Take on Red Raiders tomorrow in 56th annual Thanksgiving Day Classic at Green Field
Published in the November 25, 2015 edition.
By JIM SOUTHMAYD
MELROSE — Major League Baseball uses the phrase, “This Time It Counts” to describe its All-Star Game every July which now determines which league gains home field advantage in the World Series each year.
In Middlesex League football circles, that phrase can be used to describe the Thanksgiving Day game again between the Wakefield Memorial High and Melrose High football teams. The two rivals meet in the 56th annual Thanksgiving Day Classic tomorrow morning at 10:15 a.m. at Fred Green Memorial Field.
After two seasons in which the two teams played their M.L. Freedom division contest in September under the state’s new playoff system, the M.L. principals and athletic directors voted to do away with the earlier meeting and give up the automatic qualifiers for the playoffs. That means that the Thanksgiving Day contest is a league game once again as it has been in the past.
The two teams have played each other once this year already as they met in the quarterfinal round of the Div. 3 Northwest playoffs on Oct. 30 at Green Field. Melrose won that matchup by a 21-0 score and hasn’t lost at all since as it will be returning to the Div. 3 Super Bowl for a second straight year. The 11-0 Red Raiders face Dartmouth on Saturday, Dec. 5 at 3:30 p.m. at Gillette Stadium.
Wakefield, which is 3-7 overall and 1-3 in the M.L. Freedom division, is a huge underdog tomorrow. The Warriors would like nothing more than to have a favorable result and give Melrose a blemish to its record headed into the Super Bowl.
“They’re 11-0 and we’re looking forward to the rematch,” said Warrior head coach Steve Cummings. “They want to keep the trophy (the Warrior-Raider trophy) over there and we would like to see it return to Wakefield. I know they are going to the Super Bowl but I’m sure they will play their top guys. It would be a letdown if they didn’t. Our guys are jacked up to play them again.”
“We play football to win. I don’t know any other way to approach it,” said Melrose head coach Tim Morris. “As far as anyone getting hurt, you can’t worry about it. Both teams are familiar with each other, so we both know what to prepare for. The Wakefield-Melrose Thanksgiving Day game is always a close game and I don’t expect anything else.
“They’ve continued to improve since the playoff game and they are always tough on defense for us,” continued Morris. “It’s always a good game. They’re well coached. The two programs get a lot of support and there is usually a good crowd.”
Melrose leads the longstanding rivalry, 57-41-6, with tomorrow’s game being the 105th meeting between the schools. The rivalry dates back to 1901. Wakefield, however, leads the Thanksgiving Day 29-23-3, which dates back to 1960.
The Warriors have lost three 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 five game win streak over Wakefield. Wakefield’s last victory was a 17-14 overtime victory in September 2013.
“I thought we played well against them in the playoff game but we need to cut down on our mistakes,” said Cummings. “We also need to do a better job cashing in. We didn’t capitalize on their mistakes but they did capitalize on ours. They are talented but we missed a couple of passes and, if we made a play here or there and scored, it would’ve been a closer ball game.
“They’re a good football team but if we play as well as we can, we can win the game,” added Cummings. “It’s also a league game. If we win, they split the league title with Burlington so I’m sure Burlington will be watching this game. We would like to put a blemish on the their record.”
Since Wakefield hasn’t won on Thanksgiving since 2011, the seniors on the Warrior roster have never defeated Melrose in November.
“We want to win this game for the seniors. That is our focus,” said Cummings. “They have three really good backs with (Mike) Pedrini, (Julian) Nyland and (Jay) Tyler. They have a great system. They don’t do a lot but they execute what they do very well. If you stop Pedrini from scoring like Danvers did, then it opens things up for Tyler and Nyland.
“We need to eliminate the yards after contact and keep them out of the third down and ones. We need to do a better job at the point of the attack and get them in third and long. They’re not as strong with the pass as they are with the run,” continued Cummings. “Defensively, we need to get after them.”
Wakefield gained only 86 yards of total offense in the first meeting and will need to be a better job if it wants to have a favorable outcome tomorrow.
“They make you earn everything you get,” said Cummings. “We need to sustain drives and capitalize when we have the chance. We we can keep it close into the fourth quarter, then we’ll have a chance. It’s a great rivalry and a great atmosphere. It would be a big win for our program.”