In the end, the match between the Manchester Essex and North Middlesex football teams seemed a lot like how the game itself played out for the Hornets: It was a worthy effort, but ultimately didn’t meet some of the expectations that the team had going in.
At the start of the season, the football team found itself without its traditional Thanksgiving Day rival, Georgetown, after the Royals determined that they didn’t have enough interest to field a varsity team in 2023. With the clock ticking, Manchester Essex football coach Joe Grimes worked with Athletic Director Cami Molinare and the MERHS Athletic Department to fill the gap and find an opponent for the Hornets for one of the most important games of the year.
That search ended with North Middlesex Regional High School accepting the invitation to play against the Hornets on Thanksgiving Day at Hyland Field. Manchester Essex kept things close until the Patriots pulled away in the third quarter, falling by a score of 28-8.
“It was closer than the final score implies,” says Grimes. “It was a one-score game until the late third where they separated a little bit. [We had a] big offensive push with Beckett Walker delivering a strike on a wide-receiver pass, and Finn McCue pulling in a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter.”
That push wasn’t enough for the Hornets to overcome Townsend-based North Middlesex. With the win over Manchester Essex, the Patriots finished with an 8-3 regular season record and a 2-2 record in the Midland Wachusett C League. Meanwhile, the loss dropped the Hornets to 5-6 overall in 2023.
“Lots of positive contributions from the guys who are returning next year and lot of strong lessons in toughness from the outgoing seniors,” Grimes says of the game. “We dealt with our share of adversity this year and those seniors were a model of toughness and willingness to play through and get the job done.”
While the loss itself stung, the loss of traditional opponent Georgetown was also deeply felt on Thanksgiving Day.
“If I’m being honest – it wasn’t the same and I missed it,” explains Grimes. “The Georgetown rivalry goes back 62 years and it’s hard to get too fired up about such a random team.
Thanksgiving means so much to the seniors and that was great, but it wasn’t as fun as playing a long-time rival, that’s for sure.”
Those seniors were at least able to have one final game at home on Thanksgiving, and they will be missed after they graduate. Stephen Martin finished with 915 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground this
season in spite of missing two games to injury and running back/linebacker Quinn Brady tallied just under 500 yards and seemed to have a nose for the end zone with six total touchdowns, along with his contributions as a blocker. In all, the Hornets lose 11 seniors from this squad to graduation, including captains Martin, Troy Flood and Henry Thurlow.
“This was a special team for me as it is the end of my third year as head coach and prior to that I was the jayvee coach with this group as freshmen in 2020-21,” explains Grimes. “You may recall, that was that crazy spring 2021 pandemic season, and these now-seniors were a great group that dealt with all the headaches from that year with a smile and really learned some tough lessons about adversity that served them well this year.”
An experienced, talented core will return, however, to help the team transition next season.
“Our new 2024 captains, Zach Hurd (quarterback/defensive back) and Cian Brennock (offensive/defensive line) are sure to make a big impact next season,” says Grimes. “Incoming junior trio of Walker Valeo, Joe Glass and Chris
Glass are going to anchor the O-Line and D-Lines coming off great sophomore campaigns.”
Another question the Hornets need to answer in 2024: Who will be the Thanksgiving Day opponent next year? It’s likely it won’t be North Middlesex again, a team located about 60 miles from Cape Ann that shares very little history with Manchester Essex.
“I don’t think we will,” says Grimes. “We’re working on something that we’re hoping will be a little better fit that we hope to lock down soon in this winter season.”