Published November 21, 2018
By JAMES CRANNEY
LYNNFIELD — Jim Nantz firmly believes The Masters golf tournament has always stood the test of time as “a tradition unlike any other.” Despite all the hallowed traditions looming around the grounds of Augusta National, Mr. Nantz may have overlooked this one tradition we in Massachusetts hold so dearly. The leaves have fallen, the Halloween decorations have returned to the basement, and the once humid air now stings with frigidness. It can only mean there is one thing creeping around the corner…Thanksgiving Football.
In Massachusetts, with some rivalries dating back as far as the late 19th century, it is tradition that every Thanksgiving morning you go head-to-head with your most hated rival and duke it out. This upcoming Thanksgiving morning, like the 59 prior, the Lynnfield Pioneers (3-7) will go head-to-head with archrival North Reading (5-5).
Coming out on top as the victor will not only enhance the flavor of your turkey and stuffing, it solidifies bragging rights for the proceeding 365 days. Ask any former high school player throughout the state and they will tell you the same thing, it’s all about winning on Thanksgiving.
“A Thanksgiving victory would be a major positive for the program and players as we move into the offseason,” stated Lynnfield head coach Pat Lamusta who is preparing for his first Thanksgiving game as head coach. “For many of our seniors, this will be their last football game, so a win would be so important for them as they move on to the challenges approaching in their post-football lives.”
Coach Lamusta also knows his team will be facing quite a few challenges this upcoming Thursday. Despite losing their last three games after a 5-2 start, North Reading looks just as strong as ever and will be plenty to handle for the young Pioneer program. Going into this annual clash, there will be three keys to look out for.
North Reading run game
For years, the Hornets have prided themselves on their ability to pound the ball on the ground. Although having one of the most successful passing seasons in recent memory (1,404 passing yards and 19 touchdown passes from senior quarterback Matt Solecki), these Hornets will still pound the ball right down your throat.
“We are focused in on their running attack,” said coach Lamusta. “They have two great backs that can change a game at any moment.”
Behind a great offensive line, those two workhorses in the backfield are sophomore running back Will O’Leary, who led the team with 90 carries for 529 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, and senior captain Alex D’Ambrosio who finished the year with 69 carries for 427 yards and four touchdowns.
To stop such a high-powered offense, you need a dynamic defense. The heart and soul of this Pioneer team all season long has been the players on the defensive side of the ball. Although they might not be the ‘85 Bears, this defensive group does their job and does it well. In so many games during the season when Lynnfield would stall on offense, the Pioneer defense would dig their heels in and grant the opposing offense nothing.
There would not be a better example than Lynnfield’s previous game against the Witches of Salem. After a great start to the game on offense, the Pioneers struggled to move the ball on offense in the closing moments of the game. When the Witches had the ball deep in their own territory, the Pioneer defense turned the momentum of the game by forcing a fumble. That turnover would give the Lynnfield offense the boost they needed to punch the ball into the end zone to secure victory.
After beginning the season 0-4, the almost always competitive Pioneers found themselves in unfamiliar territory. The team could have easily packed it in for the remainder of the season, but they didn’t. In the closing six games of the year, Lynnfield managed to go .500 showing heart and determination in every single game. A win on Thanksgiving would also give the Pioneers their third consecutive victory in a row, and would be quite the redemption story from where they began.
Given that the last victory against the rival Hornets came over two years ago, a Thanksgiving triumph for Lynnfield would go a long way in redeeming this 2018 season.
“A Thanksgiving victory can reshape the whole outlook of a season,” said coach Lamusta. “I know our players will compete and are committed to finishing this season strong.”