Bedford coach Jack Belcher is used to preparing for Concord-Carlisle.
In years past it’s been during the month of November, with more than a week to prepare for the annual Thanksgiving morning game.
This year things are a little different.
The two sides meet under the lights Friday night, in the middle of the regular season, a byproduct of the MIAA’s new playoff system, as the Buccaneers host Concord-Carlisle on their brand new turf field in a battle of unbeaten Dual County League rivals.
The pair will also meet on Thanksgiving, but the outcome of that matchup will have no effect on the playoffs. The state tournament will already be three weeks in and Thanksgiving serves as an exhibition awkwardly stuck between the state semifinals and the Super Bowls.
From 2008-2011, the Thanksgiving Day meeting between the Buccaneers (2-0) and the Patriots (2-0) served as the DCL (Small) championship game, with the outcome deciding who went to the playoffs and whose season was over.
“Whoever wins has a leg up, but you still have a long way to go [in the regular season],” Belcher said of this year’s meeting. “You won that game the past five or six years, you go home knowing you’re league champs.”
Both Bedford (Division 4) and Concord-Carlisle (Division 3 Northwest) currently sit atop their respective divisions in the MIAA power ratings. If either team is preparing for the Super Bowl, Belcher said coaches could sit players to avoid an injury, which he called “strange.”
Concord-Carlisle coach Mike Robichaud said he saw no flaws with the former playoff system and liked that format the way it was with 11 regular-season games instead of seven.
“It’s well-intended to try to keep Thanksgiving Day tradition with your rival and I think that’s a good intention,” Robichaud said, “but . . . it’s a little bit of a head-scratcher.”
Bedford and Concord-Carlisle is just one case of Thanksgiving rivals meeting this weekend. Others include Plymouth North hosting Plymouth South, Melrose traveling to Wakefield, and Acton-Boxboro welcoming Westford.
Despite all the changes, both Belcher and Robichaud know this is an important game with playoff implications. The teams are tied for first in their league and only the first-place team is guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. The second-place team would more than likely qualify for the playoffs as well, but that’s based on the team’s power ranking compared to other runner-ups in their division.
The Buccaneers bring in an experienced group of seniors, including tailback Olan Abner, fullback Bobby McDonald and offensive tackle Billy Eliason. The Patriots’ seniors have less game experience, but have a promising sophomore quarterback in Austin Hoey to go along with junior Will Blumenberg on the outside and senior Jeff Adegbe and sophomore Kejuan Farquharson in the backfield. Concord-Carlisle also has a girl kicker, Abbey Ojemann, who hit all five extra-point attempts in a win over Lexington last week.
Robichaud hasn’t noticed any stray in concentration from his players despite the odd timing of this week’s game.
“All they’re really talking about is this is their rival,” Robichaud said. “This is obviously a critical game along the way towards our goal, which is to hopefully win the league.”
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The going doesn’t get any easier for No. 3 St. John’s Prep Saturday when it hosts No. 5 Everett at 1:30. The Prep is coming off a pair of double-digit wins over Top 10 teams — Central Catholic and Brockton — while Everett (1-1) had a bye last week to try to improve from its 20-8 loss to now-No. 1 Xaverian on Sept. 13 . . . No. 6 Mansfield (2-0) hosts No. 18 North Attleboro (2-0) Friday evening as Hockomock League plays kicks off . . . Newly appointed No. 1 Xaverian (2-0) will try to break the curse of the top spot when it travels to No. 20 Barnstable (1-1) Friday for a 6 p.m. kickoff . . . When Malden (1-1) hosts Malden Catholic (0-2) Friday there’s more than just a game involved. A field dedication ceremony will be held at 6:30 p.m. in honor of the late Ed Melanson, a longtime Malden High School athlete, coach, and athletic director.Bob Holmes of the Globe staff contributed to this report.