Thanksgiving football preview: Northeast vs. Central

North­east’s Bri­an Green will play in his fi­nal Thanks­giv­ing Day foot­ball game for the Vik­ings.

Phil Gorm­ley found out pretty early on not to un­der­es­tim­ate the an­nu­al Thanks­giv­ing con­test between Cent­ral and North­east. 

Gorm­ley, in his first sea­son as North­east’s head coach, is no stranger to this game. A Vik­ings as­sist­ant from 1998-2008, he re­mem­bers when this game used to be played in the week be­fore the Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship. When dis­cuss­ing the im­port­ance — or lack there­of, Gorm­ley ini­tially thought — of Thanks­giv­ing with then-head coach Har­vey “Brew” Schu­mer, Gorm­ley learned a valu­able les­son on the in­tens­ity of this an­cient rivalry.

Cham­pi­on­ship? Who cares. Just beat Cent­ral on Tur­key Day.

“I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘Who cares if we beat Cent­ral on Thanks­giv­ing, we’ve got to pre­pare for Mast­baum in the cham­pi­on­ship,’ ” Gorm­ley said. “You would have thought I com­mit­ted sac­ri­lege. Brew looked me dead in the face and told me he could care less about Mast­baum as long as we beat Cent­ral on Thanks­giv­ing. That ini­ti­ated me in­to this rivalry.”

No mat­ter where he goes, Gorm­ley said, if he’s wear­ing a North­east foot­ball shirt, some­body will stop him, wheth­er it’s in the Phil­adelphia area, or down in Key West on va­ca­tion. In fact, when Gorm­ley spoke to the Times, he was on a re­cruit­ing vis­it with a cur­rent North­east play­er at Penn State, where former Vik­ing De­ion Barnes cur­rently plays.

“The last thing De­ion said to me when I saw him was, ‘Beat Cent­ral,’ ” Gorm­ley said. “All year long, no mat­ter where you’re at, this game fol­lows you around.”

With good reas­on. The North­east-Cent­ral battle is the longest con­tinu­ous high school foot­ball Thanks­giv­ing rivalry in the coun­try; not only that, but the sheer com­pet­it­ive­ness of the game adds an ex­tra lay­er of in­trigue to it: after North­east’s 14-12 nail-bit­ing vic­tory in 2012, the Vik­ings hold a nar­row all-time edge on the Lan­cers, 56-51-10.

As someone who has both played and coached in this game, Cent­ral head coach Rich Drayton agreed with Gorm­ley’s take.

“We start think­ing about this game the first day of camp,” Drayton said. “It means a lot to a lot of dif­fer­ent people. People come back and we all re­min­isce and talk about what it means. People stop me when I’m at the mar­ket, and they don’t ask me what our re­cord is. They ask if we’ll win on Thanks­giv­ing. If you win this game, all else is for­giv­en.”

For Drayton, a win would make for a di­vine Thanks­giv­ing. Cent­ral hasn’t won this game since 2004, al­though the Lan­cers sure came close last sea­son. The Lan­cers led 12-8 late in the fourth be­fore the seni­or QB-WR duo of Daquan Bo­han­nan and Devon Dillard hooked up on an 18-yard TD in the game’s wan­ing mo­ments, giv­ing North­east its eighth straight win in this sac­red con­test.

The 2013 Vik­ings (5-6) will look quite dif­fer­ent on Thursday morn­ing. Gorm­ley in­her­ited a roster gut­ted by gradu­ation, though the first-year coach did guide his youth­ful team to a play­off vic­tory over Lin­coln and a near-up­set of George Wash­ing­ton in the semi­finals. The tal­ent is there, es­pe­cially on de­fense, where end Gladi­mir Paul, tackle Will Smart and line­back­er Steve Rowe were All-Pub­lic se­lec­tions. In eight Pub­lic League games, the North­east de­fense al­lowed less than 14 points a game, in­clud­ing a 17-12 win over the Lan­cers on Oct. 4.

“All the cred­it goes to de­fens­ive co­ordin­at­or Rob Ford and as­sist­ant DC Seth Sha­piro,” Gorm­ley said. “They’ve done a phe­nom­en­al job and take a lot of pride in stop­ping the run.”

Cent­ral’s top of­fens­ive weapon, run­ning back Walt Pegues, gained 1,112 yards and scored 13 touch­downs on the ground; however, he rushed just five times for 26 yards against the Vik­ings.

“He wasn’t 100 per­cent in that game but he still had a re­ceiv­ing touch­down against them,” Drayton said of Pegues. “Early and of­ten, we’ll give him the ball. He can run it, he can catch it and he plays de­fense for us. What makes him spe­cial is his vis­ion, as well as the abil­ity to go from 0-100 in less than two steps.”

In ad­di­tion to Pegues, OL Sam Re­id and spe­cial team­er Bri­an Mose­ley were All-Pub­lic se­lec­tions. And al­though the Lan­cers (6-5) fin­ished fifth out of sixth in the Gold Di­vi­sion at just 1-4 (North­east was third at 3-2) and failed to make the play­offs, they have won four straight.

Both teams ex­pect to run the ball a good amount. Know­ing this rivalry, odds are the win­ner will likely be de­term­ined based on who tackles and blocks the best to go along with mak­ing the few­est mis­takes.

“This is the old­est Thanks­giv­ing foot­ball game in the coun­try, and it’s one of the main reas­ons I came back to North­east,” Gorm­ley said. “There’s no game like it. I know I could go 0-10, but if I win on Thanks­giv­ing I’d be bul­let­proof. It’s for brag­ging rights, and the vast ma­jor­ity of these kids will nev­er play foot­ball again. In 20 years when they come back for their re­union, they won’t be talk­ing about Eng­lish class. It doesn’t get any big­ger.”

Drayton agreed.

“It’s go­ing to be close, and the team that makes the least mis­takes and con­trols the line will win,” he said. “We ask the kids, ‘How do you want to re­mem­ber this? Do you want to talk about it or avoid it?’ Be­cause people will re­mem­ber this wheth­er you want them to or not. Every re­union, guess what they’ll talk about? Wheth­er we won or lost. 

“That’s something you can’t get rid of. It’s a good thing, but how about we make it a real good thing by win­ning?” ••


North­east’s Charles Mar­tin Sta­di­um


Thursday, Nov. 28, at 10 a.m.


North­east won, 14-12


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