— After watching a teammate get wheeled off the field on a gurney, Northeast rallied for an emotional Thanksgiving victory over Central.
In the moments following Northeast’s thrilling, come-from-behind 14-12 Thanksgiving victory over Central, it was easy to forgive Shimeek Carter and his teammates for being a tad overexcited.
“Man, I’m about to go streak down Cottman Avenue right now, I’m so excited for this win,” Carter said with a laugh.
As far as we know, Carter refrained from such a lavish post-game celebration, even if every member of the Vikings had plenty of reasons to be elated.
For starters, just winning this annual Thanksgiving Day event brings enough bragging rights in and of itself. In the longest and most competitive of the Turkey Day rivalries (Northeast now leads the all-time series, 55-51-11), emerging from this contest victorious represented the capper for two teams that qualified for the Public League playoffs but failed to make a legitimate championship run. The Vikings have won eight Thanksgiving games in a row over Central, ensuring that the game’s top prize — a trophy of a wooden horse — would remain at Northeast.
Not only that, but the Vikings played the game’s second half with heavy hearts, having watched senior teammate David Pulliam get carted off the field on a stretcher after a defensive collision with teammate Harold Alexander just under four minutes before halftime. Alexander was fitted for a neck brace and watched the second half from the Northeast sideline, but Pulliam was taken to Albert Einstein Medical Center after being immobilized, placed on a gurney and loaded into an ambulance — all in the middle of the field of play.
“They didn’t know what happened, so they didn’t want to move him,” said senior linebacker Shahir Gates. “It hurt us a lot. We wanted to come out and play our hearts out and win this game for him.”
Hours later, the Pulliam family (younger brother Anthony is a junior member of the Vikings) had lots to be thankful for, as David Pulliam left the hospital no worse for wear. But as the clock inched toward noon on a beautiful morning at Northeast’s Charles Martin Stadium, the game went on.
Up 8-6 at halftime (David Pulliam had scored on a one-yard TD run and offered a beautiful block on the conversion run less than a minute before he was injured), Central struck immediately on the first play from scrimmage after halftime. The Lancers got a 41-yard touchdown run out of the Wildcat formation from receiver Walter Pegues, giving Central a 14-12 advantage.
The score stayed that way until the waning moments of the fourth quarter, when the Lancers turned over the ball on downs and Northeast took over on the Central 48. Facing a 3rd and 17 from the Central 18-yard line, Northeast senior quarterback Daquan Bohannon (also a safety and the team’s punter) faked a toss to his left and rolled to the right. Just before a wall of Central defenders met him, Bohannon flicked a beautiful pass that found the hands of senior wideout Devon Dillard in the back of the end zone. Of Bohannon’s 17 touchdown passes this season, nine went to Dillard, also a Vikings cornerback.
“I told our coaches, give me that route and I promise I’ll catch it,” Dillard said. “As soon as he threw the ball, I knew we were going to win the game.”
It was an especially sweet moment for Bohannon and Dillard, who were left off the Coaches’ All-Public Team despite boasting better numbers than players who made it. Over the course of the season, Bohannon threw for 1,549 yards, while Dillard had 707 receiving yards and 11 total scores. One of the Vikings’ assistant coaches, Dave Davis, expressed outrage over the snubs earlier in the week and was downright giddy that the Bohannon-Dillard connection ended up winning the Vikings the game.
“As a team, we used it as fuel,” Dillard admitted. “The team knew what happened, and it made us play even harder.”
Bohannon (3-for-9, 46 yards, 1 TD) and Dillard (3 for 46) certainly had help. Carter rushed 11 times for 49 yards, while Malik Adams (all 5-foot-2 of him) helped move the chains on nine rushes for 40 well-deserved yards. The offensive line (which Dillard praised profusely following the game) of center Dan Mushat, guards Bernard Houston and Brendan Mixson and tackles Sadek Robinson and Jerome Brown stood firm, while Anthony Pulliam (four tackles), Gates and William Okrafo-Smart all made key plays on defense in frustrating a stagnant Central offense.
“I just remember coming in on that last drive knowing we were going to punch it in,” said Carter. “We were going to fight for every yard. This is my family right here.”
“Just to be able to say we beat those guys one last time,” Bohannon said. “It’s very special.”
Northeast treated first-year head coach Jim Adams to a post-game Gatorade shower. It was an uneven year for the Vikings, who finished 7-5 overall and lost to eventual champion Frankford in the Public League semifinals. Still, Adams, a former Northeast assistant who spoke of the importance of the Thanksgiving game in the week leading up to it, was thankful that his team never quit.
“This game was just like our season, up and down,” Adams told his team afterward while triumphantly waving the horse trophy above their heads. “But you didn’t give up, and now this is staying here. Thank you … thank you!”
For many of this game’s top contributors — namely Bohannon, Carter, David Pulliam, Dillard, Adams, Gates, Houston, Alexander and Robinson — this one served as their final Thanksgiving contest. Because most, if not all, of these seniors won’t play football at the next level, winning the last one was particularly special. In the week leading up to it, Adams fondly recalled his own Thanksgiving games as a high school player years ago; he also said he emphasized to his players during the team’s first practice on Aug. 13 to soak it all up, because before they knew it, Thanksgiving versus Central would be here.
Now, the game has come and gone. For a lot of these players, their football careers are over, making this win … what, exactly?
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Dillard said. “We’re glad we won the game, obviously, but at the same time, it’s the last game with your teammates. We don’t want football to be over.”
But this is the cyclical nature of high school sports. Players come and go, and when the end finally arrives, they’re forced to subsist on memories. However, this Northeast team that never lost a Thanksgiving game to Central built enough of those memories to last the long haul.
“Being here for four years, you hear about this game and when you look back at scores from past years … it makes you want to come out and put your own footprint on history,” Carter said.
“The guys on this team, they’re some of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” he said. “This game meant so much to us. Being down late in the fourth quarter, we showed how hard we were willing to fight. We may argue and we may fight, but at the end of the day, we stick together. I’m just glad we were able to pull it out.” ••
Sports Editor Ed Morrone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or firstname.lastname@example.org