BILLERICA - Every week, Chelmsford coach Bruce Rich and his coaching staff meet to devise a game plan.
But when the opponent is Billerica, things are different.
"There's a lot more emotion, a lot more time that goes into putting together that game plan," said Rich. "We play in a great rivalry that's very important to these players, the towns, and generations of people involved."
Rich's plan paid off this year, as the Lions pulled out a 28-20 victory yesterday in the teams' 79th Turkey Day clash.
The win came 12 days after Chelmsford (10-1, 8-0) clinched the Merrimack Valley Conference championship with a win over Dracut. Chelmsford will play Wayland, the Dual County League representative, Tuesday in the Division 1A playoffs.
Having secured a playoff berth almost two weeks ago didn't stop Rich from fielding Chelmsford's finest for the entire 40 minutes. After all, this was about bragging rights.
"This rivalry has been around so long, it's a reunion every year," said Gil Ynostroza, who quarterbacked last year's Billerica squad. "Both teams could be 0-10 coming into it and they'd still play like it was the Super Bowl.
"It's weird watching as a fan now, but each year is a cool, different story."
This year, it was a Tim Rich story, as the Lions quarterback scored all four Chelmsford touchdowns. Chelmsford's defense did its part, too, picking off Billerica's Timmy Morrison twice in the first half. Morrison felt the pressure again in the third quarter, when linebacker Lewis Bailey intercepted on the first possession.
Billerica found the end zone late in the third period on a 17-yard completion from Morrison to Kenny Mangie. Less than four minutes later, Rich's 4-yard run gave the Lions a 21-6 edge. Chris Smart was a perfect 4 for 4 on extra points.
Andy Thistle added Chelmsford's fourth interception, cutting in front of a throw intended for Kyle Higgins. A 12-yard rush by Rich put Chelmsford ahead, 28-6.
"They drop back a lot, they bring a lot of guys up front," said Morrison. "We knew their defense has been strong all year and they would bring a lot of pressure. Coach told me we were better than that - I know we're better than that - but there's a reason why Chelmsford is the MVC champ."
Though the game wasn't as long as last year's matchup - a 53-51 Chelmsford win that lasted five overtimes - it was just as tense. Billerica fought back with 14 points in the final three minutes.
Jim Holland's touchdown reception and Higgins's conversion cut Chelmsford's lead to 28-14, and Morrison found Joey Cory from the 2 with two seconds remaining to make it 28-20.
"I'm not surprised they came back in the end, they're a fast-scoring offense," said Tim Rich. "I'm just glad there wasn't any more time left so we didn't have another overtime like last year."