THE 2023 North Reading High football team will try to reclaim the Thanksgiving Day crown after Lynnfield won it last year when the Hornets chose to sit their seniors before their Super Bowl victory. The Hornets (5-4) had won on Thanksgiving five years in a row leading up to last year’s game. The Pioneers (8-2) are Cape Ann League champions this year after going 7-0 in league play. (Eric Evans Photo)
Update post publication:
North Reading falls to Lynnfield 34-0 in 64th Thanksgiving Football rivalry (Nov. 23)
By DAN ZIMMERMAN
NORTH READING — Last year at this time, the North Reading coaching staff was grappling with an agonizing decision – deploy the Hornet starting lineup for the traditional Thanksgiving football classic with Lynnfield and risk injuries as a trip to the MIAA Championship loomed or press the second string into service and, more or less, sacrifice the holiday game.
Coach Ed Blum and his staff chose the latter and, as anticipated, the more experienced Pioneers had little trouble claiming the 63rd annual Thanksgiving meeting, by a score of 32-6. The defeat, at the time, snapped the Hornets’ five-game holiday win streak. The last win in that stretch was a 28-25 Hornet clutch victory, in 2021.
This Thanksgiving rivalry had its beginning in 1958. The overall win-loss record over the decades remains in Lynnfield’s favor, at 34-28, along with a point margin of 1099 to North Reading’s 857. Blum and the Hornets seek to close that gap a little further.
“There is a clear rivalry between North Reading and Lynnfield and on Thanksgiving, that makes for a great atmosphere and experience,” said Blum. “This year, with no distractions beyond the game itself, there is a renewed energy and focus as we prepare.”
As the 64th edition gets underway on Thursday morning, there is a different flavor to the pre-game chatter. Unlike 2022, today’s North Reading starters are a year older, a year wiser, and despite the up-and-downs of this season, have enjoyed a measure of success, topping .500 football with a 5-4 record.
In last year’s contest, Gavin Brady hauled in back-to-back Jason Berry throws to contribute to the Hornet cause. He expects to chip in with a few more on Thanksgiving.
“Obviously, it’s a very important game,” said the sophomore standout, who claimed 8 TD receptions this season. “We expect that our coaches will draw up some good plays and we’re going to go out there and make those plays. I would much rather end this year at 6-4 than 5-5.”
The lone senior receiver, Brandon Eng, agrees with his teammate about the challenge ahead.
“We have to give credit to Lynnfield,” said Eng, who had a knack this year for long returns on special teams, including several for scores. “They’re an impressive team, both on offense and defense. But we plan to go into Lynnfield on Thursday and make a statement. We’re on a mission.”
It goes without saying that the Lynnfield Pioneers were seeking to match their rival and claim a State Championship for themselves. When the MIAA Division 6 tournament got underway, armed with a No. 5-seed and a 7-1 record, many football pundits agreed Lynnfield was the team to beat. But after shutting out No. 12 Swampscott, 28-0, the Pioneers traveled west to Hudson to take part in the Elite 8 and came up against a powerhouse No. 4, which eliminated the visitors, 28-13. Needless to say, Lynnfield may have an axe to grind when the Hornets pay a visit.
“We know Lynnfield will be ready,” said Blum. “They have size and experience up front and players who are capable on both sides of the ball. Any time you go against a team like that, particularly with so many weapons, you have to play disciplined and reduce the big plays.”
In total agreement with the discipline philosophy is quarterback Jason Berry, who has led his team to a 304-198 scoring margin over opponents. One thing is for certain, Berry is not afraid to put in extra work. No sooner had the team wrapped up a two-hour practice session last Thursday, Berry and several receivers returned to the field to run more plays.
Otto Indelicato, who excelled after replacing the sidelined Will Batten at tailback early in the year, understands that Lynnfield obviously doesn’t want to suffer back-to-back losses to end their season. The same can be said for the Hornets, after their recent loss to Winthrop.
“I think this year’s game will be a completely different story from last Thanksgiving,” said Indelicato, who has rushed for 588-yards on 101 carries, with 8 TDs to his credit. “We put in a lot of work in the off-season and grew as players. I think that effort and the experience we’ve gained will translate into this game. This year, we’re focused.”
With several key defensive players sidelined with injury, Blum and his staff has turned to the youth of this team, to shore up the defense and provide leadership. Nick Torra represents this group and summed up the attitude of North Reading all through the year and as they wrap up their preparations for Thanksgiving.
“I looked at the game with Lynnfield last year and it helped align my goals for this year,” said the sophomore middle linebacker. “It was a great baseline and there’s nowhere to go from here but up. All around, we have a great brotherhood here. With just five seniors – five captains – it can be tough with the leadership aspect but everyone is stepping up. The atmosphere here is topnotch and it’s a privilege to be part of this.”
The 64th edition of the traditional North Reading-Lynnfield Thanksgiving game will take place at Lynnfield High School on Thursday at 10:30 a.m.