Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving Day football game promises to make for an interesting addition to the nearly century-long rivalry featuring the Clippers and the Indians of Amesbury High School.
While the first meeting between the two teams came in 1891, 90 games are recorded by both teams (Newburyport leading 47-37-6) while countless others were undocumented. Nonetheless, when the two teams face off tomorrow morning, a lasting tradition will be renewed for at least the 91st time.
The victor and the holder of the J. Walter Chase Trophy will not earn the Cape Ann League title as its has the past three seasons, for that honor has already been settled with Pentucket winning the CAL Kinney Division and Lynnfield winning the CAL Baker Division. For Newburyport and Triton, however, the inability to win the league championship on Thanksgiving does not subtract from the overall feel that the year’s annual big game presents.
“Thanksgiving is always the biggest game of the year, regardless of record,” Newburyport defensive coordinator Mike Smolski said.
Players, such as Amesbury quarterback Mac Short who is going into his third time playing on Thanksgiving, agree that this is no ordinary week.
“It’s much different,” Short said. “In the regular season, you get the thrill of playing in a game, but on Thanksgiving you take in a rivalry and you play against kids you’ve played against your whole life. You always look forward to playing on Thanksgiving.”
Newburyport is looking to rebound from last year’s disappointing nail-biter loss to Amesbury — a game decided by just a field goal. While the game last year was even from the get-go, this year’s contest promises to be similar. Newburyport enters Thanksgiving 5-5 while Amesbury holds a 4-6 record.
Though inconsistent at times, Amesbury’s offense has scored just under 20 points per game, even after scoring just 21 combined points through the first three games of the season.
“(Amesbury) can do a lot of different things,” Smolski said. “Their quarterback is pretty decent and shows he can throw the ball. They aren’t going to come at you one-dimensionally.”
Along with a strong run and pass game, Short has the ability to take off running at any time.
“A lot of what we do is designed to be sprint-out passing so I can take off and scramble if need be,” Short said. “Sometimes we run plays designed for me. It comes in handy to be a dual threat, and I take pride in that.”
Newburyport’s defensive captain and strong safety Trevor Bradbury knows that Short’s ability to scramble has to be a top focus for his team heading into Thursday.
“They have a good quarterback who is athletic and can run the ball,” Bradbury said. “They’re going to have bunch formations and spread stuff. We have to look out for that.”
The play of Bradbury will be vital in stopping Short. Bradbury has been playing with a sore shoulder through much of the season, but after separating his other shoulder three weeks ago against Bedford, his availability on Thursday may or may not be in question.
“It’s still undecided,” Smolski said. “He will be dressed, but it will be a last-minute decision.”
Bradbury, a senior preparing to play in his final game, disagrees.
“I’m expected to play,” Bradbury said. “I got the doctor’s note to be cleared (Tuesday) and I am ready to go.”
Other than the leadership abilities possessed by Bradbury that earned him his role as a team captain, his football instincts are relied upon heavily to stop the competitor’s offensive attack.
“He’s without question a leader out there and is without question our smartest player on defense,” Smolski said. “He can’t be replaced. When he’s in there, he brings toughness to the defense.”
Seniors Bradbury and Short, among others, will be playing their last high school football game. Some players, including Bradbury, cannot believe that tomorrow will be their final game.
“I have played since fifth grade, so I can’t believe that this will be my last game,” Bradbury said. “I’m going to try to leave it all on the field and have no regrets.”
Others, like Short, are just trying to enjoy the moment, reminiscing on an enjoyable football career.
“Over the span of four years, you build a family,” Short said. “You grow from an innocent freshman to a smaller picture of what you are going to be like in the future. The fact that this is our last game together gets us all pumped up and excited, but it is emotional too.”