Thanksgiving football preview: Judge vs. Lincoln

Joe Nig­ro, Judge’s in­tense de­fens­ive cap­tain at middle line­back­er, will play in his fi­nal Thanks­giv­ing Day game against Lin­coln.

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


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