THE SENIORS will lead the 10-1 Hornets into Pioneer Stadium to meet 4-5 Lynnfield on Thanksgiving morning at 10:30 a.m. Pictured in the front row from left to right: Aidan Smith, Andrew Powell, Devin Tran, Justin Bailey, Daniel Ancri and Luke Benecke. In the back row from left: Daniel Oliveira, Ryan Long, Ryan McCullough, John Jennings, Spencer Beane and Casey O’Connor. (Adele Vittozzi Photo)



LYNNFIELD — As the traditional Thanksgiving football game between archrivals North Reading and Lynnfield approaches, there is a distinctly different flavor this year as compared to the most recent meetings between these storied programs.

On the strength of a 31-14 defeat of Cape Ann League foe Pentucket last Friday night in the MIAA playoff semifinals, top-seed North Reading will make the trip to Gillette Stadium on Wednesday, Dec. 1 to face No. 2 Swampscott for the Division 5 Super Bowl title. Kick-off is set for 8 p.m.

Indeed, the championship represents the game of a lifetime for many of the participants but the question has been raised as to the impact on the holiday game with Lynnfield, which precedes the Gillette visit.

North Reading head coach Ed Blum, who improved to 10-1 with the playoff win, dispelled rumors floated about a lesser approach to this traditional contest.

“We’re in an enviable situation, even having this discussion,” said the coach. “The updated playoff system puts a number of fortunate football programs in a position of having to play their Thanksgiving game before the Super Bowls. But in our case, it’s about reminding the kids why we play this game and the importance of the tradition to the community that has supported them all season.”

Blum pointed out that playing Lynnfield “the right way” will provide an opportunity to gauge the Hornets’ readiness, clean up a few things his staff has noticed, and stay true to a practice routine that has obviously yielded impressive results.

“There’s still a lot we can do execution-wise,” he said. “We want to be going into that Super Bowl with the right mindset. That doesn’t mean we take a week off and lose focus or approaching Thanksgiving with anything less than one hundred percent.”

Both North Reading and Lynnfield have toiled through a full slate of games this season and the programs have taken diverging paths. The Pioneers, for instance, were winless in October, dealt five straight defeats by Newburyport, Hamilton-Wenham, Pentucket, Amesbury and Triton before turning a corner with back-to-back wins over Shawsheen Tech and Georgetown in consolation round games. The Pioneers, currently 4-5, look toward the Thanksgiving visit by North Reading as an opportunity to conclude at .500.

“I was talking with their coach (Pat Lamusta) and it appears they’re fully healthy,” said Blum, whose only loss was to Amesbury mid-season. “We know they’re going to bring their best and our challenge will be getting our kids prepared to match that. They have nine seniors and they’re definitely seeking a .500 finish. There may also be somewhat of a revenge factor.”

Blum was likely referring to North Reading’s recent Thanksgiving success which includes wins in four straight games since 2016.

As many will recall, the 2019 edition featured a dramatic finish when Lynnfield, trailing 21-19 with five seconds remaining, had a chance to win it with a 35-yard field goal. Pioneers’ placekicker Blake Peters had a proven leg and the wind at his back but literally missed by inches, “doinking” the ball off the upright. The missed kick triggered pandemonium at Arthur J. Kenney Field as the North Reading faithful heartily celebrated a huge holiday triumph.

Going into that memorable game, North Reading had dropped three of four down the stretch, finishing the campaign at 8-3 overall. Lynnfield, meanwhile, wrapped up with an identical record.

Hornets’ players, coaches and spectators alike, still buzzing after the riveting conclusion to 2019, were already looking forward to see what 2020 would bring. Little did they know, at the time, that a devastating pandemic would soon reveal itself, infecting scores of people and wreaking havoc. In many instances, lockdowns became a necessity and the outbreak gave rise to countless safety rules, as well as new terminology such as “social distancing.”

Along with other restrictions, athletic activity at all levels was scratched. Certainly football, with its close contact, could not be safely contested. Gridirons around the land remained deserted throughout the fall season and Thanksgiving 2020 was quietly celebrated under the pale of the pandemic. Needless to say, this year’s resumption of organized athletics was a welcome change, signaling a return to normalcy.

The seniors today were sophomores when the last Thanksgiving Day game took place in 2019 and most observed from the sidelines. They include Daniel Ancri, Justin Bailey, Adam Bakr, Spencer Beane, Luke Benecke, John Jennings, Ryan Long, Ryan McCullough, Casey O’Connor, Daniel Oliveira, Andrew Powell, Aidan Smith and Devin Tran. This is their opportunity to add a great football memory they’ll be able to share for years to come.

The inception of the Thanksgiving Day game between these rivals can be traced back to 1959, a year when Dwight Eisenhower was President, a postage stamp cost 4-cents, the price of a new Ford Fairlane was less than two thousand dollars, and a gallon of gasoline was 30-cents. Over a 61-year history, Lynnfield holds the upper hand with a 35-26 win-loss advantage but North Reading has steadily been closing the gap. Historically, there is a relatively wide scoring margin separating the clubs with Lynnfield at 1,067 points and North Reading trailing with 851.

Blum had made it clear that his team will not leave anything on the field and play Lynnfield to win, not just go through the motions. Oddly enough, the North Reading Super Bowl opponent, Swampscott, will face Marblehead on Thanksgiving, which has also qualified for a Super Bowl appearance.

“Thanksgiving represents a great opportunity to get out in front of the community,” said the coach. “There are people that might not have been able to get out to a game and this is their one-a-year. It will certainly be a coaching challenge to prepare for Thanksgiving Day and the Super Bowl the week after, but the motivation is there and I’m confident. I think we’ll make it a memorable Thanksgiving for North Reading.”

The 62nd edition of the Thanksgiving Day meeting between North Reading and Lynnfield will take place at Lynnfield High School at 10:30 a.m.