Published in the November 21, 2018 edition.
By DAN PAWLOWSKI
WAKEFIELD — There is no time to decide whether you like it or not. The game is tonight.
With no record of a Wednesday night Wakefield-Melrose Thanksgiving game to be found, this will at least be historical.
Considering the freezing temperatures expected on Thursday morning, Wakefield decided they would host the game tonight, 5:30 p.m. at Landrigan Field where the estimated high will be 36 degrees, which is about 20 degrees warmer than the current estimated temperature on Thanksgiving morning.
The two schools have pushed the game to Friday before, most recently in 2014 due to a snowstorm, but they have never rescheduled to Wednesday night.
While comparing this scenario to the past seems ill-advised as it’s projected to be the coldest Turkey Day in more than 100 years, lets just say this would have been an unlikely outcome when Wakefield head coach John Rafferty was playing in his last high school game for the Warriors in 1970. Rafferty won the Shawmut Award for Most Outstanding Player in that game as Wakefield beat Melrose 20-0 on Thanksgiving Day.
Ask Rafferty what he remembers most about that game in Melrose and you might be able to understand what’s at stake.
“The crowd,” said Rafferty. “It was as if Green Field was a compass in a bowl. It was packed. It was incredible. I’ll never forget it. From our perspective, there was just unbelievable support from the Wakefield fans.”
While Rafferty admits getting 14,000 fans to a Thanksgiving game might never happen again, it’s the atmosphere and the tradition of this rivalry that provides indelible memories for everyone involved. Just ask Wakefield senior captain Mike Lucey.
“I used to go to the game when I was a kid,” said Lucey, a three-year starting quarterback for Wakefield. “I always looked up to the kids who played in this game and I always wanted to be in their shoes one day.”
“One of the major aspects of the holiday of Thanksgiving is high school football,” added Rafferty (prior to the game change). “The number of people that go to the game and what it means to them. It’s always going to be exciting.”
From that perspective, and considering all the incredible moments and wild outcomes starting with their first Thanksgiving rumble in 1960, it feels a bit amiss.
Ironically, the beauty of tonight’s Thanksgiving appetizer is the historical aspect. It will be memorable, so make the most of it.
The Warriors enter the game with a 3-7 record while Melrose is 6-4, but the Warriors will be underdogs for more than one reason as they try to snap a seven-year Thanksgiving losing streak against the Red Raiders.
Mirroring the decline in high school football registration across the state, the Warriors enter the game with the smallest numbers in recent memory. Wakefield dressed just 23 in their last contest against Boston Latin on Nov. 9. It’s a major disadvantage, as most will have to play both sides of the ball, but the leaders of this Wakefield team view it a little differently.
“We’re closer this year,” said senior captain Danny Marinaccio. “In past years with a bigger team, you wouldn’t have as much interaction as a group, but since we don’t have as many guys it’s like we’re brothers. We know that each guy has each other’s back out there.”
Marinaccio, himself, is a storyline in this one. After missing all but two games due to an injury this year, he will play both sides of the ball tonight as a linebacker and running back. In just two games against Wilmington and Boston Latin he has four rushing touchdowns and Wakefield just happens to be 2-0 with “33” on the field.
Lucey, who leads the team from the QB spot and has six TD passes to go along with two rushing scores, has worked hard all year to keep his less-experienced teammates focused.
“We have to make sure that everyone’s ready for the game because you never know,” said Lucey. “With so little numbers, one person getting hurt can mean a younger kid can get in. Everyone’s gotta be ready.”
Fitting for the youth of this team, Wakefield’s touchdown leader is Aidan Sweeney who put together an incredible freshman season, accounting for 11 rushing touchdowns and plenty of “He’s a fresh-man” chants from the Red Sea.
Melrose, who averaged the same number of points scored this season (28) as points allowed, are led by dynamic running back, captain Kevin Peete. However, it’s the balance of this team that has Rafferty, who spent eight seasons as an assistant in Melrose in the ‘90s, spending some extra time on his defensive gameplan against his old friend Tim Morris.
“They have great size and strength up front and a number of good running backs who all run with speed and power,” said Rafferty of the Red Raiders. “They’re a complete team. They can run, throw and they do a great job on special teams.”
Melrose had an up-and-down season but are coming into tonight on a two-game winning streak with wins over Belmont and North Reading.
Meanwhile, while the Warrior defense continues to work on getting reps for younger players forced into action, the offense was great down the home stretch, averaging 28.8 points over their last four games, culminating in a six-touchdown outing against Latin.
“It was a step forward for us in a lot of ways being able to effectively run the football,” said Rafferty. “At the end of the day you have to be able to run the ball. It showed that the offensive unit has been practicing well and you could literally see it. Things were much crisper. It was nice to see that come to fruition.”
Wednesday or Thursday, it’s evident that these Warriors are far more concerned about putting an end to a more recent mini-tradition on Thanksgiving.
“Even though our season hasn’t gone the way we wanted we can still end off on a good note so that the seniors and everyone else next year can come into the season off a win,” said Marinaccio. “Wakefield hasn’t won on Thanksgiving in a while so if we can pull off a win that would be huge.”
“It’s time to re-write history,” added Lucey.
Wouldn’t that be fitting on this Thanksgiving Wednesday?