Buccaneers Make It Three Straight Thanksgiving Victories

November 24, 2023
Bedford High School Football claims victory for the third year in a row in the annual Thanksgiving Day game versus Burlington High School with a final score of 34-19. Photo: @BedfordBucs

Never in the 62 years of local Thanksgiving football – against Burlington and Concord-Carlisle – has the team from Bedford High School won three consecutive games.

Until now.

Playing their best football of the season on Thursday morning, the Buccaneers stormed to a 13-0 lead and remained in control for the duration, defeating a quality Burlington team on the road, 34-19.

“It was a really satisfying win for us – our best effort of the year against quality competition,” said Head Coach Tom Tone. “Our kids played tough. Burlington is a hard team to prepare for; they run a lot of different things. We covered well, tackled well, and got some pressure on the quarterback.” The coach praised his assistant coaches for scouring the opponent.

There was also a Bedford offense – 424 yards of it. Tone could see it coming: “I thought we played our best game of offense all season against Concord-Carlisle” on Nov. 10.

Junior quarterback Ryan McGrath was close to perfect, completing 16 of 18 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown. McGrath surpassed 1,600 aerial yards for 2023. He also carried seven times for 70 yards and another TD. “Ryan has gotten better as the year has gone along,” Tone commented. Thursday, “He was perfect in his decision-making.”

The Red Devils registered zero sacks. “Most of the guys on our offensive line give up some pounds but they are all tough, scrappy kids,” the coach asserted.

Ricky LaBoy finished his Bedford football career with three touchdowns, 88 yards rushing and 77 receiving. The Bucs’ leading receiver, senior Xavier Ruiz, had six catches for 90 yards. Nelson Crawford, also a senior, caught four throws for 60 and a TD.

Meanwhile, the Bedford defense made sure that Burlington’s headliner, senior running back Joey Poland, wasn’t going to win this game on his own. Poland, the Middlesex League player-of-the-year, averaged more than 150 yards rushing per game over the first 10. 

Bedford held Poland to 75 yards in seven carries. That was significant, Tone said; “If you can’t stop the run, it opens up so much more for the offense. We knew we needed to swarm around him and I thought we did a good job keeping him bottled up.” 

Poland caught five passes out of the backfield for another 40 yards. Burlington stayed in this game on the strength of the arm of quarterback Anthony Gerrior and the hands of his two primary receivers, Ryan Brooks and Charlie Hanafin, who combined for nine catches for 125 yards.

The outcome wasn’t secure until Burlington turned the ball over on downs after four consecutive incomplete passes near the Bedford 30. Senior Mason Wiggins injured his shoulder rushing the passer on the sequence, but the offense picked up three first downs and ran out the clock.

Bedford gets to hold on to the Thanksgiving Day game trophy for another year playing the team’s “best effort of the year” on Thursday morning. Photo: Raeanne Brazee

Bedford’s attack was consistent all game long; the Bucs punted just once after a penalty nullified a first down. Nevertheless, there were some turning points.

The Bucs grabbed a 6-0 lead with a crisp 57-yard opening drive, then forced a Burlington punt. Crawford’s 14-yard sack of Gerrior on third-and-12 sealed that outcome.

Then the Bedford offense went turbo, beginning at the 11. A 10-yard blast by LaBoy, a 17-yard play from McGrath to Ruiz, a 27-yard dash by LaBoy that he almost broke, capped by McGrath’s 35-yard touchdown run. It all took 56 seconds.

“I think our tempo really helped us. That’s what we were hoping for,” said Tone.

Burlington made it 13-7 more than midway through the second quarter and then came what Tone said was the most meaningful drive. The Bucs, flying downfield with catches by LaBoy (two) and Ruiz and a 10-yard blast by Drew Siwik, were at the Red Devil 16. After a procedure call, McGrath took the snap and somehow broke a tackle and ran for 10 yards.

It took four rushes to get into the endzone, but with Tone working his three timeouts, LaBoy scored with eight seconds to play in the half.

The two teams exchanged two touchdowns each in the second half. Burlington narrowed the score to 20-13 on a pass that was intercepted in the endzone by Cian O’Donnell. He lost control landing on his back and Hanafin grabbed it before the ball hit the ground. The play was ruled a touchdown; then the Devils botched the extra point on a bad snap.

Bedford quickly regained the two-score lead in four plays, the big one a 49-yard touchdown pass when LaBoy, racing out of the left slot, crossed past the defensive back and snagged McGrath’s dart in stride.

Burlington, going almost solely to the air, made it 27-19 with a minute to play in the third quarter; Gil Galman deflected the extra point attempt.

Back came the Bucs, with Crawford scoring the final TV early in the fourth period. His leaping 27-yard catch set the next play, an 11-yard TD reception, much of which was an individual effort to reach the end zone.

Tone also emphasized the role of Ruiz’s kickoffs, neutralizing the Devils’ explosive return game. He kicked off six times and their best starting field position was the Burlington 40. Indeed, Bedford actually recovered the final kickoff in the fourth quarter.

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