The biggest concern with the new high school playoff system heading into the season was that Thanksgiving rivalry games would lose their mystique.
Thanksgiving rivals that play in the same league, such as Triton and Pentucket, now play each other for the second time in a season on Turkey Day, and that’s if the Cape Ann League rivals don’t meet in the playoffs. Otherwise, they could meet for a third time on Thanksgiving.
Now that the Thanksgiving games are a week away, coaches and players have mixed emotions on the impact the new playoff system has had on Thanksgiving football.
“I think it’s lost its luster a little bit,” Amesbury coach Thom Connors said. “I still think the excitement around playing a rivalry game is high. But we’ve been out of playoff contention for three weeks, and Newburyport has been out for two. I think it has changed the ending to the season.”
Since 2007, the Amesbury-Newburyport Thanksgiving Day game has decided the Cape Ann League Small champion four times. This will be only the third time during that stretch in which the winner of the game is not crowned league champion.
Even with the new playoff system, Newburyport and Amesbury will continue to meet for the first time each season on Thanksgiving, unless they meet in the playoffs. Since Newburyport now plays in the CAL Kinney Division, and Amesbury is in the CAL Baker Division, the teams will not meet in the regular season.
Newburyport coach Ed Gaudiano believes the Amesbury matchup trumps anything else that might be at stake for the matchup. Newburyport lost to Amesbury 13-10 last season, and Amesbury clinched a playoff berth with the win.
“To the players on the team, they’ve been waiting for this since last year,” Gaudiano said. “Regardless of whether it’s for the playoffs or league championship, it’s always that way with us. The intensity of the rivalry is the biggest thing. It’s tough to lose a Thanksgiving game because it hangs with you for the whole year.”