League title on the line in the 57th annual Thanksgiving Day Classic
Published in the November 23, 2016 edition.
By JIM SOUTHMAYD
WAKEFIELD — Since the new playoff system was established in 2013, this is the first year that the Wakefield Memorial High and Melrose High football teams will square off for the first and only time on Thanksgiving Day.
The only 2016 meeting couldn’t be bigger, however, as the 57th annual Thanksgiving Day Classic has Middlesex League Freedom division championship implications. Game time is at 10:15 a.m. at Landrigan Field.
The Warriors enter the game with a perfect 4-0 league record and have already clinched at a share of the M.L. banner. Wakefield has its eye on the whole prize, however, and doesn’t want to share.
Melrose, meanwhile, is 3-1 in league play with with its only M.L. Freedom division defeat coming against Watertown (4-1 in the league). A Red Raider win will result in a three-way tie among Wakefield, Melrose and Watertown.
“It’s been a while, I believe 2010 or 2009, there has been league title implications on Thanksgiving,” said Warrior head coach Steve Cummings. “We haven’t had this much on the line for a while, so there is a lot more riding on it. Winning on Thanksgiving and winning the title outright will be a great way for our seniors to go out.”
Melrose leads the longstanding rivalry, 58-41-6, with tomorrow’s game being the 106th meeting between the schools. The rivalry dates back to 1901. Wakefield, however, leads the Thanksgiving Day series 29-24-3, which dates back to 1960.
The Warriors have lost four Thanksgiving Day games in a row and haven’t posted a November victory against the Red Raiders since they prevailed by a 3-0 score in 2011, the last time the Warriors played in a Super Bowl. Including regular season, playoffs and Thanksgiving, Melrose currently has a six game win streak over Wakefield. Wakefield’s last victory was a 17-14 overtime victory in September 2013.
“It always is a big game regardless of the league title,” said Melrose head coach Tim Morris. “There are always two good teams that are well coached. The young quarterback (Mike) Lucey has been coming along. They always have good skill players. We’ll have our hands full.”
Another prize on the line is the Warrior-Raider trophy which goes to the winner of the Thanksgiving Day Classic each year. Wakefield lost it in 2012 and it has been at Melrose High ever since.
“We lost the (Warrior-Raider) trophy in 2012. Our seniors have never held it. It’s been at Melrose since then,” said Cummings. “Coming in the preseason we had a couple of goals. One was to win the league and we have accomplished that with at least a share. Considering we finished in last place last year, it is quite a compliment to the players on our team.
“Another goal was to beat Melrose,” continued Cummings. “We haven’t been able to worry about it all year, but now this game is finally here. We want to reach both goals and they are tied in together.”
Wakefield will have to beat a Red Raider team that is led by league MVP Mike Pedrini. Pedrini, a senior running back and captain, can run and catch the football. He also returns punts and kickoffs. Anytime Pedrini touches the ball, he is a threat to get into the end zone.
“Pedrini was the runaway MVP of the league and is a two-year MVP,” said Cummings. “He has a tremendous skill set. He’s been making big plays against since his sophomore year when we played them three times. He had a big 60 yard catch against Luke Martin in the first game. He made a big difference in the playoff game. In the Thanksgiving game in the snow, he scored a touchdown and the two-point conversion to put Melrose up by one.”
Pedrini scored two touchdowns last year in the playoff game and two TDs in the Thanksgiving Day game.
“He’s a solid kid and competitor,” said Cummings. “I don’t know if we can stop him, but we need to contain him and not allow 60-70 yard runs.”
In addition to Pedrini, Melrose is led by senior QB Jack Mays. In addition, Melrose is led by senior captains, Steve Abbott and Collin Casey.
“Melrose has a senior class that is used to deep playoff runs having played at Gillette Stadium,” said Cummings. “They didn’t go far this year but they know how to win the close games. We need to find a way to get it done. It’s not by accident that Melrose is in this position. They lost to Watertown by two points and by one point to Waltham. They also lost 18-6 to Gloucester. They had one touchdown called back and ran out of time on another. They could easily be undefeated.
“Melrose is a team that you know what you are going to get. You know they are going to run a 4-4 defense and they’re well coached,” added Cummings. “They’re not going to help you out. They use limited formations but play at a high level.”
The Warriors also faced Gloucester and lost by a 34-13 score. Wakefield was banged out for that game against the Fishermen and having been using the extra time between games to get healthy as well as practice to get ready for Melrose.
“We’re about as healthy as we have been,” said Cummings. “The layoff has helped. We held out some players against Gloucester and the extra time to heal has paid off.”
Morris feels that the M.L. Freedom division is very balanced and there were several games for most of the teams that could’ve gone either way.
“We are all about the same,” said Morris. “We’re all good teams. Wakefield, Melrose, Stoneham and Watertown were right up there. Burlington had a tough year with its coaching situation. Wilmington was a little down but they have some tough kids. It’s good to have those games under your belt. We are going to have to play the full 44 minutes.
“We are going to have to play good, consistent football to win,” added Morris. “We need to avoid or eliminate mistakes and penalties. We want to play our best football of the year and I’m sure Wakefield does too. That is what it is going to take to win.”
The weather may be factor as there is a little rain in the forecast for Thursday. There have been several wet games this season so both the Warriors and Red Raiders should be used to the conditions.
“Hopefully it will be a nice day and the conditions are decent,” said Morris. “We’ll usually have a big crowd and good weather helps.”
“Both teams have to deal with it. We still have to go out and win a ballgame,” said Cummings. “For the seniors it will be a big way to go out if we can win the game. We need to go out and execute the game plan.”