Published November 27, 2019


NORTH READING — This is not an insult intended for the scores of hard-working cooks, many who labor for hours over hot ovens perfecting their craft, but holiday meals tend to taste just a little bit better on the tables of Thanksgiving Day high school football winners.

At the tail end of last season, the post-game turkey dinners on the plates of the North Reading Hornets and their families were somewhat more savory following a decisive 32-0 blanking of archrival Lynnfield in the 60th edition of their traditional holiday meeting. That Hornet win, on one of the coldest Thanksgivings in history, marked the third straight but overall, Lynnfield maintains a 33-27 win-loss advantage since the 1958 inception of this rivalry.

As the Hornets go through their paces, preparing for the final game of the season and a chance to wrap up with an enviable 8-3 record, many would admit the club has an axe to grind, despite the obvious success.

Down the stretch, North Reading sustained three defeats in four outings, including Pentucket (28-0) in the regular season finale, Marblehead (27-7) in the Division 4 North playoff opening round, and last week, to a vastly-improved Wakefield (42-35) club in a postseason consolation game. A 34-26 win over Burlington in Week 9 thwarted an all-out collapse. For the Hornets, the rocky finish was a bitter pill to swallow after reeling off six straight wins at the outset of the 2019 campaign.

But the Thanksgiving game, which will be contested on home turf this year, has a tendency to right all wrongs, particularly for the departing seniors.

“Last year, prior to Thanksgiving, we had lost three-in-a-row,” recalled second-year coach Ed Blum, who has already successfully improved on his inaugural season finish of 6-5. “It was a really good way for that team and the program to end the year on a high note, playing really well. There was a carry-over into the offseason with the kids motivated and determined to use that as a springboard to further success.”

THE 2019 NRHS football team. The seniors are Matt Luciano, Ryan Kavanaugh, Aidan Carucci, Cam Randazzo, Jimmy Currier, John Cuddy, Matt Conley, Gerry Callagy, Jack Keller, Greg Demetri, Giovanni Colucciello, Sean McCullough, Brendan Downer, Eric Benecke, Michael Luker, Nick Tormey, Steven Kane, Jordan Madden, Nick McGovern, Michael Duquette, Jack Rich and Jared Zimmerman. The juniors are Sean Brown, Will O’Leary, Robert Tammaro, Brian Heffernan, Brayden Scribner, Will Taylor, Ryan Good, Jack Donohue, Aidan O’Sullivan, Zach Sampson and Kyle Baker. The sophomores are Ryan McCullough, Devin Tran, John Jennings, Jack Terranova, Aidan Smith, Spencer Beane, Andrew Powell, Daniel Ancri, Ethan Barnes-Felix, Ryan Long, Justin Bailey, Luke Benecke, Will Toro and Adam Bakr. The freshmen are Alex Carucci, Michael Hemme, Logan Scribner, Matt Guidebeck, Ty Rich, Christian DaCosta, Andrew Hopfer, Nicholas Cabral, Mateo Acuna, Zach Rosatone, Sam Morelli, Owen Delano, Anthony Pino, Jack Flaherty and Aldo Vittozzi. (Courtesy Photo)

Blum agreed that there is a huge motivational gap between finishing 6-5, as compared to 5-6 had the Hornets fell in defeat last Thanksgiving.

Instrumental in the Hornet’s success this season and the win over Lynnfield last year, senior Jack Keller had this to say about the upcoming Thanksgiving clash.

“It’s always nice going out against your rival and having success,” said the wide receiver and return man. “With that being said, that was last year and we’re looking to do some of the same this year. This team is special despite a few losses and this game means a lot, especially to the seniors. As long as we come out flying around, the boys should be eating good on Thanksgiving.”

Reaching 61 years on Thursday, the North Reading-Lynnfield holiday feud is tried-and-tested. According to longtime football scribe Tom Condardo, who covered this event for four decades – 11 seasons patrolling the North Reading sideline followed by 29 with Lynnfield – a lot has changed in high school football since his tour began in the mid-’70s.

“The biggest thing that has changed is the facilities,” Condardo said. “Everyone has lights and turf where in the ‘70s, everyone had grass fields. The only team in the Cape Ann League that had lights was Newburyport.”

Condardo went on to say that the one constant in high school football has been the dedication of the coaches who, as he explains, “devote an enormous amount of time putting the kids in a position to succeed.”

Covering both teams for such a long stretch, it stands to reason that Condardo remains the sage for the Thanksgiving Day game history over the years and has shared some of the more noteworthy clashes in his football blog.

In the late ‘70s, for instance, he writes about a formidable North Reading program that dominated both the Cape Ann League and Lynnfield, winning five straight holiday duels from 1977 to 1981. But the Pioneers turned the tables, claiming the Thanksgiving laurels from 1982-1986. Perhaps the most meaningful game during that era took place in 1978 when North Reading captured their first CAL title with a 28-8 defeat of Lynnfield on Thanksgiving. The next year, with a second straight league title locked up, a Hornets’ 13-6 win ensured a trip to the Division 3 Superbowl.

One of the reasons Lynnfield currently leads the series by six wins is due to the early years. The Pioneers reeled off seven straight before North Reading dealt them a 3-2 defeat in an obvious 1966 defensive struggle. The Hornets won two additional matchups before suffering eight more consecutive losses. But in the seventies, North Reading fared much better.

Since the turn of the century, North Reading holds a 12-7 record over Lynnfield, including three straight since 2016. From a scoring standpoint, the Pioneers hold a wide 1048-830 point margin over North Reading during the 60-year span. But part of the disparity is due to a slow start in the ‘60s by North Reading, which scored only 58 total points in 10 meetings with the Pioneers.

Despite pitfalls for each team this year, North Reading and Lynnfield arrive at the Thanksgiving season finale healthy and hungry to wrap up 2019 with a win. The Pioneers hold a slight edge with an 8-2 record to North Reading’s 7-3 mark but one could argue that the Hornets had a more difficult schedule, particularly down the stretch. Regardless, this game is for the athletes who have toiled through the heat of August and the cold of November to reach this point.

“In my mind, the Thanksgiving Day game is an important football tradition,” said Hornet senior Jimmy Currier. “You’re playing in your last game with kids you grew up with. As for our team and the brothers I’ve been fighting side-by-side with for the last four years, I’m confident we’re capable of anything.”

“We’ve been fortunate in recent years to enjoy success on Thanksgiving and there’s no better feeling than ending your season with a win,” said coach Blum. “And for the seniors, no matter the up-and-downs over four years with the program, they’ll always remember their last Thanksgiving Day game.”