GROTON – The Groton-Dunstable Crusaders “weathered the storm,” as head coach Derek Asadoorian put it – both literally and figuratively.
Players, coaches, and volunteers worked late hours Wednesday night into Thursday morning to get the field ready for a 10:15 kickoff, and their hard work paid off as the Crusaders came away with a 27-6 victory over the Tyngsboro Tigers Thursday at G-DRHS.
“We’ve had a lot of adversity this season,” Asadoorian said. “I can’t be prouder of the players and the community for getting this ready. It means a lot to play this game on Thanksgiving Day, and the community realized that, and we got the job done.”
It was the third consecutive win for the Crusaders after losing to Shepherd Hill in the Division 4 North quarterfinals, and their fifth consecutive Thanksgiving Day victory over Tyngsboro.
“I think Shepherd Hill was a turning point for us,” senior running back Joey Orlando said. “We didn’t really have an identity as a team. I think that game broke us in and made us mentally tough. We’ve been riding that train ever since. I’m really proud of the team effort.”
Orlando ran for 192 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, almost all of which came after the first quarter. He rattled off rushes of 18, 22, 66, and 29 as part of his effort, and scored the final touchdown of the game from one yard out with eight minutes left in the fourth. He saved arguably the best performance of his career for his final game, winning game MVP honors along the way, but he was quick to credit his teammates for helping him.
“It’s not me out there, it’s a team effort,” Orlando said. “The o-line played great today, and without [them], I wouldn’t win that trophy, and we wouldn’t have won this game. The awards are secondary. The win’s more important.”
After allowing the first score of the game in the first quarter by Tigers running back Jake Keenan (109 all-purpose yards), the Crusaders seized control on their first play from scrimmage when sophomore quarterback Nate Forbes (4-of-7, 86 yards, three touchdowns), the third quarterback the Crusaders have used this season, found Jack Battles for his only reception of the game, a 33-yard touchdown strike to tie the game at 6.
“We were able to answer right away. That was big,” Asadoorian said. “That gets us our confidence back and makes sure we don’t start doubting ourselves. After that point, I thought we played pretty good football.”
Though the Crusaders are not usually a passing team, Forbes, who may have been trying to upstage his brother Quinton’s performance in last year’s Thanksgiving game, later found Mitch Townsend and Drew Moore for touchdown passes of 14 and 33 yards, respectively.
“[Nate]’s wise beyond his years,” Asadoorian said. “We didn’t ask him to win games, we asked him to manage them, and make plays when they’re there, and that’s what he did today.”
The Crusader defense rose to the occasion as well after the first score, registering two sacks and holding Tyngsboro quarterback David Walker to just 3-of-16 passing for 11 yards. They also held the Tigers (8-3) to 164 yards of total offense, 3-of-12 on third down conversions, and 2-of-6 on fourth down.