Coaches preparing for Thanksgiving games this week with a Super Bowl appearance next week are faced with tough choices.
Just ask Milton coach Steve Dembowski, or Scituate coach Herb Devine, who are once again facing a dilemma.
In 2021, Scituate star Keegan Sullivan suffered an injury during a 22-14 loss at Hingham on Thanksgiving, but gutted through it to deliver the winning 2-point conversion in a 14-13 victory over Duxbury in the Division 4 Super Bowl.
Last November, Milton star Jack Finnegan was hurt during a 42-0 win over Braintree. Dembowski said his stalwart was playing at less than 100 percent when the Wildcats fell, 34-28, to Wakefield in the Division 3 Super Bowl the following Saturday.
So, how will these coaches handle their Thanksgiving matchups this time around?
“We don’t have hundreds of kids on our roster, so what do you do?” said Devine, whose team faces Hingham on Thursday and Duxbury on Dec. 1 in the Division 4 Super Bowl. “Two years ago we had kids playing to not get hurt. They were thinking about the big event at Gillette. We’re not playing Hingham for a league title, but they will be geared up for their last game of the season, and in that sense it’s not a fair fight.”
“It’s a no-win situation as a head coach.”
Dembowski and the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association have been working on a solution to this dilemma for more than a decade, and their proposal to shift the postseason beyond Thanksgiving, with fewer teams qualifying, is based on the model used in Connecticut.
For now, the MIAA’s Tournament Management Committee and board of directors have not approved any change. The football committee will present an updated proposal to the TMC next week.
“There’s no doubt we need an adjustment,” said Dembowski, the coaches’ representative on the football committee.
“All these leagues aren’t completed [until Thanksgiving]. Therefore all these power ratings, are really incomplete, because league play is such a huge factor. We’re almost there, and we need to take one final step and do what’s best for the kids.”
Milton, Walpole, and Needham have Bay State Herget title implications attached to their respective Thanksgiving matchups. Duxbury and Marshfield are playing for the Patriot League Keenan title, and St. John’s Prep is looking to clinch the Catholic Conference title with a win at Xaverian. Foxborough is trying to win the Hockomock Davenport by beating Mansfield, and King Philip must hold off Franklin on Tuesday night to win the Hockomock Kelley-Rex.
On top of balancing Thanksgiving games with Super Bowl appearances, several programs also have to consider how to game plan for a very familiar foe.
Xaverian and St. John’s Prep are meeting in the D1 Super Bowl (Nov 29, 8 p.m.) six days after their Thanksgiving matchup, but both coaches plan to go all out for a Catholic Conference crown.
“It’s Thanksgiving. It’s special,” said Xaverian coach Al Fornaro. “It’s always been important regardless of the record, postseason, or no postseason. I would be doing my seniors a disservice if we don’t go out to win.”
Walpole beat Milton, 42-23, on Oct 13, and Duxbury beat Scituate in a preseason scrimmage this summer. In a sense, the D3 Super Bowl (Nov 30, 8 p.m.) and D4 Super Bowl (Dec 1, 5:30 p.m.) are rematches.
“It’s exciting,” said Walpole coach Chris Sullivan. “It’s good for the Bay State Conference. We had a great game [against Milton] earlier this year and they’re going to be amped up.”
“We’re going to look at our film and look at their new film. Obviously they’ve adapted, we’ve changed, and we’re going to self-scout. You can’t do the same thing and think it’s going to work again.”
Early in the season, Dembowski told Sullivan he expected Walpole to reach the Super Bowl and hoped to meet him there. Now Walpole’s sixth-year coach is tapping his opponent for advice on how to handle a Thanksgiving game against Weymouth followed by the Super Bowl vs. Milton.
Scituate did not schedule Duxbury this season after dropping a regular season matchup, 44-22, to the Dragons last year. Devine said Duxbury got the better of his squad in a preseason scrimmage, but the Sailors have steadily improved since dropping three of their first five games to teams (Milton, Foxborough, and Hanover) that are now Super Bowl-bound.
Whatever they might know about the other program, it might be best for these coaches to avoid over-analyzing the matchup.
“As coaches, we overthink everything,” said Devine. “What are they thinking? If they run their base, how are they going to play it?”
“With Duxbury, they try to out-scheme you and take away what you do best. They’re not going to wow you with any crazy plays or formations. We’ve played them a few years in a row where we have a good idea of what they’re going to do, but they execute it so well. And you have to stop it.”