On Thursday, many will reunite with family and friends while they celebrate Thanksgiving. In Massachusetts the tradition starts with high school football, from historic rivalries to games that decide playoff berths.
Some teams, such as Needham and Wellesley, are excited to play despite both already being out of playoff contention. The Rockets and Raiders will meet for the 125th time, a rivalry dating to 1882. Wellesley has a slight advantage over Needham in the oldest public school Thanksgiving Day rivalry in the nation, leading the series, 59-56-9.
“It’s just a great tradition for both towns,” said Wellesley athletic director John Brown. “People are so excited about the game and the fact that it has been a rivalry for so long. Everyone will be pumped just to be there; it will be a great crowd.”
Malden and Medford will also be meeting for the 125th time, a rivalry that Malden leads, 60-54-10. Boston Latin and Boston English will play at Harvard, the oldest continuous high school rivalry, which started in 1887.
There are a few teams fighting for a chance to keep their seasons alive after Thanksgiving.
No. 14-ranked Central Catholic (9-1, 3-0) at No. 11 Andover (9-1, 2-1) — Central Catholic ended last season with a 48-46 win over Andover in double OT on Thanksgiving. The winner will clinch the Merrimack Valley Division 1 title and punch its ticket to a Tuesday night playoff game. Andover quarterback CJ Scarpa has thrown at least two touchdowns every game this season and has 30 heading into his last regular-season game. Central Catholic hasn’t lost since falling to St. John’s Prep, 31-17, Sept. 15.
No. 4 St. John’s Prep (8-1, 3-0) at Xaverian (4-6, 3-0) — Looking at Xaverian’s record in October, the Hawks appeared to have no chance at going to the playoffs. After beating Malden Catholic, 35-7, in their first game of the season, the Hawks lost six straight. Since then, they’ve won three straight. If they beat St. John’s Prep, they will pull of an incredible turnaround to advance to the playoffs. Xaverian has the Catholic Conference league MVP, Hunter Taute, and the defensive player of the year, Maurice Hurst, but the Eagles running back duo of Johnathan Thomas and Alex Moore have led the fourth-ranked Eagles all season.
“St. John’s Prep and Xaverian is a great rivalry,” said Xaverian coach Charlie Stevenson. “Both teams are really pumped up about playing these games and we’re going to try to go out and play our best game of the year.”
No. 6 Natick (9-1, 8-1) at Framingham (5-5, 5-4) — Natick coach Mark Mortarelli said he’s had this game circled on the calendar since the beginning of the season. Overcoming adversity has been a trend for the Redhawks, and after a stunning 40-34 loss to Wellesley, Natick rebounded and beat Walpole, 21-14, to control its destiny. If Natick beats Framingham, the Redhawks are in.
“This is our biggest game of the year,” Mortarelli said. “Whether it has playoff implications or not, this is our rival. They’ve beaten us the past two years, and I think it’s our time to get our revenge now.”
The Redhawks could also advance if Walpole loses at Weymouth. If the Rebels win and Natick loses, Walpole advances. The winner of the Bay State (Herget) will play Plymouth South Tuesday.
Westwood (7-3, 3-0) at Holliston (7-3, 3-0) — The victor takes the Tri-Valley Large title. Holliston is led by TVL MVP Max Athy. The Wolverines, who haven’t lost since Oct. 12, will look for the Berluti brothers (Alex and Bo). Holliston won last year, 27-0. The winner plays Dual County (Small) champion Wayland.
Newburyport (6-4, 3-1) at Amesbury (8-2, 4-0) — A year has made all the difference for Amesbury, which was 1-4 in league play last year. The Indians haven’t lost a league game this season, are on a seven-game winning streak, and a victory over defending CAL/NEC Division 3 champion Newburyport is all they need to get to the playoffs. Indians quarterback Matt Talbot leads Division 3A with 15 touchdown passes but Newburyport’s defense has only allowed an average of 12.7 points per game.
North Reading (8-1, 4-0) at Lynnfield (7-2, 4-0) — This will be a battle between teams with strong offenses. North Reading running back Carl Lipani (21 touchdowns this season) will lead the attack against Lynnfield, which has only allowed a total of 39 combined points in its last six games. The winner will play the winner of the CAL/NEC Division 3.
Blue Hills (9-1, 4-0) at Bristol-Plymouth (4-6, 3-1) — Blue Hills looks to defend its Super Bowl title, but must first get past Bristol-Plymouth. Vincent Burton, last year’s Division 4A player of the year, has anchored the Warriors with his 32 touchdowns. Madison Park awaits the winner.
Of course, there had to be at least one weird scenario in this whole playoff picture. Since Upper Cape and South Shore Tech have already finished their league schedules, the Mayflower (Small) essentially depends on the outcome of the West Bridgewater-Holbrook game. If Holbrook wins, there will be a three-way tie, in which the winner will be decided by a coin flip.
Upper Cape owns the tiebreaker over South Shore Tech, so if Holbrook loses, Upper Cape will advance to play Dorchester.