By Tim Lima
---- — WEST NEWBURY — The Pentucket football team will look to continue on the winning path on Thanksgiving, adding to its vast success against Triton recently and historically.
Thirty-eight times the Sachems have taken on the Triton Vikings on the morning of Thanksgiving. Of those, the Pentucket Sachems enjoyed a happy holiday 23 times. In the past 10 Turkey Day match-ups, Pentucket won eight, including the last three meetings. Other than its recent success against Triton in late November, Pentucket was also successful earlier this season against Triton, winning 19-13.
Last season, Pentucket enjoyed its Thanksgiving turkey after manhandling Triton 40-12 in a game in which then-senior running back Cody Rothwell found the end zone three times, rushing for 252 yards and capping his season with more than 2,019 rushing yards.
This begs the question: Do the Sachems feel that they have Triton’s number?
“Not at all,” Pentucket coach Steve Hayden said. “Our kids know that this is going to be a tough game. Our kids will show up, as we know Triton’s kids will show up.”
Hayden is no stranger to facing Triton on Thanksgiving, as this is his 32nd season as the Pentucket head coach. Hayden currently has 191 wins and owns an impressive 76.4 winning percentage.
The Sachems fought their way to a 7-2 record this season and earned the Cape Ann League Kinney Division title. While getting off to a strong start, beginning 5-0 and not losing until Oct. 25, Pentucket has since gone 2-2 including a tough-fought loss to Bedford in last week’s second round playoff bout.
While seeing your season come to an abrupt end before Thanksgiving is a possibility due to this year’s unique playoff scheme, gearing up for a rivalry game may not have the same luster. Hayden has chosen to lead his team with the understanding that it was just another loss, and looking to rebound is no different than it has been all season.
“A loss is a loss,” Hayden said. “You just have to get back to work. Such is the same with life.”
Rather than relying on strong offensive performances this season, Pentucket has relied heavily upon a defense that surrendered an impressive 12.6 points per game. Controlling time of possession on offense has helped Pentucket’s defense, keeping them off the field. This is done by a steady, consistent run attack. Against Amesbury in their first regular season game, for example, Pentucket managed to rush for 283 yards on 32 carries, earning just under 9.0 yards per rush on its way to 42 points and a 1-0 record.
The Sachems will be facing a Triton team led by impressive quarterback Bradley Whitman, who found great success earlier in the season despite his recent struggles. The Vikings managed to score 77 points combined in their first two weeks, and scored more than 20 points on five separate occasions. In the past two weeks, Whitman has thrown six interceptions and has managed to score a total of just seven points. Triton will also be without one of their best players on Thursday, running back Justin Spillane, who tore ligaments in his thumb after just three carries in last week’s game against Newburyport. Spillane, who witnessed Pentucket’s relentless offensive attack last Thanksgiving, knows that the key to stopping the Sachems is defense.
“They have an offense that can move the ball down the field and control the clock, so we need our defense to really step up for us,” Spillane said.
It is clear what Triton’s game plan will be: score, and score a lot. The games that they have won have come by way of the blowout, outscoring their opponents 177-40. When they have lost, it was usually by way of a nail-biter, falling in four of their five losses by 13 points or less.