On Thursday, before a standing room only crowd, the football team defeated host Milton, 28-21, in a back-and-forth game of momentum changes in the 82nd Thanksgiving Day game between the two schools.
The win marks the fourth straight in the rivalry for Braintree.
“It’s great,” Braintree senior captain Jacques DeVoe said after the game about his class going undefeated during their careers on Thanksgiving. “I’m just lucky to be a part of it. I’ve never had a bad turkey. I’m just lucky enough to never have a loss because I know that turkey wouldn’t taste as good and the whole day would be ruined and Thanksgiving is something you have to be happy and give thanks to everyone you love.”
Milton won the opening coin toss and elected to receive. On their fourth play from scrimmage, DeVoe broke through virtually untouched from his outside linebacker and made a big hit, which caused a fumble that he was able to recover himself.
“I thought it was a big play in the game,” first-year Braintree coach Brian Chamberlain said. “It gave us good field position.”
After junior quarterback Anthony Luisi ran the ball on first down for the Wamps, senior captain Tim Dutcher took the handoff on the very next play 38 yards for the score. Freshman Dino DiCienzo made the PAT to give Braintree an early 7-0 lead.
Milton failed to get their offense moving on their next possession and was forced to punt, giving the ball back to the Wamps, who picked up a couple of first downs.
Then, facing third-and-5, senior wingback Dom Eddings took the handoff, broke outside and, with blocking help from tight end Liam Baggett left guard Michael Crowley, raced 43 yards all the way down the left sideline for the touchdown. DiCienzo’s extra point was good to give the Wamps a 14-0 lead with just under 4 minutes left in the first quarter.
“I thought we executed very well the first 10 minutes of the game,” Chamberlain said. “We started making some big plays today, which is huge,”
But Milton wasn’t going to let the Wamps get off easily. Using their Wildcat offense, the Wildcats started to make some big plays themselves.
Seniors Matthew Lezama (20 carries for 132 yards) and Antonio Houston (17 carries for 100 yards) began to take charge of the Milton offense, and the Wildcats drove 55 yards on 10 plays, capped off by a Lezama 15-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter. Junior Joseph Kennedy made the extra point to cut the deficit to 14-7.
“We knew that they’re a good running football team and they’re going to be tough to stop,” third-year Milton coach Jim Bowes said. “We also knew we had a good game plan coming in and we had a lot of people who could run the football, so we didn’t panic.”
The Milton offense didn’t have much time to rest. On Braintree’s second play from scrimmage on the ensuing possession the ball popped loose and ended up on the ground. The Wildcats recovered and had great field possession at the Braintree 29.
The Wildcats went right back to their Wildcat offense and Lezama took over, carrying on the first four plays. Houston then took the ball up the middle, breaking a couple of tackles before being brought down right at the goal line. Lezama ran it in on the next play, and the score was tied at 14 after Kennedy made the PAT.
Braintree’s next possession was a potential game-changer in terms of momentum. Facing fourth-and-inches from their own 37, the Wamps decided to go for the first down. Dutcher (17 carries for 109 yards) got the carry but was stopped just short of the first down, giving the Wildcats excellent field position once again.
Milton then went 37 yards on just 5 running plays, the last one a 4-yard touchdown by Lezama. The Kennedy PAT made the score 21-14, which gave Milton it’s first lead of the game, which is what the score remained at halftime.
Braintree and Milton both exchanged interceptions on their first possessions of the second half.
“That interception [was the turning point in the game],” Bowes said. “I told the guys afterwards I made a mistake. We should’ve kept running the ball. I took responsibility for that one.”
Braintree got the ball back on the 25-yard line, and the Wamps went right to Dutcher, who took just 2 plays to run the ball into the end zone. DiCienzo’s extra point tied the score at 21.
“You don’t realize how big and strong Timmy is until he’s coming down on you,” Chamberlain said. “We tell him he’s going to break through arm tackles, and he did.”
Milton fumbled the ball on their next possession (Braintree’s Baggett recovered it).
The Wamps took over with a little more than three minutes to go in the third quarter. They went right back to their running game, with Dutcher and Eddings (7 carries for 105 yards) getting carries, while Luisi had a huge run when he lowered his shoulder between two defenders picked up a first down.
Then, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Eddings took a reverse from senior wingback Steven Donovan for 38 yards, where he was stopped just short of the end zone. Dutcher took the ball in on the next play for his third TD on the day and the extra point by DiCienzo made the score 28-21.
Now Braintree’s defense had to make a stand, and good special teams play by their kickoff team looked like it might help when Milton was forced to start at their own 20.
The Wildcats were moving the ball only a little bit when they were trying to run the football, so they looked to pass a bit on this possession as well. Sophomore quarterback Liam Collins completed to big passes to senior captain Terrence Walsh, one for 30 yards and the other for 16.
Milton had a first-and-goal on the 6-yard line when Houston, who had been dynamic all day, took a toss to the left side and as he reached the goal line tried to extend himself into the end zone, but Braintree inside linebacker Ryan Solimini knocked the ball loose and defensive back Pat McLeod recovered it in the end zone.
“You talk about making big plays,” Chamberlain said. “That’s a big play. I thought we made a lot of big plays today.”
Braintree took over with 4:44 remaining in the game and immediately went to the ground. Facing fourth-and-inches at the 41, the Wamps put the fate of the game in the hands of their defense when they punted the ball away.
The Wildcats had one last chance with just 95 seconds left and 69 yards to go, but the Wamps were able to prevent any damage and hung on for the win, 28-21, to keep the Ramicourt Cup in Braintree. Dutcher was named game MVP.
“I’m happy for the kids,” Chamberlain said. “I’m proud of the way they responded. When you’re up 14 and then you give up 21… I’m really happy for the kids.”
Milton ends the season with a 1-10 record, but Bowes feels he saw improvement from the team throughout the year. He said he’s proud of his players because they never quit.
“This senior class I was very comfortable with,” Bowes said. “There’s no question that they bought into what we’re doing. They played hard for us during a long, frustrating year. They were resilient. Not everybody can support younger players like they did. Not everybody can come back and work as hard as they did.”
For Braintree’s seniors, their high school football careers are over, but they can take solace that they are one of the few classes to go undefeated on Thanksgiving for their careers.
“This season, it’s not the best of seasons, but it was a lot of fun,” DeVoe said. “I love everyone on the team. We played hard every week. We worked our butts off. I couldn’t be any happier right now. This means so much to me. It’s something I’m going to remember the rest of my life.”