EAST PROVIDENCE — In what was an instant classic for an already historic series, LaSalle Academy fended off East Providence High School 41-36 to win the 93rd installment of their Thanksgiving …
EAST PROVIDENCE — In what was an instant classic for an already historic series, LaSalle Academy fended off East Providence High School 41-36 to win the 93rd installment of their Thanksgiving Day football rivalry played Thursday morning, Nov. 24, in city at Pierce Memorial Stadium.
The state champion Rams, who only three days earlier had defeated their nemesis Bishop Hendricken for the 2022 Division I title, scored the game’s first and last touchdowns courtesy of senior standout Jamezell Lassiter.
The diminutive speedster scurried the majority of the 75 yards to the endzone after taking a short toss from quarterback Dean Varrecchione to cap the opening series of the contest.
Late in the fourth quarter, Lassiter raced the final 10 yards to finish off the Rams’ eventual game-winning series with just under four minutes left in the game.
Varrecchione also had TD throws to receivers Brady Fisher and Justin Denson.
In between, LaSalle and East Providence played a back-and-forth affair that literally wasn’t decided until the last few seconds.
Though the Rams had only a brief respite between the holiday and their 38-29 win over Hendricken for the state title on Sunday, Nov. 20, LaSalle began the game with its starters on the field and, likely unexpectedly, ended the day with them on it as well.
East Providence pushed the Rams to the brink courtesy of some timely defense and the effort of senior quarterback Max Whiting, who threw for three touchdowns and ran for a pair.
Classmate Yusef Abdullah was on the receiving end of two scoring tosses with junior Steven Clark Jr. catching the other. Abdullah also caught a pass from Whiting for a two-point conversion.
On the other side of the ball, Clark had a 51-yard interception return to set up Whiting’s second scoring QB keeper, a one-yarder that put EPHS in the lead mid-way through the fourth period.
The Whiting-Clark connection accounted for the first Townie touchdown in response to LaSalle’s opening scoring drive. The Rams blocked the point-after kick, leaving the locals down 7-6.
East Providence took its initial lead some four minutes into the second quarter when Whiting hit Abdullah for an eight-yard touchdown. The ensuing two-point conversion put the Townies on top 14-7.
LaSalle answered immediately, knotting the score at 14 to finish its next possession. The Rams’ defense then held EPHS to a three-and-out, leading to the next LaSalle touchdown to give the visitors a 21-14 lead with a little over two minutes to go before halftime.
The Rams, as they did a few times during the game, then tried to catch the Townies napping on special teams. Their on-side kick attempt failed, however, giving EPHS the ball at midfield. But the Townies’ drive stalled inside Rams’ 20, allowing LaSalle one last possession prior to the break. And the Rams made the most of it, reaching the endzone with just eight seconds on the lock to lead 28-14 at intermission.
East Providence received the second half kick and proceeded to immediately slice into its deficit. Whiting and Abdullah hooked up for the second time on a 15-yard scoring strike. The Townies converted for two to trail 28-22.
Aggressiveness on special teams again backfired on the Rams as their fake punt at the end of their ensuing drive was snuffed out by the Townies at the LaSalle 47. Whiting ended the short possession with a four-yard keeper. EPHS, however, was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty during the celebration and the long try for two failed, leaving the scored knotted at 28.
The ping-pong nature of the game continued into the final period. The Rams concluded their next drive early in the fourth quarter by getting into the endzone to retake the lead, 35-28.
LaSalle’s defense held EPHS to force a punt on the Townies’ next posssession, but soon after the Rams’ drive was interrupted by the Clark interception. The junior returned the pick back to the LaSalle one from where Whiting snuck in for six. He then hit little used senior Joe Cabral in the left back corner of the endzone for the two-point conversion, giving the Townies a 36-35 lead with just over five minutes to go.
The Rams, though, needed less than 90 seconds to score, Lassiter capping the drive with a 10-yard sprint off right tackle to the endzone. But when LaSalle couldn’t convert the two attempt, it left the door ajar for the Townies to potentially tie and win the game with just under four minutes to go.
East Providence did cause the state champs much consternation, driving all the way down inside the LaSalle 10 for a first-and-goal with under a minute remaining, but the Townies ultimately could not breach the goal line one last time before time ran out.
The victory was the fourth in row for the Rams over the Townies on Thanksgiving, upping their overall lead to 54-37-2 in the longest holiday series between schools from Rhode Island.
LaSalle has now won five of the previous six Thanksgiving Day games and 18 of 22 played so far in the 21st Century.
The last East Providence victory, 41-0, came in 2017, which was also the last time the Rams won the state championship (22-21 over Hendricken).
The cross-border contest between Westerly and Stonington, Conn., is the oldest holiday game in the area. It’s been played 104 times, Westerly leading 50-44-9.
LaSalle finished its 2022 season with an 8-3 overall record, including a 35-21 win over North Kingstown in the D-I playoff semifinals. The Rams ended their fall on a five-game winning streak.
For East Providence, its 2022 campaign ended with a 4-6 overall mark and a pair of late, gut-wrenching losses. Besides Thanksgiving, the Townies also fell by a slim, 14-13 count to Portsmouth in the Division II playoff quarterfinals.
Abdullah, Whiting and Cabral were three of the 11 seniors who on Thanksgiving suited up in EPHS red-and-white for the final time, including Isaiah Brown, Evin Decker, Isaiah Jean-Louis, Brady Pompeii, Jacob Poore and Julian Ribero.
— East Providence Post and eastbayri.com contributing photographer Julie Furtado shot the accompanying gallery of photos.