The following is part three in Westerly Life’s “Behind the Murals” series discussing the history behind all the recently created murals throughout downtown Westerly. The mural featured in this post can be found behind C.C. O’Brien’s Irish Sports Bar and Café at 8 Mechanic Street in Pawcatuck.
While many of the murals in both downtown Westerly and Pawcatuck promote unity between the two neighboring towns, there is one which serves to celebrate our differences. At the rear of C.C. O’Brien’s, visitors can see a fantastic memorial to the rivalry between the Westerly High School Bulldogs and the Stonington High School Bears.
Every year, the two teams meet on the football field on Thanksgiving morning, a tradition which dates back to the first game between the two on the holiday in 1913. The rivalry itself dates back to 1911 and is the most played series in the United States. It is quite fitting that in a rivalry between two schools, which are less than three miles apart, the Thanksgiving Day series is so tight with the Bulldogs holding a slight 45-44-9 edge over the Bears (Stonington leads the all-time series 74-66-17).
Over the course of the 98 games played between the two on Thanksgiving (a Thanksgiving game wasn’t played between 1915 and 1920), there have been some thrillers and some lopsided victories (including a 53-8 victory by Westerly in 1973 and a 46-0 win by Stonington in 1914).
In celebration of the 99th Turkey Day game, we will rank the top five best games of all time. We will begin with a low-scoring affair from nearly eighty years ago.
5) November 28, 1940
Final Score: Westerly 7, Stonington 0
On eight different occasions, including the 1982 game, the Westerly-Stonington Turkey Day game has ended with a final score of 7-0, six of which were won by the Bears. What makes the 1940 edition so thrilling is the way in which the Bulldogs scored the only touchdown of the game.
Westerly had been held scoreless by Stonington since 1937, making this victory all the sweeter. 3,500 fans gathered at Westerly’s Craig Field despite the wet and windy conditions. The muddy field and the intense wind prevented both teams from executing their offensive game-plans, leading to a defensive struggle for much of the game. Further hampering the Bears’ efforts was the loss of “their play-calling and blocking back, Johnny Guekel,” who left the game when he suffered a serious wrist sprain just three minutes in.
Towards the end of the first half, Westerly’s left halfback, “The Bradford Blitzkreiger” Joe Capalbo, received a punt from the Bear’s punter, Johnny Dion, and thanks in large part to stellar blocking by his teammates, Capalbo was able to run the ball back 72 yards for a touchdown. Capalbo then put a dot on that exclamation point by kicking the extra point through the uprights to give his team a 7-0 edge.
Stonington attempted to rally in the game’s final minutes, employing several forward passes (a strategy which was used far less frequently then than it is today). This last push for a score was snuffed out when Westerly’s Benny Servideo made a spectacular one-handed interception. Given Stonington’s recent dominance of their rivals, this win came as a shock to many.
4) November 24, 1988
Final Score: Westerly 21, Stonington 21
This game may have ended in a 21-21 tie, but for much of the game, this was certainly not the expected outcome. Before an estimated 7,500 fans, the Bulldogs (7-3) took on the Bears (2-7) and were expected to come away with the victory, however, expectations did not equate to reality. Despite averaging 198.5 yards per game on the ground, Westerly was held to 84 yards on 29 attempts by Stonington’s defense. At the end of the first half, Westerly held a slight edge 13-7.
The Bulldogs led 21-7 with only six minutes to go in the game, and to many, it seemed as though a Westerly victory was imminent. This was not to be, however, as the Bulldogs fumbled twice and the Bears took advantage of the opportunities presented to them, converting both turnovers into touchdowns to tie the score 21-21.
The Brown and White’s quarterback Heston Sutman was named most valuable player for his fantastic performance which saw the junior rush for 122 yards, throw for 93, and score all three touchdowns, two on the ground and one through the air. Sutman also ran for a two-point conversion that tied the score late in the game. The game, which the Westerly Sun called “one of the most—if not the most—exciting games (minute for minute) in the 76-year history of Stonington-Westerly football, ended with feelings of both joy and despair. While Westerly coach Jim Murano said “All I’ve got is this empty feeling,” the MVP Sutman called it “the game of his life—‘til next year.”
