Though still in his first season as the Father Judge head football coach, nobody needs to tell Mike McKay how important Thanksgiving’s game against Abraham Lincoln is. McKay should know … after all, he played in the very first one.
Back in 1975, the former Crusaders’ quarterback suited up with his teammates and made the traditional short walk from Judge’s campus down Rowland Avenue. That first contest between the two local rivals ended like many others have: with a Judge win.
“I did play in that first game back in ‘75, and preparing for this game has let me re-visit that first walk over to Lincoln,” said McKay, whose Crusaders will look to take a 35-3-1 lead in the series on Thursday. “I’ve been thinking about it more and more, how there will be so many people there from the school dating all the way back to when I played. This game has such importance in the neighborhood, and it would mean a lot to have the team succeed and win the game that day for all the alumni.”
Though three decades have come and gone since McKay last suited up for the Crusaders (6-4), helming the program in year one has brought back a flood of memories. Still though, McKay did everything he could to deflect the attention away from himself, instead diverting it back to his first class of seniors who helped get him acclimated in his first year back. For many of the seniors on both sides, this contest will be the final organized football game they’ll ever play.
“My mind has been with the seniors,” McKay said. “It should be special for them, and I want nothing more than for them to go out with a win in their last game. From the first day I got here back in April, I’ve relied on their experience. We have 23 seniors, and they’ve been with the program through the tradition of this game. I want to show them my gratitude for what they’ve done for me in my first year, as well as for the program the time they’ve been here.”
Judge won last year’s game, 41-0, but the 2013 team looks starkly different. Not only has McKay replaced Tommy Coyle as head coach, but Lincoln (5-6) head coach Ed McGettigan will have to deal with two explosive running backs Judge didn’t have in last year’s contest. First, there’s senior Marquis Seamon, who played in just one game last year after sustaining a fractured wrist and rushed for 581 yards and six TDs in 2013; then there’s sophomore Yeedee Thaenrat, who in his first varsity season rushed for 961 yards and nine scores. Those two, along with senior captain and middle linebacker Joe Nigro, also anchor a defensive unit that pitched three shutouts and allowed just under 15 points per game this season. Both were first-team All-Catholic selections on defense in the secondary, as was senior linebacker Jim Galasso. Kicker Connor Foley was a first-team selection, as well.
“It’s always our toughest matchup of the year,” McGettigan said. “Those two guys (Seamon and Thaenrat) are special running backs. They’re both game-breakers, and we can’t just focus on one of them because the other will kill us. It’s a tough task, and it all comes down to the line play. We have to get off their blocks and stop the run. We just tell our kids to do what they’re coached to do. They want to win so badly that sometimes they try a little too hard. If they do their jobs, good things will happen.”
The Railsplitters, of the Public League’s Silver Division, qualified for the playoffs this year but lost to Northeast in the first round. They are led by senior QB Devon Thompkins, who accounted for 12 total touchdowns; Thompkins is one of several Railsplitters to be named to the All-Public Silver Division team. The others: Dante Davenport and Cody Kettyle (OL), Travon Williams (WR), Demarkus Jones (RB), Chris Trench (DL), Taylor Gaines (LB) and Jobed Jennings (DB).
Judge also made it back to the postseason, falling in the Catholic League semis to La Salle, 35-0. Both teams are itching to get back on the field, a fact that may ring truer for Judge — while Lincoln has played two non-league games since its playoff loss, this will be Judge’s first game since the Nov. 1 loss to La Salle.
No matter which teams come out on top, both head coaches agreed that the old neighborhood rivalry is the perfect way to close out the football season while kicking off many’s favorite holiday.
“It’s a tradition that goes back to the ‘70s, and it’s just a great day,” said McGettigan, who also has played in this game. “You feel more excited when you see the size of the crowd, and the goose pimples are a little bigger on this day. We just want the seniors to go out and play their best and leave it all on the field. They’ve been a great group, and they’re excited.”
“It would mean a lot to win this game, for the current seniors to the alum that go back to before I played,” McKay said. “Our guys have committed to the practices and look forward to playing in this game. Whether you’re a sophomore or a senior, everyone has a goal for this game. We’re very focused.” ••
Abraham Lincoln High School
Thursday, Nov. 28, at 10 a.m.
Father Judge won, 41-0
JUDGE LEADS SERIES: 34-3-1