton for a 23-yard touchdown in the third quarter. The 76 yards was the highest one game total for any Thomastown runner this season.

“We challenged him earlier this season and he took the challenge and hasn’t looked back since,” said LaRose. “I told him I expected a big day from him and he made me look good.”

Junior gunslinger Bryce Melanson also looked comfortable as the Raiders used a number of play-action, bootlegs to get him to the perimeter. He connected with Aikey on one such play for a 14-yard touchdown in the second quarter and finished the game 4-of-7 for 56 yards. He tallied a season-high nine carries totaling just two yards, but the work with his legs set up a pair of completions to Matt Drazek in the flat that went for big gains.

“We’ve kept Bryce in the pocket all year and we decided to see what would happen if we got him out on the edge,” said LaRose. “It worked and it worked more times than I thought it would to be honest with you. He made some great reads today and that’s what we needed.”

Paul, a freshman, managed to throw for 102 yards on 8-of-15 passing, but 83 of those yards came in the final four minutes of the game. In fact, the Raiders were so dominant on defense that the Senators only ran two plays on the Thomastown half of the field for the entire game.

Briggs received the Most Valuable Player award for the Senators, but was a non-factor for much of the contest as his former offensive linemates failed to open many holes.

Mahar’s only scoring drive began at their own seven, but an unsportsmanlike penalty moved them out quickly. Paul found Richardson for nine yards and Newton for nine more. A Saisa sack set Mahar back, but Paul found Newton for 13 yards and a first down. Back-to-back incompletions had Mahar facing third down, but an offsides penalty with 2:20 to play moved Mahar into Thomastown territory for the first time all day. After another incompletion brought up fourth down, Paul found Richardson over the middle and the junior did the rest of the work for a 46-yard touchdown. The conversion failed as Matt Winters sacked Paul.

The Senators onside kick attempt was nearly recovered after some trickery helped Richardson get lost along the sideline. Unfortunately for Mahar, Richardson recovery occurred just out of bounds and the Raiders took over the Mahar 47 with 2:05 to play.

Three runs plays yielded a fourth-and-two at the Mahar 39. The Raiders opted to punt, but the snap rolled back to Brighenti. The Senators did not have a rush on and Brighenti was able to get the kick away. Riley Gervais fielded the punt at his own 27 and returned it three yards to the Mahar 30. That’s where the Senators took over for one last desperate attempt with 57 seconds to go. A false start was a gloomy beginning for the Senators and two incompletions followed. Paul found Richardson for 13 yards on third down, but Aikey cemented the victory with another sack and the Raiders took over. Melanson took a knee and the Raiders celebrated on their home turf.

“It’s hard to describe the feeling of your first Thanksgiving Day win as a coach,” said LaRose.

It was a disappointing end for the Senators (3-8) who came into the season with high expectations.

“It’s a very sour taste to go 3-8 when you have all those expectations,” said Scotland. “It’s a tough thing for us.”

Richardson carried seven times for 25 yards and caught three passes for 68 yards. Newton caught three passes for 25 yards. Marcoux had an 11-yard reception.

Drazek and Aikey each caught two passes for 28 yards for the Raiders. Smart carried 17 times for 39 yards.