, Gloucester, MA

November 20, 2012

Hornets, Royals continue Thanksgiving rivalry

By Conor Walsh

---- — As the Manchester Essex football team worked through its training camp in August, the Hornets hoped their Thanksgiving Day clash with Georgetown would have postseason implications.

After a rash of injuries paved the way to a disappointing season for Manchester Essex (2-8), though, those hopes were dashed.

But while the impact of tomorrow’s game between the Hornets and Royals (10 a.m., Hyland Field) will reach no farther than the two communities, that doesn’t change the spirit of the game.

The Hornets have met Georgetown (1-9) every Thanksgiving since the 1960s and the two programs have moved together from conference to conference over the years. Tomorrow’s game highlights a year’s worth of athletic rivalry between the two schools.

So does it matter much that the two teams enter tomorrow’s game with a combined three wins?

“When it comes down to it, you don’t like it to be like this,” Manchester Essex coach Mike Athanas said. “You’d obviously rather have done better. But that’s the great thing about high school football and the great thing about Thanksgiving Day. You throw everything out and you’re playing for one game and you’ve got bragging rights for a year, so it’s a big game to win.”

On paper, Thanksgiving appears to offer the Hornets a good opportunity to end their season on a high note. The Royals are winless in NEC/CAL Tier 4 play and their lone win on the year came over lowly West Bridgewater.

Since that season-opening win, the Royals have been beaten by an average of more than 21 points a game and have found the end zone just three times in four conference games.

But just as the Hornets are using tomorrow’s game to erase a forgettable season, so is Georgetown. And for the season’s final game, the slate is wiped clean.

“We’ve been playing for a long time,” Athanas said. “It’s a big rivalry, it really is, in all sports. Not just football, but in baseball, basketball, lacrosse they all get into it. It’s usually always a good game no matter what’s going on, and the past few years it’s been tight and it should be a good, tough football game.”

As usual, above all else, tomorrow’s game will be about the seniors. For the likes of Cory Burnham, John Beardsley, Zac Fleming, Julian Flavin and Jake Fitzgerald, Thanksgiving week is a week of lasts.

Last preparations. Last time gearing up for practice after school. Last time fighting through the bumps and bruises.

And, tomorrow morning, the last time donning the uniform.

“It’s really weird,” Beardsley said. “It stinks that this is the last week and the last game, but it’s also kind of nice for it to come to a close in a game like this.”

“It’s crazy that this is the last game of high school for us seniors,” Burnham added. “Every time you get on the field this week, you never want to get off it.”

For those seniors, their final year on the field has been a disappointment. And while they clearly wish things had gone better this year, it’s got to come to a close at some point. What better way to close out a career than in a storied rivalry in front of throngs of fans on a football-crazed holiday?

“The kids are ready to go,” Athanas said. “It’s always a good day when you’re playing football on Thanksgiving.”