BELMONT – In a dual of running backs, Watertown held off a second half charge by Belmont to win the 2016 edition of the Thanksgiving Day football rivalry.
Both teams had runners who accumulated more than 200 yards and scored three touchdowns apiece, but it took a late interception for the Raiders to escape Harris Field with the win – the fifth straight in the series.
Watertown football coach John Cacace praised the character of his players for coming out on top Thursday.
“They are great leaders. They keep everything in perspective and the know they have to keep playing and play hard,” Cacace said. “That was a real comeback they put on there there and we responded when we needed to.”
Watertown enjoyed a 24-7 halftime lead after senior running back Vasken Kebabjian scored to two 50+ yard touchdowns, with senior quarterback Deon Smith running one in from 24 yards out, in between.
Belmont’s comeback began when senior running back Ben Jones turned the corner on a sweep and ran for a 71-yard score on the first play from scrimmage of the second half. Jones scored the third of his three touchdowns from 10 yards out with three minutes left in the third, bringing the Marauders within four points – 24-20 – after the missed extra point.
Kebabjian answered on the Raiders’ next drive with a 53-yard touchdown with 1:04 left in the third.
“When I see a hole I’m running for it,” Kebabjian said. “My line was giving me those holes. They work their butts off in the weight room. They were blocking real hard, making lanes and I just saw them and ran for them.”
Belmont then had a long drive, including a pass of about 35 yards from senior quarterback Cal Cristofori to Will Ellet. On the drive, the Marauders twice went for it on fourth down. The second was a fourth and goal from the 1, when junior running back Adam Deese scored punched it in. A two-point conversion by Jones brought the score to 31-28 with 7:28 left in the fourth quarter.
On the next possession, Watertown drove the ball and had the ball first and goal from the Belmont 5, but the drive stalled after two unsuccessful runs and a false start penalty. Junior kicker Conor Kennelly kicked a 26-yard field goal to give the Raiders some breathing room at 34-28.
The Marauders moved ball, and had it in Watertown territory when Cristofori’s pass was intercepted by senior Isaac Huff with 1:41 left. The Raiders ran out the clock and celebrated.
“(The Marauders) got their game going in the second half and we needed some a couple big plays down the stretch and we got them,” Cacace said. “The interception by Huff was unbelievable.”
After the game, Cacace had some more good news for Watertown. Melrose had beaten Wakefield, meaning Watertown tied for the Middlesex League Freedom Division title with both of those teams.
Kebabjian will remember the 2016 Watertown-Belmont game for years to come.
“I don’t think it was one of my best games, but I think it was the game that meant most to me,” Kebabjian said. “We played the rivals, Belmont, and I played my heart out.”