3) November 23, 2000
Final Score: Westerly 24, Stonington 17 OT
The first Turkey Day game of the new millennium also gave rise to another first in the long-standing rivalry: an overtime game. In 1998, Rhode Island developed a protocol for tied games which would allow for overtime play. Connecticut did not have any such rules at the time, which is why the 1999 edition of the annual game ended in a 14-14 tie. The thriller was played before 3,500 fans in Westerly, and saw the game’s Most Valuable Player, Brian Lynch, score in overtime on a 10-yard run to seal the victory for the Bulldogs.
Westerly opened the scoring with a record-setting 91-yard run by J.R. Lamotte, and then went up 14-0 when quarterback Chris Reale scored on a run from 4 yards out. At the end of the first half, the Bulldogs held on to a 14-7 lead. but the Bears came back and tied up the game on a 28-yard pass by Mike Mellow, making the score 17-17 with 9:28 left in the game.
Neither side could put the game away in regulation and for the first time, a game between Westerly and Stonington went into overtime. Lamotte’s scoring run in OT brought the game to an end and gave Westerly its 38th victory over Stonington on Thanksgiving Day.
2) November 27, 1969
Final Score: Stonington 29, Westerly 26
A record-setting crowd, estimated to be between 7,000 and 8,000 was on hand to watch this game, the best Thanksgiving Day game between the Westerly and Stonington up to that point. Stonington was led by Quarterback Bob Goodman, who completed 12 of his 17 passes for 194 yards and accounted for 28 of the team’s 29 points.
The Bears’ offense was also powered by running back Dave Weber, who ran for 100 yards, averaging 7.8 yards per carry. Westerly was coached by Jim Gulluscio, who had a record of 1-9 in his first season leading the Bulldogs while Stonington’s coach, Bob Anderson, evened his record against Westerly at 4-4 with this victory.
Although Stonington got off to a 14-0 lead, the Bulldogs came back with a vengeance, trailing Stonington 21-20 at halftime. The blue and white finally took the lead on a 49-yard touchdown drive, bringing the score to 26-21 in their favor.
In the 4th quarter, Goodman struck once again, running the ball in from the one-yard line and hitting Mike McCue for the two-point conversion, bringing the Bears’ lead to 29-26. Westerly still had a chance to come back from behind one final time, however, the Stonington defense stymied the Bulldogs’ efforts and held on to the lead to keep the Jeff Moore Memorial Trophy in Connecticut for one more season.
1) November 26, 1981
Final Score: Westerly 13, Stonington 12
After losing to Westerly in the previous ten Thanksgiving Day games, Stonington looked poised to finally overtake their rivals, however, it was not to be on this day, thanks in large part to the efforts of Westerly Quarterback Rob Sciro. The bright sunny day brought fans out in full force, with an estimated crowd of 7,200 in attendance to witness the greatest Turkey Day game in the then 68-year-old series.
In addition to playing quarterback and gaining 120 rushing yards, Sciro was also Westerly’s best defensive weapon throughout the game. While playing defensive back, Sciro intercepted three Stonington passes and recovered a fumble. Going into the game, Bulldogs coach Jim Murano’s plan was to shut down the Bears’ rushing attack, a plan which was executed to perfection as Stonington was limited to 78 yards on 34 plays.
Despite Westerly’s defensive dominance, Stonington entered the 4th quarter with a 12-7 lead. A 75-yard scoring march engineered by Sciro was capped off by a 9-yard run for a touchdown by Ziggy Suminski. The Bulldogs held on to their one-point lead, walking away with a 13-12 victory and extending their winning streak to 11 Turkey Day games over the Bears. Sciro’s efforts and the 4th Quarter comeback performed by the Bulldogs truly make this the greatest Turkey Day game Westerly and Stonington have ever played.