For every senior football player in the state, except those representing the 16 programs suiting up at Gillette Stadium next weekend, Thanksgiving Day was the finale.
And more than a few saved the best for last.
In a 61-12 conquest of Gloucester that represented the largest margin of victory in the 56-year series — but also had early chippiness that resulted in the ejection of five players — Danvers clinched (9-2, 5-0 NEC North) its first Northeastern Conference title since 2005.
“The league title means a lot for the program,” said Danvers coach Ryan Nolan. “We’ve been close for the last five years so a lot of the kids understand how proud we are. The way we put it together this season says a lot about our team.”
Senior twins Russell and Rich Canova closed with a flurry, teaming up for 275 yards rushing with the latter scoring five touchdowns and the former anchoring the D with a double-figure effort in tackles.
“They’re both kids that did absolutely everything for us,” said Nolan. “Rich (1,300-plus yard rushing) put up gaudy numbers for us all season and Russ (100-plus tackles) was effective on both sides of the ball. They’re great kids on and off the field, nobody plays harder than they do.”
Thanksgiving morning featured tensions escalating at a handful of games, including a bench-clearing incident at the 132nd Needham-Wellesley meeting and testy exhanges at the conclusion of Nauset at Dennis-Yarmouth. In both cases, lopsided scores (27-0 and 41-0, respectively) resulted in tempers boiling over.
Nolan, for one, believes the lack of repercussions (the season is over) for Thanksgiving Day games resulted in carefree attitudes.
“It was an unfortunate event that wasn’t a representation of us or Gloucester,” said Nolan. “Sometimes teams may endure a frustrating season but the last thing you want to do is smear the program or the town you live in.”
■ Revere put itself back on the map with a fantastic 10-1 finish. And no player carried the flag for the Patriots more than senior Joe Llanos. In his finale, he delivered 389 yards rushing and six touchdowns as the Revere seniors become the first class to record a four-year sweep over Winthrop with a 46-21 win.
“I haven’t seen something like that in my 30-year career,” said Revere coach Lou Cicatelli. “He was a big part of our success and was one of the biggest reasons we were 10-1.”
Llanos, sidelined last year with a broken leg, finished with 2,000-plus all-purpose yards and 30 touchdowns.
Cicatelli called his seniors, led by Llanos and fellow captains Mazer Ali, Lucas Barbosa, Jared Benson, Jonathan Murphy, Zach Furlong, the heart and soul of a team that set a record for most wins in school history.
“It’s definitely the most successful class we’ve had,” he said.
“Just a great bunch of kids, a very loose bunch but hard workers every day in practice nonetheless.”
■ In Newburyport’s 41-20 win over Amesbury in the 96th Thanksgiving Day meeting, Newburyport senior Walker Bartkiewicz became the eighth player in program history to reach 100 points in a season with two touchdown receptions, two extra points, and a 2-point conversion.
Bartkiewicz, who first played the game three years ago, played offensive and defensive line, linebacker and fullback this season. He also booted a 47-yard field goal earlier this season.
“He’s one of the most versatile kids I’ve coached,” said Newburyport coach Ben Smolski. “He always put us in good situations down our end of the field. We struggled offensively this year but to have one player who was able to get 100 points goes a long way.”
■ Senior quarterback Nolan Ellis directed Dartmouth to its 10th consecutive holiday victory over Fairhaven, 41-0, with 119 yard on 12 carries, a TD pass, and a 75-yard pick-6.
“It was really a culmination of his whole whole high school career,” said Dartmouth coach Richard White. “We had a difficult season (4-7), but Nolan really stepped up in the second half. He had that look in his eye yesterday and he was ready to go. We had a good feeling about yesterday and I’m really happy for him.”
His classmate, captain Dylan Pacheco, who broke his femur midway through the season, participated in his final coin toss on crutches.
“I felt bad for him, missing his last high school game,” said White. “But it was good to have him there and we wanted to get the win for him.”
■ Medway quarterback Drew Plunkett was the driving force in a 7-4 finish for Medway, rushing and passing for 1,000-plus yards. In his finale, a 38-7 win over Millis, he threw for 275 yards and a pair of TDs while rushing for another.
“He was the heart and soul of this team,” said Medway coach Anthony Mazzolla. “You can’t replace Drew Plunkett.”
“Down the stretch, he was amazing to watch and he just made everyone around him better.
■ In North Reading’s 21-19 comeback over Lynnfield, senior Jack Keller (3 TDs) snared a go-ahead 29-yard TD reception with just over a minute remaining. Playing defensive end for the first time this season, he also had three tackles.
“So much of what we accomplished this season goes to the  seniors,” said North Reading coach Ed Blum.
“They’ll all be tough to replace but their hard work and leadership allowed us to find ways to win, and yesterday was a prime example.”
