It’s been marinating for the past 115 years.
Next week, it’s finally time to feast.
For the Northeast and Central high school football teams, Thanksgiving will provide much more than a delicious meal. It also allows the two Public League foes to continue a long lasting tradition that spans more than a century.
Northeast currently leads the Thanksgiving Day series, 54-51-10. The Vikings stormed past Central, 29-0, in last year’s contest, extending its Thanksgiving streak to six consecutive victories.
However, this time around, Central has all the right tools for retaliation. The Lancers went undefeated in league play this season (6-0), earning first place in the Public League Silver Division. Central is currently 8-2 overall, outscoring opponents by 148 along the way.
The Lancers have defeated Northeast once already this season, eliminating the Vikings from the postseason with a 28-20 victory in the Public League quarterfinals on Oct. 28.
Now, they have a chance at seconds.
“Number one, we know it’ll be a tough game, so we’re preparing for that,” said Central boss Rich Drayton. “It’s always a tough rivalry with Northeast. We’ve been playing them since forever. They always have a good team.”
The Lancers are armed with senior quarterback Ryan Dydak, who has completed 76 of 126 attempts this season for 1,101 yards and 18 touchdowns.
He’s connected almost perfectly with wide receiver Rich Drayton, who has snagged 40 passes for 598 yards this season. The 6-foot-1, 210 pound wide receiver is Central’s top scorer with 86 points.
On the ground, Jesse Gillis is the Lancers’ biggest threat. The 5-foot-6, 155-pound junior running back has rushed for 655 yards and six touchdowns this season. Junior running back Hakeem Ellis has acquired 464 yards of his own and 48 points.
Dave Oliphant, a 210-pound senior linebacker, has anchored the Lancers’ stellar defense this season and is expected to make a big impact on Thanksgiving Day.
“Our defense up front is very strong,” said Drayton. “We know it’ll be an intense game. We’re trying to come out and practice very hard and keep our intensity up. We’re also working on our conditioning because we know that we’ll be playing a full, tough game.”
On Northeast’s side, the annual rivalry could provide an opportunity for revenge. After claiming the Public League championship last year — for the first time since 1983 —the Vikings were prematurely knocked out of the postseason in the first round.
This could be their chance at paybacks.
“Hopefully we can continue the tradition of winning that we established over the past six years,” said Northeast head coach Chris Riley. “We had a lot of guys out sick with the flu, so we’re working with that, but I think it’ll be a competitive game. It always is.”
Northeast finished the regular season 3-3 in the Public League Gold Division (6-5 overall). They were guided by junior wide receiver LaQuille Nesbitt, who led his team in receiving yards (377) and scoring (54).
Shimeek Carter has also played a pivotal role with the Vikings this season. The senior running back rushed for a team-high 478 yards and seven touchdowns. Fellow running back Marquis Edwards sprinted for 317 yards and six touchdowns.
Quarterback responsibilities have been split between junior tossers Harold Alexander and Daquan Bohannan. Alexander completed 53 of 100 attempts for 1,064 yards and ten touchdowns. Bohannan went 23-for-52 for 336 yards and five TDs.
Northeast’s offense exploded this season. The Vikings won four games by more than 30 points, including two shutouts.
“The tradition of the game is obviously very important,” said Riley. “Both teams could be 0-for-10 or 10-and-0 and it’s still anyone’s game. This game means a lot to both schools. And now that we lost to them in the playoffs, it means even more.”
The Vikings and Lancers will continue their 115-year tradition on Thanksgiving, Nov. 24, at Charlie Martin Memorial Stadium. Game time is 10:30 a.m.
“Both schools have a very strong alumni,” said Drayton. “We get to see the alum come back and support the young guys who are playing now. It’s a great tradition.” ••
Editor Melissa Yerkov can be reached at email@example.com
WHERE: Charlie Martin Memorial Stadium
WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 24, at 10:30 a.m.
LAST YEAR: Northeast won, 29-0
NORTHEAST LEADS SERIES: 54-51-10