ASTON — Dan Sullivan made sure it was a happy Thanksgiving for the Chichester crowd when he returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown with 5:22 left in the fourth quarter to lift the Eagles to a 20-12 win over rival Sun Valley (2-10) at Dr. Walley Field Thursday.
A large crowd braved the cold, windy conditions to support their teams as Chichester took home the trophy from the 46th installment of the "Turkey Bowl,' a tradition started in 1961.
The Vanguards still lead the series 25-21, but Chichester is narrowing the gap.
"This is the one you keep for the rest of your life, as a player or as a coach,' jubilant coach Ryan Smith said after the game. "The backyard rivalry, what an exclamation point on the season. It's phenomenal.'
Chichester took a 13-12 lead with 9:39 left in the fourth quarter when DeJuan Santana went around end and rolled into the end zone from 5 yards out.
Sun Valley took over at their 30 and went three-and-out.
With the wind at his back Vanguards punter (and quarterback) T.J. Mancini ripped off a 51-yard punt to force the Eagles to begin their drive at their 27 line.
On first down, Chichester quarterback Duffy Gilhool hooked up with Tamein Jackson for a 17-yard pass completion. The Eagles then handed the ball off to Isaiah Bobo who ran for six yards.
On the next play, Gilhool tried a long pass that was picked off by Kijana Gordon at the Vanguards' 25 yard line. He returned it 40 yards to the Eagles 35-yard line.
Things were looking good for Sun Valley to end its nine-game losing streak, especially after a pass interference call against Chichester set up a first down at the 24 line for the Vanguards.
On the next play Sullivan got in front of a line drive throw by Mancini, a ball that might have traveled eight yards in the air, then somehow got control of the ball and raced virtually untouched into the end zone, giving the visitors an eight-point cushion.
The pick-six effectively ended the game. Sullivan gave the credit to his coaches for putting him the right position to be successful.
"The coaches called the right play at the right time,' said Sullivan, a junior tight end and linebacker. "It was a called blitz. I made sure I had the first. This is very exciting to get the ' Turkey' back.'
Smith said he can't coach the play Sullivan made. It was just a matter of athletic talent.
"I can't wait to see that on film,' Smith said. "I don't know how he did it. He knew where to be, he was in the right spot. That was an athletic play, He's an athletic kid and that's what we've come to expect from Danny. '
Chichester did not play particularly well in the first half. Credit the Sun Valley defense and a stiff wind that had an impact on how the game was played by both teams.
In addition to his 51-yard punt, Mancini nailed a 61-yarder with the wind at his back in the second quarter, but recorded punts of 13, 20 and nine yards against the wind. Chichester had similar punting numbers.
The Eagles did not complete a pass in the first half, and their lone touchdown came after a Sun Valley fumble on its opening drive that handed Chichester the ball at the Vanguards' 10.
"Eventually we made a couple of adjustments,' Smith said. "We have to take care of the ball better than we did in the first half. I'm glad we made a couple of plays, could have had more but hey, we made enough to win the game.'
Jackson, with 44 yards on 12 carries and three receptions for 73 yards, led Chichester (5-7). Santana scored two rushing touchdowns for the Eagles.
Kijana Gordon, with 53 yards on seven carries and an 8-yard touchdown, plus four catches for 79 yards including a 40-yard touchdown pass, led Sun Valley.
The defenses on each team played physical, tough football. Chichester, led by junior lineman Colin McAllister, disrupted the Vanguards offense all morning, recording 10 tackles for loss, including five sacks.
Sun Valley, led by junior lineman Ed Racine, was also a force, coming up with six tackles for loss, four fumbles (recovering one) and two interceptions.
"We've been working all offseason to get in shape, we wanted to make some noise in this game.' McAllister said. "We wanted to stop playing around and start playing serious. It had to be our game, we're better than them up front and we came out and dominated.'
Sun Valley head coach Jim Grugan said he was happy that his defense was disruptive but wished they had enjoyed a bigger payday.
"I thought we should have capitalized on our (turnovers) better,' Grugan said. "I thought we really played well though.'
Grugan said the game got off to a rough start which never helps, especially in a rivalry game.
"We turn the ball over, they score right away,' Grudan said. "After that we settled down and played really well getting two touchdowns before the half. The third quarter kind of went back and fourth, everybody chewing up clock, then we turn the ball over and it turns into a pick-six for them.'
Sun Valley started the season with high expectations, coming off a 7-5 campaign in 2012. The Vanguards answered the bell with a 2-0 start but have struggled since, losing their last 10 games.
Grugan said his team got hit with the injury bug, losing junior standout running back Juwan Chandler and linebacker/fullback Mike Fisher, among others, early on. Thursday was Chandler's first appearance since getting hurt nine games ago. He had minus-3 yards on two carries and one catch for seven yards.
"We lost something like 40 man-games from players we thought were going to be starters,' Grugan said. "Going forward we have to do a better job in the offseason. We're in the same boat as we were last year. We have to replace people all over the lineup, but some of these guys are getting pretty big real quick and we'll work real hard in the offseason.'