This upcoming Thursday, a holiday tradition will be restored here in Manchester.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed so many things that we came to count on as part of our calendar and community, that it’s easy to lose count of all that we did without in 2020. One of those dearly missed items from the calendar last fall was the annual Thanksgiving Day football game.
This is a sport that is eternally tied to the holiday – turkey and football are almost synonymous with Thanksgiving at this point – so it was difficult to see a football season displaced to the following spring due to pandemic guidelines, thus eliminating the ability to end the high school regular season with a well-attended game against a traditional rival.
That rivalry – Manchester Essex versus Georgetown – is back this year and locals can fill the stands to soak up both a sport and holiday with deep American roots on Thursday, November 25 at Manchester Essex Regional High School at 10 a.m.
“It'll be great to get back to a 'regular' Thanksgiving game this year,” explains Manchester Essex coach Josiah Grimes. “Georgetown didn't field a team last year during the pandemic-affected spring season, so it'll be great to get back to playing the traditional matchups at the right time of year.
There is a bit of disparity between the two teams when it comes to records; the Hornets should clearly be considered favorites after finishing the regular season with a perfect 7-0 record. While things didn’t turn out as Manchester Essex players hoped with losses in the postseason to KIPP Academy (Lynn) and Triton, the first-place Hornets finished well ahead of the fourth-place Royals (3-6 overall, 2-2 division) in the Commonwealth Small Division.
“Thanksgiving Day rivalries are such an important aspect of high school football here in Massachusetts, and ME versus Georgetown is no different,” says Grimes. “Regardless of records coming into the game, we all know we're going to be in for a battle once the game starts.”
The Hornets also boast homefield advantage for this game, hopefully boosting their chances to rebound after the pair of postseason losses.
“Obviously playing at home skips the bus ride and gets you that much closer to Thanksgiving dinner, but it's really the crowd that makes the difference for our final game of the year,” explains Grimes. “Even when it's cold or snowing or the sun is shining, our fans always turn out for Thanksgiving. We've had such tremendous support all year long, I can't wait to see our fans on Thursday morning.”
The fans that show up to cheer on their team should be in for a show: Georgetown runs an up-tempo game through the air on offense, which should prove to be a challenge for the Manchester Essex defense.
“Georgetown plays a high-speed, vertical passing game that will be a challenge to slow down,” says Grimes. “They have a good set of skill players and some good size up front. They've played some quality teams and are really well-coached, so it will take a physical, team effort to get the job done next week.”
When the Hornets have the ball, they will have to be quick on their feet to grapple with the various fronts the Royals will throw at them on defense.
“Georgetown has shown a bunch of different looks so far on defense, and we're preparing for whatever they throw at us,” explains Grimes. “They play physical and can create matchup problems with their speed and overall level of talent. Our focus for next week is execution and making sure we limit mistakes when we are on offense.”
Manchester Essex will be looking to bounce back from their pair of playoff losses and close out the season with a win. The Hornets hope to avoid the mistakes and penalties that plagued them in the 41-21 loss to KIPP Academy in their playoff game on November 5.
“It was a back-and-forth contest with KIPP pulling away once we got into desperation mode in the last few minutes,” says Grimes. “I thought we played them really tough, but we made too many mistakes in the way of penalties and turnovers that really held us back. Senior AJ Pallazola was a standout in this game and had a terrific kickoff return in the first half that was as good as any I've ever seen in high school.”
The 29-21 playoff loss to Triton on November 11 was a similar circumstance.
“Different day, similar results,” explains Grimes. “Triton is a Div. 5 playoff team, so we knew we were a little out of our weight class since we're Div. 8. However, our team played them really tight in a game that went down right to the wire. We played tough and were able to move the ball on them for most of the night, but a couple key turnovers and penalties cost us once again.”
The coach adds: “One of our keys to our regular season success was our ability to avoid costly mistakes and to stay away from giving up big plays. Our focus as a team this week will be getting healthy with the extra week, but also making sure we close up any gaps we've noticed these past two games.”
If the Hornets avoid those mistakes on Thursday, Manchester Essex could be celebrating a victory in addition to a return to the football field on Thanksgiving Day.