Thanksgiving Preview: Panthers vs Pioneers

Fels - #20 Stephane Smith

When North Cath­ol­ic shut its doors for good last year, it meant the end of one of the old­est tra­di­tions in the city. The an­nu­al Thanks­giv­ing Day game with Frank­ford — like all else as­so­ci­ated with the school — was re­duced to a memory in the minds of the play­ers, coaches and alumni.

Now, the Pi­on­eers hope to plant the seeds of a new Tur­key Day rivalry with Samuel Fels High School.

The Pi­on­eers and Pan­thers are new league rivals, as 2011 marked the first time they went head-to-head in the Pub­lic League’s Gold Di­vi­sion. However, things have been a bit too one-sided thus far for this match-up to come any­where near ap­proach­ing the fierce rivalry that Frank­ford and North boas­ted. 

Last Novem­ber, Frank­ford des­troyed Fels 49-22 on Thanks­giv­ing, and con­sid­er­ing their status in the city this sea­son could be well on their way to an­oth­er easy vic­tory.

For the Pi­on­eers, 2011 has been al­most a fairytale sea­son. Frank­ford went 7-3 over­all, claim­ing an ap­pear­ance in the Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship bout on Sat­urday. 

Des­pite rid­ing a sev­en-game win­ning streak in­to the title game, the Pi­on­eers’ dreams of cham­pi­on­ship glory were dashed. They lost, 20-13, to George Wash­ing­ton. 

The Thanks­giv­ing Day game, however, will provide the Pi­on­eers with an op­por­tun­ity to end the sea­son on a high note. Frank­ford will de­pend on seni­or run­ning back Kelly John­son — who is lead­ing the Pi­on­eers in rush­ing yards with 509 and sev­en touch­downs — and Sa­voy Mar­tin who has caught 20 passes for 487 yards and sev­en TDs, to lead its’ of­fense.    

The new­found Tur­key Day tra­di­tion also al­lows Samuel Fels — who has dealt with the grow­ing pains of mov­ing to a stronger, more com­pet­it­ive di­vi­sion, post­ing a 3-7 over­all re­cord (2-4 in the Gold di­vi­sion) — a chance to even up it’s short rivalry with Frank­ford. 

“A rivalry takes a long time to build, and this one was kind of just thrown to­geth­er,” Dog­gett said. “I’ve been at Frank­ford for 10 years, and that Frank­ford-North game was of­ten the biggest game of the year for us, even if we were com­pet­ing in the play­offs. For that reas­on, it’s hard for me to make com­ments on something that is still so new.”

That said, Dog­gett did have plenty of nice things to say about what Fels coach Bill Har­rigan has done with a pro­gram that is now com­pet­ing in the same di­vi­sion as per­en­ni­al powers like Frank­ford and Wash­ing­ton, as well as oth­er tal­en­ted pro­grams such as North­east and Ger­man­town. 

Last year, the Pan­thers were Pub­lic League Sil­ver di­vi­sion cham­pi­ons, and boast a very sol­id play­er in seni­or wideout/de­fens­ive back Ni­jay Kelly, who leads Fels in re­cep­tions, re­ceiv­ing yards and of­fens­ive touch­downs.

“The Fels coach­ing staff has done a really nice job at build­ing their pro­gram up,” Dog­gett said. “They’re start­ing to com­pete on the field, and they’re gradu­at­ing more and more of their seni­ors in the classroom each year. They’ve got some tal­ent and we cer­tainly can’t af­ford to take them lightly.”

In the teams’ only meet­ing this sea­son, Frank­ford coas­ted in a 38-8 vic­tory. Ju­ni­or quar­ter­back Tim Di­Gior­gio was his usu­al stel­lar self, com­plet­ing 9 of 20 passes for 144 yards and three touch­downs. 

For the sea­son, Di­Gior­gio has com­pleted nearly 60 per­cent of his passes for 2,053 passing yards and 26 touch­downs. It has been a sea­son for the re­cord books for the Frank­ford sig­nal caller, and with more time to de­vel­op, Fels hopes to be in the ex­act same po­s­i­tion the Pi­on­eers are in when it comes to com­pet­ing for league cham­pi­on­ships.

For now, two pro­grams at dif­fer­ent ends of the spec­trum will have to settle for con­tinu­ing to es­tab­lish a new tra­di­tion to re­place a rivalry that nobody will be for­get­ting any­time soon.

“That game (Frank­ford-North) of­ten seemed more im­port­ant than the city title,” Dog­gett said. “It takes time to de­vel­op a rivalry like that.” ••

Re­port­er Ed Mor­rone can be reached at Ed­ward.mor­

WHERE: Frank­ford Me­mori­al Sta­di­um

WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 24, at 9:45 a.m.

LAST YEAR: Frank­ford won, 49-22


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