Sports editor emeritus
CENTRAL FALLS — On the surface, Saturday’s Lincoln-Central Falls football game seemed like a battle between two teams finishing off losing seasons. Dig a little deeper, though, and the truth becomes evident. These two teams played with passion and love for the game that went beyond their win-loss records and to the core of why youngsters play football.
“Playing on a frozen field is never fun,” Lincoln senior Giovanni Gray said after his Lions rolled to a 47-8 victory. “But when the sun came out and the field turned to mud, now that was fun!”
The game pitted proud players from Central Falls who never gave up, even after falling behind 41-0 in the third quarter, against a fired-up Lincoln team looking to finish its season with two straight wins.
The Warriors put together a long scoring drive and got their lone touchdown when burly Alex Gonzalez lined up in the backfield and plowed three yards through Lincoln’s defense for a touchdown that meant a lot to the home team and its loyal fans.
The thermometer read 28 degrees at kickoff time. Perez Field’s playing surface had frozen over following Wednesday’s rain. Icy patches covered portions of the field. Players’ cleats beat out a clack-clack-clack symphony on the frozen tundra during each play, the sound ending after the ball-carrier hit the turf. These were the type of conditions that recalled neighborhood tackle football games among friends that used to be played on fields all over the country around Thanksgiving Day.
Lincoln came out in a Single-Wing offense with 6-foot-4, 230-pound sophomore Thaddeus Moss taking most of the snaps from center, picking a hole and running through it, resembling a big old oak tree (with speed), shrugging off smaller tacklers, finally going down after two or three Warriors climbed on to his shoulders.
Moss, who would run for 210 yards on 21 carries, seemed to enjoy the physicality of the contest. He was not alone. Players from both sides screamed after big hits, chanting the name of the tackler, narrowing the focus of the contest down to its basic element of blocking and tackling.
“We decided to install the Single-Wing for this game,” Lincoln coach Dave Waycott would say afterwards. “It turned out perfect for the conditions we played in. We just wanted to snap the ball to Thaddeus and let him run to holes in the defense. That’s definitely an Old School offense. He looked like Bronco Nagurski out there today.”
Nagurski, of course, is the famous old fullback from the 1920s who punished would-be tacklers on his way to the Hall of Fame in Canton, O.
After Moss ran for the opening touchdown late in the first quarter, Lincoln got an interception from Nathan Fay three plays later. On the first play from scrimmage, Fay took the center snap, circled left end and went 35 yards for a 13-0 lead that kicker Justin Conti extended to 14-0 as time ran out in the first quarter.
Then came lineman Giovanni Gray’s turn to bask in the spotlight on the final day of his four-year high school football career. Central Falls lined up to punt early in the second quarter. The snap from center eluded punter Erik Mateo. The ball rolled to his right as several Lincoln defenders led by Gray gave chase.
“Somebody screamed ‘Pick it up!’ and I did,” the 285-pound Gray said after the game. “I think I only had to run around 15 yards to the end zone. That was my first touchdown in high school.”
Lincoln’s defense would score the next touchdown, too, as Tyler Bostic picked up another C.F. fumble and ran 62 yards to make it 27-0 late in the first half.
Before the half could end, Moss broke through the middle of C.F.’s defense and high-stepped like a proud showhorse 50 yards into the end zone for a 33-0 advantage.
The Lions would score on their first possession of the second half, going 65 yards in 10 plays, the final play a nine-yard TD run by Michael Morra. A two-point pass conversion made it 41-0 and seemed to rile the Warriors, who promptly went on their only scoring drive of the game, highlighted by pass completions from QB Malik Velazquez to Mateo (18 yards), James Almeida-Araujo (13 yards) and Israel Hernandez (eight yards). Almeida-Araujo also ran for 16 yards.
When Velasquez tossed a pass to Mateo at the five-yard line, a pass interference call on Lincoln set the stage for Gonzalez’s touchdown. Velazquez hit Elijah Hamerick for the two-point conversion.
The hitting remained spirited on both sides as Lincoln took over and let Moss pound the ball down the field with punishing runs that took a toll on defenders and the ball-carrier, too. There was no deception to this offense. Moss would rumble into the secondary, running with his head up, shrugging off arm tackles, powering out of low tackles with his powerful legs, maintaining balance on the slippery field while others lost their footing.
Moss ran for 10 yards to begin the drive, then for 20. He lost 12 when a snap from center soared over his head. He fumbled on the next play, delighting the Central Falls crowd and sideline, which seemed to view this game as Central Falls vs. Thaddeus Moss. But Bostic intercepted a pass on first down in the middle of the muddy field.
Moss then carried the ball on seven of the next eight plays, covering 65 of the 70 yards Lincoln traveled to its final score. After time ran out, players shook hands as they walked in parallel lines across the middle of the field.
“Where’s Number Five?” C.F.’s Hamerick asked as he went through the line. Finally, he spied Moss, the tallest player on the field, coming up last in the line, shaking hands shyly.
“Good game, man,” Hamerick said. Elijah would be named MVP for C.F. in a post-game ceremony. Moss won the same honor for Lincoln. And Giovanni Gray got to pose with the championship trophy that goes to the winning team with his father at his side.
“I made a bet with the mayor,” said Chris Gray, a lieutenant in the C.F. Fire Department. “He (James Diossa) has to wear a Lincoln jersey because we won the game. I think he’s going to do it next Friday.”
Chris Gray was more than willing to talk about his son.
“I have been proud of Gio since the day he was born,” the firefighter said. “Gio was too big to play youth football because they have weight limits. He was always big for his age. But Gio would practice with the team and stand on the sidelines and watch all of their games. He was 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds when he played for Lincoln’s varsity as a freshman. Now he’s 285. We’re very proud of him.”
Gio Gray had the final word on this day.
“What is important to me is how our team kept working after we lost our first six games this season,” he said, speaking as the thoughtful team leader on his last day of high school football. “We kept working and won three of our last five games. We scored over 90 points in our final two games. What matters is we never gave up.”
The four-year holiday rivalry is now tied at two wins apiece. C.F. finished with a 1-9 overall record. Lincoln’s strong finish put its final ledger at 3-8. Not that records meant anything on Saturday.