■ In the final game played at Calabrese Stadium in Billerica, the host Indians pulled out a dramatic 21-19 win over Chelmsford on a 28-yard field goal by sophomore Shaan Rana.
Chelmsford trailed, 18-6, with three minutes to play, but rallied on a TD run and a 49-yard scoring pass from Brett Baker sandwiched around an onside kick. But the Indians drove 68 yards in less than a minute to set up Rana.
“For a sophomore to step up in that situation with thousands of fans standing four or five deep all around the field, it was a huge kick,” said Billerica coach Duane Sigsbury. “It was a crazy scenario, but it doesn’t surprise me because of how hard Shaan works. He loves to kick and does a great job.”
■ The dilemma for Super Bowl-bound coaches played out once again. While Catholic Memorial (D1), St. John’s Prep (D1), Mansfield(D2), Melrose (D4), and Swampscott (D5) played their starters, Ashland (D6), Duxbury (D4), and Plymouth South (D4) did not — keeping their top players healthy — and absorbed sound defeats.
“It was a tough decision but we sat down as a team and made that decision based on what our goals were,” said Ashland coach Andrew MacKay after his Clockers (11-1) were dealt their first loss, 26-7, to Hopkinton. “We wanted to give respect to the 96-year-old rivalry, but at the same time safety was the most important factor.”
Ashland led, 7-0, when it pulled its starters after the first quarter. The Clockers were playing their second game in five days after beating Millbury in the state semifinals.
“It wasn’t about preparing for next week,” said MacKay. “We wanted to give our kids a taste of Thanksgiving football. But two games in five days is a lot for our guys who play both ways so it was the smartest decision for our kids.”
Duxbury, also playing its second game in five days, is preparing for a juggernaut Springfield Central squad that did not play on the holiday.
“To put us in the best position to try and get a win next week, which is going to be an astronomical task, this decision was made by our players and our team to give us the best chance,” said Duxbury coach Dave Maimaron.
■ The most telling sign your team is playing Stoneham comes when you pick up the roster at the gate. In Thursday’s 37-6 win over Reading in the 85th Thanksgiving meeting, the Spartans’ roster told fans everything they needed to know about the game ahead. Of the 59 players listed, 20 are either RB or FB. And try looking for WR. You won’t find one because there isn’t a single wide receiver listed on the 2019 roster. The same held true in 2018. So when Stoneham threw just two passes against Reading that were both incomplete it came as no surprise. One of those “FB” was senior Francis Vallesio who scored his first career touchdown in his last game . . . Lost in Reading’s disappointing 37-6 loss to Stoneham is the record-setting freshman season of Rocket quarterback James Murphy. In the second quarter Murphy hit Patrick Harrigan for an 18-yard touchdown, his 22nd touchdown pass of the year and a Reading single-season TD record. Entering the game, Murphy had been tied with former Globe All-Scholastic Drew Belcher, who went to play at the University of Maine, first as a QB, later as a tight end.
If you’re wondering what’s potentially ahead for Murphy, the state career touchdown record is held by Duxbury’s Bobby Maimaron (122). In 2013, Maimaron began his run with 16 TD passes as a freshman, six less than Murphy. Maimaron went on to throw 34 as a sophomore, followed by 32 and 40 his final season.
Maimaron is a junior at Williams College, where he threw 20 TD passes for the 7-2 Ephs this fall, raising his career total to 40.
■ Andover lost three of its first five games, including a 31-12 loss to a team from Wayne Valley (N.J.) on Sept. 6, before winning six of their last seven. Andover punctuated the year in dominating fashion with a 41-8 whupping of border rival North Andover on Thanksgiving.
“We were building last year and we’ve continued that,” Andover coach E.J. Perry said. “We’ve really had a great freshman class come in. You can see two of the spectacular ones (quarterback Scott Brown Jr. and running back Lincoln Beal), and then you have a great senior class. It was just unbelievable to see.”
Brown ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns, and Beal scored on a 41-yard run and had an interception in the first half Thursday. Perry recognized the 18 seniors in the postgame huddle for helping reestablish a winning culture.
■ The Holmes family was well represented in Mansfield’s 22-12 win over Foxborough. Vinnie, a senior, had 69 yards, a touchdown, and two sacks. Nico, a junior, was stellar on D. And Zander, a sophomore linebacker, had five carries in the fourth quarter.
“That’s one of the best feelings is having both of my brothers able to play,” said Vinnie Holmes. “We grew up playing football together in the backyard and now it’s translated onto the field. I’m so happy for them.”
■ In 2009, Brockton and Bridgewater-Raynham agreed to a 10-year pact to play on Thanksgiving and now as that agreement expires, both teams will be entering the Southeast 5 Conference in 2020. If they want to continue to play on Thanksgiving, they also must schedule a league game in the first seven weeks.
Correspondents Trevor Hass, Bob Holmes, Steve Sousa, Scott Souza, and Nate Weitzer also contributed to this story.