Weston senior captain and linebacker Tom Wells isn't the Dual County League's Defensive Player of the Year for nothing, and Thanksgiving Day rivalry games are remembered by plays like the one he made with less than a minute left in the first half during the Wildcats' eventual 28-21 win over visiting rival Wayland at Proctor Field yesterday.
And wouldn't you know it, Wells made the play against the DCL's Offensive Player of the Year, Wayland quarterback Ben Shelton.
With his team trailing, 14-7, Wells swarmed in on Shelton, put his hands up, picked off Shelton's over-the-middle toss, and ran it back 47 yards for the touchdown. Robert Crockett's extra point tied the game at 14 just before the break.
Twenty-two playing minutes later, the 'Cats had captured the Post Road Gridiron Classic Trophy, breaking an eight-year jinx against the Warriors (5-5) in front of a chilled packed house.
"As wonderful as the season was, this was so appropriate a way to top it off," an elated Weston head coach Bob Desaulniers said. "We were pushed over year after year, eight years with no victory. But this senior class was special. They all played all four years. The seniors set the tone in the weight-lifting room, and how to treat the younger guys."
The win capped Weston's most prolific campaign in recent history. The Wildcats (9-2, 4-1 DCL) had postseason hopes, after starting the season at 5-0, but ultimately lost out to eventual DCL Small Division winner Concord-Carlisle, which defeated Weston earlier this fall.
Wells, who also scored on a pass from quarterback Jarett Rowe in the second quarter, finished with 13 tackles, including a nine-yard sack that wiped out a Wayland drive early in the fourth quarter.
By then, Weston led, 21-14, after an 86-yard march that consumed much of the third stanza, and was powered by a 42-yard toss from Rowe to senior captain Greg Lanzillo. Fellow senior Nolan Neu capped the drive on a seven-yard run.
Neu caught a 10-yard TD toss from Rowe in the fourth quarter, and Crockett added the point to make it 28-14.
But there was still drama to come.
Weston sophomore James Goulart recovered a Wayland fumble at the Warrior 45, but soon after, Wayland's Tyler Mordas blocked a Weston punt to put the visitors in good field position. The Warriors marched 46 yards, and scored on a fourth-and-goal from the one, when Shelton connected with senior RJ Bolivar.
Wayland recovered an on-side kick with 49 seconds left in the game. Then, Weston senior Nick Neu picked off a long Shelton pass, but the Wildcats were called for roughing the passer, and the Warriors got another chance.
Shelton teamed up with senior Nate Fujitta to bring the ball to the Weston 35, but Weston senior Tom Neufeld sealed the deal with a sack of Shelton with time winding down.
In the opening half, Wayland opened the scoring in the first quarter, after Fujiita made a terrific leaping grab over a defender for a 40-yard pickup that brought the ball inside the five-yard line. Shelton scored on a four-yard keeper, and Carter Paul's boot made it 7-0.
Weston responded with a 61-yard drive, sparked by a 15-yard toss from Rowe to Lanzillo and some tough running by senior back Elvin Johnson, who bulldozed his way on three solid rushes for short yardage, including a key first down. Fellow senior Greg Cohen also chimed in with a few clutch runs, before Rowe found Wells for a 21-yard TD toss, as Crockett added the point early in the second frame.
Soon after, Wayland took the lead, as senior receiver Calvin Williams scored on a 69-yard double reverse down the right sideline. Paul added the point to make it 14-7.
Weston went three and out, and it looked like the Warriors were going to head into the break with a little strut in their step.
But hold onto your hot chocolate.
With the half running down to its last ticks, Wells turned the game around.
"One of the backs left me alone, and I just put my hands up," Wells said, as he improvised the play.
"That was a huge momentum change, they had us on our heels," Desaulniers added.
Before yesterday's game, the Weston athletic department recognized the late Tom Healy, who was the town's longtime police sergeant. Weston High's a cappella group, The Pralines, sung the National Anthem. And the Wildcats also honored their state champion girls soccer and golf teams and their Dual County League title winning cross country squad at halftime.