Thanksgiving has come a bit early for the Manchester Essex football team this season.
Not literally, but with Thanksgiving Day rival Georgetown squaring off against the Hornets tonight at Hyland Field (7 p.m.) before the last Thursday in November for the first time since 1990, the team is treating the game with the importance of a Turkey Day showdown.
The Hornets and Royals will meet again on Thanksgiving morning in Georgetown, and could meet another time in the Division 5 playoffs or consolation round, but head coach Mike Athanas’ team is only looking at the present, and treating the first meeting between the two longtime rivals as if its a postseason meeting.
“It’s a rivalry game, it is in every sport,” Athanas said. “We are treating this like it’s our Thanksgiving Day game, it’s a big game for both of us, the league opener, and everybody wants to start off the league schedule with a win.”
As it is with most rivalries, you can throw the records out the window when these two teams meet. Although the Royals enter the game with an 0-2 mark (Manchester Essex is 1-1), Athanas has seen them too often to judge them by their record.
“You can usually throw out the records on Thanksgiving,” Athanas said. “Who knows what will happen this week but that’s the way we’re viewing it and I think they are too.”
When the teams meet on Hyland Field tonight, they will do so with similar philosophies. Both teams run the spread offense, both teams like to run a balanced offense out of the spread, but the two take slightly different approaches.
Georgetown, who opened the season with losses to Cathedral and Greater Lawrence, runs the read option out of the spread formation with quarterback Colby Ingraham being the focal point of the unit. The Royals quarterback is a threat to run and a threat to throw, and the Hornets need to be wary of all his skills.
“(Ingraham) definitely worries me,” Athanas said. “We have to contain him defensively and go from there. He runs the read option well and they have other weapons they use a lot too.”
Those other options are wide receiver Patrick Bjork and running back Rob Dimento, who each had touchdowns against Greater Lawrence two weeks ago.
When the Hornets have the ball the game plan is simple, balance the offense and be wary of the Royals linebacking core, which is the strength of their defense.
Quarterback Craig Carter has already settled into the starting role nicely throwing for over 100 yards in each of the first two games while connecting with a wide array of receivers, his favorite target in the early going being Liam Logue (four receptions, 96 yards).
The Royals will have to respect Carter’s ability, but at the same time be wary of the Manchester Essex running game, led by senior captains Chris Dumont and Nate Riehl, a pair of tough runners who know how to pick up difficult yards.
A win will be a huge one for either team. The Hornets have a chance to move above .500 and position themselves well moving forward while the Royals can get on the board and build some momentum for the remainder of the Cape Ann League season.
Athanas knows it’s going to take a strong effort from his team to come away with a win.
“We are going to have to play well to win,” Athanas said. “It’s a big game for both of us, and neither team wants to lose to its rival.”