In its 40 years as one of the state's best rivalries, Cranston's Thanksgiving Day football game has seen it all.
In 2013, the game gets a twist it hasn't seen in quite a while.
For the first time since 1999, Cranston East and Cranston West will square off with both teams in the race for the same playoff berth.
"It's always a special thing, but I'd be lying if I told you there wasn't a little something extra this year," said West head coach Steve Stoehr.
The scenario is simple for the 'Bolts - win and they're in. It's not so simple if West wins, which brings in the possibility of a three-way tie for the fourth playoff spot in Division I, assuming La Salle beats East Providence in their Thanksgiving game. Defensive points allowed in games between those three teams would break the tie. In that case, any of them could make it in, depending on how many points East and West score.
The coaching staffs in Cranston have done the math and know the key numbers, but they won't be preoccupied with them. The bottom line is that the possibility is there for both teams — and the game's intensity will likely reflect that.
"Having both teams with a chance is something special," said East head coach Tom Centore.
Both teams hoped to be in the race when the season began, but they've taken circuitous routes to the stretch run. East was ranked second in the preseason Rhode Island Sports Media Poll but lost its second league game of the year, which began a string of three losses in four games. Since then, though, the 'Bolts have won two consecutive games and have put themselves back in charge of their own destiny.
West started the season with four league losses in a row — including a heartbreaker against La Salle — but has since won three straight. The Falcons are the hottest team in Division I.
"They played pretty much the reverse schedule from what we did, and they've got some confidence now," Centore said. "Confidence goes a long way. Fortunately, we've come off two big victories. I think we're both playing with some confidence right now."
The 'Bolts bring one of the state's most explosive offenses into the Thanksgiving game. Alex Corvese has thrown for 2,454 yards and 26 touchdowns, Marven Beauvais is nearing 1,000 yards receiving and has caught 17 touchdowns, Marquem Monroe has racked up nearly 1,500 all-purpose yards and Jimmy Saab has six touchdown catches.
"We've got to do what we do," Centore said. "We've scored a lot of points. Hendricken was the only team that really slowed us down. We've got to continue to try to get over that 30-point mark."
The Falcons will have something to say about that. Led by linebackers Jack Hammond and Jake Moretti, the West defense has held its own even against the state's top teams. And last year, West limited East to just eight first-half points on Thanksgiving.
"I think Marven is good, Marquem is very good, Saab is a good player, but I think Corvese is the kid who makes it go," Stoehr said. "He's a very good quarterback. Those are our biggest keys - we've got to shut those guys down. We'll see."
On the other side of the ball, West is hoping to keep its powerful running game in gear. In their last two league games, the Falcons cracked 300 yards rushing both times. A stable of backs are doing the damage, from the speedy Raekwon Kisilywicz and Bam Hernandez to bigger backs like Isaiah Alvarez and Hammond. Quarterback Steven Furtado has also settled in after taking over the starting job early in the season.
"They look like they have a tremendous run game, their quarterback is playing well," Centore said. "They've got a lot of weapons that we've got to be concerned about."
East's young defense was an issue in its tough mid-season stretch, but plenty of positives emerged in the win streak. Watching on film, Stoehr can attest but is still hoping his team can pound the ball — and control the clock.
"Their defense has improved a lot," he said. "We've got to be able to move the football. Our best defense is to keep them off the field."
In 1999, the last time the Thanksgiving game had a bearing on the fate of both teams, West prevailed 28-8 to clinch a Division II playoff spot, when both teams played at that level.
With the stakes high again, it's shaping up to be another special Turkey Day morning at Cranston Stadium.
"Win, lose or draw," Stoehr said, "it's always going to be a great game."
OUR PICK: East 35, West 26
- William Geoghegan