Ancient tradition awaits Northeast, Central

North­east QB Daquan Bo­han­non hopes to close things out on a pos­it­ive note against Thanks­giv­ing rival Cent­ral.

One of the most won­der­ful as­pects of Thanks­giv­ing high school foot­ball is that no mat­ter what, it’s al­ways the biggest game of the year.

Com­bin­ing the rich ath­let­ic his­tory of the neigh­bor­hood schools with every­body’s fa­vor­ite tra­di­tion of eat­ing tur­key and watch­ing foot­ball on this day pro­duces a dra­mat­ic at­mo­sphere, something that mem­bers of the North­east and Cent­ral High School foot­ball teams can cer­tainly at­test to.

“I have but­ter­flies think­ing about it right now, to be hon­est with you,” first-year North­east head coach Jim Adams said. “This game is un­like any oth­er dur­ing the year. The elec­tri­city in the air is spe­cial.”

Cent­ral head coach Rich Drayton con­curred.

“It is the biggest game of the year, re­gard­less of what your re­cord is (go­ing in),” he said. “It’s the biggest crowd of the sea­son. The alumni come back and the par­ents can see their kids play for once be­cause nobody’s at work … There won’t be any prob­lems mo­tiv­at­ing the play­ers.”

Not that these long­time Pub­lic League rivals would need mo­tiv­a­tion. Of the four North­east Philly Thanks­giv­ing match-ups, the North­east-Cent­ral con­test is the old­est; not only have these two teams played in 116 Thanks­giv­ing games, but they have par­ti­cip­ated in about as com­pet­it­ive a rivalry as there is. In the over­all series, North­east leads by a slim mar­gin — 55-51-10.

It’s a game both sides des­per­ately want to win for a vari­ety of reas­ons. Not only will the crowd be rowdy, but it also will act as the fi­nal foot­ball game in the ca­reers of most of the seni­ors.

“I told the guys at our open­ing prac­tice that I wanted them to en­joy every mo­ment of this, be­cause be­fore you know it, Thanks­giv­ing will be here,” Adams said. “Seize every second of it and soak it all in. For the seni­ors, it’s the biggest game of their lives, the one they’ll al­ways re­mem­ber. I can still re­mem­ber the play-by-play of my own high school (Pen­nridge) Thanks­giv­ing game against Quaker­town.”

Ad­ded Drayton: “You want to send them out on a high note. It’s the fi­nal time you coach them, and you get to see how far they’ve come not only as foot­ball play­ers, but as young men. I played in the game, and it’s true, you do re­mem­ber it ten years down the line.”

Of course, only one team can come out vic­tori­ous. Dur­ing the two teams’ meet­ing on Oct. 5, Cent­ral pre­vailed, scor­ing touch­downs on the first two series be­fore ul­ti­mately win­ning, 16-6. Both teams had sim­il­ar over­all sea­sons, and both Cent­ral (6-4 over­all, 3-2 in league) and North­east (5-5, 2-3) will look to head in­to the off­season on a pos­it­ive note.

The 2012 Coaches’ All-Pub­lic team fea­tures names from both sides. On of­fense, the Vik­ings boast first-team­ers in Sadeek Robin­son and Bern­ard Hou­s­ton, both line­men, which makes life easi­er for quar­ter­back Daquan Bo­han­non (1,503 yards, 16 TDs), run­ning back Rush­awn Grange (530 yards, three TDs) and re­ceiv­ers Devon Dillard (23 catches, 661, 10 TDs) and Shimeek Carter (28, 466, eight TDs). Carter and line­back­er Dav­id Pul­li­am were first-team­ers on de­fense.

“Their QB can throw the ball, and they have guys who can run after the catch,” Drayton said. “We have to put them on the ground with our tack­ling.”

For Cent­ral, run­ning back Jesse Gil­lis (595 yards, six TDs) and re­ceiv­er Walt Pegues (254 yards, four TDs) qual­i­fied as All-Pub­lic play­ers on of­fense, while nose guard Joseph Shep­herd and all-pur­pose ath­lete Ha­keem El­lis (also 488 rush­ing yards and four TDs) are de­fens­ive stal­warts. 

“They scored on us early and their run­ning backs (Gil­lis & El­lis) set the tone,” Adams said of the teams’ first meet­ing. “All el­ev­en guys out there have a job to do to make the out­come dif­fer­ent. Cent­ral is well-coached and fun­da­ment­ally sound.”

All in all, Drayton and Adams want their play­ers to en­joy the ex­per­i­ence. 

“The at­mo­sphere is just great, and I wouldn’t trade it for any­thing,” Drayton said.

Adams agreed, es­pe­cially go­ing in­to his first Thanks­giv­ing game as North­east’s head coach. (He was pre­vi­ously an as­sist­ant on Chris Ri­ley’s staff.)

“They don’t real­ize how pre­cious the time is, so I try to em­phas­ize how spe­cial it is,” he said. “I know how spe­cial it is, so I’m real ex­cited. I love do­ing it, and the kids are great. I feel very for­tu­nate and blessed for the op­por­tun­ity put in front of me.” ••

Sports ed­it­or Ed Mor­rone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or em­or­

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