Chicopee, Holyoke play for pride in Thanksgiving Day matchup

Nov. 21, 2012
By Chris Maza

GREATER SPRINGFIELD – There are some games during which the old cliché about records having no bearing on the intensity of the game is actually true.

Count the Thanksgiving Day rivalry game between Holyoke and Chicopee among those games.

The longest-running holiday football series in Massachusetts will kick off for the 104th time at the Roberts Sports Complex at Holyoke High School at 10:30 a.m. with this year's teams looking to put an exclamation point on what have to be considered disappointing seasons for both sides.

While win-loss records would indicate Holyoke is an underdog, Holyoke coach Bob Lastowski cautioned that history would indicate that spectators should expect the unexpected.

"The Thanksgiving game always means so much. Holyoke-Chicopee is a great rivalry," he said. "The past two years ended in comeback, late-game victories, by us in 2010 (32-26), and by them in 2011 (13-12)."

Chicopee (4-5) was in the midst of the Division 1 playoff race before stumbling to the finish with back-to-back losses.

After running back Michael Slaughter flattened Putnam with 211 yards and three touchdowns in Chicopee's 41-16 romp on Oct. 19, Chicopee was slammed two weeks later by Amherst's running attack, giving up more than 400 yards of offense and four touchdowns to the Hurricanes' Kieran Presley alone in a 42-20 loss..

Any hope of climbing back into the playoff picture all but disappeared at the Nov. 12 Sword Game against Chicopee Comp. With not only pride, but playoff status on the line, the Pacers gave up a 14-point halftime lead to Chicopee Comp to fall 33-21.

The loss dropped Chicopee to sixth in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) power ratings behind Comp and Northampton and mathematically eliminated them from consideration.

"The importance of this game is huge for us because we lost a tough one to comp and we want to end this season on a high note," Chicopee coach Alex Efstratios said.

With that in mind, the Pacers will look to bury the Knights along with any lingering heartache over surrendering the sword with a punishing ground game highlighted by Slaughter, who has more accumulated more than 1,100 yards on the ground in nine games and has run for 133 yards or more in each of his last three games.

"We've already forgotten about Comp," Efstratios said. "We're going to keep doing the same things we've been doing. We're going to run our big dog Michael Slaughter and see what happens."

For Holyoke (2-8), postseason aspirations were quickly out the window. After an up-and-down 2-2 start to the season, the Purple Knights have had a hard time staying competitive with its AA Conference opponents, thanks in part to a rash of injuries to key contributors.

A non-conference 37-30 loss to East Longmeadow would measure as the team's best effort during a six-game losing streak, which has included blowout losses to Longmeadow (49-0), Minnechaug (42-0), Agawam (42-21) and Central (58-0).

"This year, the game means everything to my guys, as we are just 2-8 after a season of inexperience and devastating injuries – we played both Agawam and Central, for example, minus 11 starters," Lastowski said. "We should have several key players back; we are looking at this game as a way to salvage our season, in a way."

Lastowski said the key to victory for the Knights is containment – Slaughter may get his yards, but Holyoke must prevent them from coming in bunches.

"We expect Chicopee to run the ball, with Michael Slaughter getting the bulk of the carries," he said. "We need to keep him, quarterback Jovan Jackson, and anyone else from ripping off long gains. If we tackle well and come to play, it should be a very good game."

South Hadley at Chicopee Comp, 10 a.m.

There's nothing quite like a rivalry game with a little extra kick to it. For South Hadley and Chicopee Comp, the Suburban League crown is on the line.

"I can't make a prediction, but I can guarantee this: it will be an exciting, hard fought game by two teams that have a mutual respect for each other," South Hadley coach Eric Scammons said.

With the exception of a 28-14 loss to defending Division 1 Super Bowl champion Longmeadow, the Tigers have cruised through their schedule to an 8-1 record overall and a 5-0 mark in the Suburban League. They currently sit atop the MIAA Division 2 power ratings and are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs.

"I know our players are excited to play for a championship. They have worked towards their goals all season and want to finish what they started at the end of last year," Scammons said. "They know we are in the playoffs regardless of the outcome, but I don't think their turkey would taste quite as good if we came up short on Thanksgiving. It won't be easy, but nothing they have accomplished thus far has been."

With a host of weapons in the backfield including Bryan Shippee, T. J. Fitzell and Riley Villenueve behind quarterback Sean Rondeau, the Tigers have literally run over opponents.

For Chicopee Comp (5-4, 4-1) at stake in addition to the league title is a shot at the Division 1 playoffs.

The Colts' come-from-behind win – their fifth straight after losing their first four – over Chicopee propelled them into the fourth and final playoff spot according to the MIAA power ratings. In that game, The Colts scored three touchdowns in a span of about three minutes and quarterback Tom Duffy passed for more than 200 yards for the fourth time this season.

"Their skill players are very talented and their quarterback, Tom Duffy, can keep plays alive with his elusiveness. His eyes are always downfield and if you lose discipline for a moment he can find the open guy and make you pay," Scammons said. "They really put stress on the defense by spreading out and forcing you to play sound fundamental football."

Kyle Soja has also played a huge part in Comp's success, scoring twice in the Sword Game – including a 44-yard fumble recovery in the fourth quarter.

"In my opinion he is the heart of the team. He is the obvious leader of that team, not only physically, but emotionally. The sword game was evidence of that," Scammons said.

Trailing the Colts is Northampton, which had been sliding with three straight losses before keeping themselves in it with a win over Westfield.

One thing going for Comp is that it controls its own destiny. If Comp pulls out a win, it can clinch that final playoff spot. Northampton must win and hope for a Comp loss in order to qualify.

"[Comp] Coach [Mark] Schuerfeld and his staff have done a great job of rallying the team after a rough 2011 and a tough start to 2012. I give him a lot of credit because I know how hard it is to keep kids invested when wins are hard to come by," Scammons said. "I am sure he is proud of how the players have stayed dedicated; they are finally reaping the rewards of their hard work and commitment."

Minnechaug at Central, 10 a.m.

Central High School has been at the top of the rankings since they topped Longmeadow on Oct. 12 and since then no one has really come close to overtaking them.

The Golden Eagles have an undefeated record in Western Massachusetts, including a 6-0 mark against the AA Conference. Their lone setback of the season is a 33-14 loss to the state's top-ranked team, Everett.

"The Thanksgiving game versus Minnechaug is a very important game on our schedule. For the last couple of years this game has had serious playoff implications. This year isn't any different," Central coach Valdamar Brower said. "We're approaching this game like a playoff game because we have a playoff team as an opponent."

Agawam at West Springfield, 10 a.m.

Agawam (2-8) has not been able to translate its prolific passing attack into wins, but the Brownies sure can be fun to watch.

After making a late-season run to qualify for the playoffs in 2011, there wan no such magic this season for West Springfield (2-7) after starting quarterback Anthony Costa was injured.

Cathedral at Westfield, 10:30 a.m.

Cathedral (1-9) won its season opener at Ludlow 28-24, but since then has gone winless.

Westfield's 2-8 record doesn't quite indicate how well this team has played.

On Nov. 2, they gave Central a big scare in a 19-14 loss and nearly completed an amazing comeback against playoff contender Northampton a week later.

Dean Tech at Easthampton,

10:30 a.m.

Dean Tech (0-9) is still in search of its first win of the season, but it doesn't appear that Thanksgiving at the Williston Northampton turf field will be any friendlier than the rest of its season.

Easthampton (6-4) is guaranteed a spot in the Division IV playoffs.

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