Anthony DiOrio said he has been going to Thanksgiving Day football games "since I can remember."
But he probably hasn't seen many performances that could top his own play on a blustery morning on the Indians' near-frozen field.
"He's a beast," Lenape coach Tim McAneney said. "He's one of the best football players in South Jersey."
This was a tricky game for Shawnee (7-3), which was coming off an emotional victory over Toms River South in the South Jersey Group 4 semifinals on Saturday. That 28-24 triumph, courtesy of a comeback from a 24-0 halftime deficit, propelled the Renegades into the Dec. 7 sectional final against defending champion Timber Creek at Rowan University.
So it was understandable that Shawnee coach Tim Gushue was a little conflicted by the situation and more than a little concerned when one of the Renegades' top linemen, senior Reece Tursi, suffered an ankle injury that puts his availability for the championship game in question.
"My Thanksgiving prayer, for everybody, was good health," Gushue said.
But such perspective is the purview of coaches and administrators and maybe some other folks on the far side of the fence.
For seniors such as DiOrio and Lenape two-way lineman Craig Cassidy, this game was just another in a dwindling set of chances to play football with their friends and to represent their school.
"I'm just grateful for the opportunity to go out there with these guys one last time," Cassidy said after the last game of his career.
That point of view is what made this game so special, even as Shawnee's coaches and others connected to the Renegades program were torn by split concerns: the competitive desire to win the annual game against the old rival and the practical concern to be prepared fully for the rare chance to capture a South Jersey title.
DiOrio and the rest of Shawnee's seniors played without a care in the world. This was their last Thanksgiving Day game, the last regular-season game of their career, the last time they would play a game in their school district against a crosstown rival.
Plus, football is unique in that there are a limited number of games, even for teams good enough and fortunate to play into December.
"This game meant everything," DiOrio said.
The 6-foot, 210-pound DiOrio was dressed like an offensive lineman. He ran with the power of one of his guys. He displayed vision and elusiveness but finished every run with authority, lowering his shoulder to attack tacklers in the Lenape secondary.
"What a career he's had," Gushue said. "It's been an honor to coach him and his brother Rob. He [Anthony] is quiet, but he leads by example. Every day, he brings it."
DiOrio was kicking himself at halftime after his lost fumble late in the second quarter set up Lenape at the Shawnee 31. The Indians tied the score, 7-7, on Ben Hunt's 9-yard touchdown reception with 18 seconds left in the half.
"It was my fault they scored," DiOrio said. "I wanted to make up for that."
On the first drive of the second half, Shawnee went 80 yards in nine plays. DiOrio gained 70 of those yards on six carries, covering the final 3 to snap the tie and give the Renegades the lead for good.
"That 80-yard drive killed us," McAneney said.
On Shawnee's next possession, DiOrio gained 53 yards on five carries as the Renegades went 62 yards to the end zone. He finished that drive with a 21-yard scoring run on the first play of the fourth quarter.
"He's one of the best backs in South Jersey," Cassidy said. "He runs with power."
DiOrio said it was one of the most memorable games of his career. His brother was in the stands. So was his father, who no doubt approved of his wardrobe as well as his running.
"There's nothing better than Thanksgiving Day football," DiOrio said in a statement that likely could be echoed by seniors across South Jersey on a cold, clear day that will remain frozen in their minds for years.
"You get to play in front of your family and friends. What could be better than that?"
Shawnee 7 0 6 7 – 20
Lenape 0 7 0 6 – 13
S: Michael Welsh 1 run (Joe Lynn kick)
L: Ben Hunt 9 pass from Justin Holl (Jarry Jones kick)
S: Anthony DiOrio 3 run (kick failed)
S: DiOrio 21 run (Lynn kick)
L: Hunt 6 run (kick failed)