Skippers host Rebels on Thanksgiving Day
“Huddle up,” the coaches barked. “Let’s go.” By 4:20 p.m., the light was all but squeezed out of the sky, but the coaches crammed six more plays into the final 10 minutes.
“Let’s go. We’re losing daylight. You have a game in two days, the most critical game of your lives.”
North Kingstown and South Kingstown will face off on Thanksgiving Day for the 11th time since their holiday rivalry resumed in 2000. South Kingstown has the edge in the modern series: The Rebels have won seven games, the Skippers four.
Few of the games have been close, but the 2008 game was an exception. It was an exciting game, according to South Kingstown head coach Eric Anderson said. The score was 21-20, when the Rebels went for the two-point conversion.
Tim Hazard, a fullback who was named First Team All-State twice, tried to get into the end zone.
“He didn’t get it down,” Anderson said, and North Kingstown ran the ball back all the way for a touchdown. Anderson said the Rebels still had a chance at the end but came up short. “We almost beat them on the last drive,” he said.
That year, the Skippers were a Division-I team with a winning record. South Kingstown was also a team to be reckoned with: They went on to win the Division-II Super Bowl.
This year, it’s a little different. The Rebels, now a Division- I team, are 1-10 overall and 0-8 against conference opponents. They have struggled to win a game, Anderson said. The Skippers, now a Division-II team, are 2-7 overall. They are 1-6 in the division and are also out of play- off contention. They lost their last game, 34-0, and haven’t won since their 49-14 victory against Pilgrim on Sept. 22.
But no one’s saying this game is meaningless. Rather, both sides claim there’s more at stake when they line up for their annual Thanksgiving rivalry game.
According to Anderson, if the Rebels bring home the trophy, the win shows they were better than their record, and the final scores didn’t tell the whole story of their season.
South Kingstown has been playing Division I teams and has lost “multiple games” by seven or fewer points. “I tend to feel there’s a pretty big disparity between Division I and II, but I guess we’ll find out on Thursday,” said Anderson.
The kickoff is at 10 a.m. at North Kingstown High School.
The Skippers also said Thanksgiving Day will be a day of reckoning when they find out how far they’ve battled back from three losing seasons.
The Skippers became a Division II team this season after the Rhode Island Interscholastic League reassigned them. North Kingstown had only won one game last year and failed to win a conference game in the three prior years. The new head coach, Joe Gilmartin, said the change would give the team a chance to rebuild and collect a few victories.
They want to end the season on a winning note, according to Jamestown’s Bill Piva, the Skippers’ assistant coach.
South Kingstown is also a litmus test, the players said, because they’re the only 2012 team that the Skippers also played last year.
“This is our first chance to play a team we played last year and see how far we’ve come,” Phil Bowe, 17, said. “That’s a big piece of why this game is so big.”
“We want to prove that moving down to Division II made us stronger,” said Alex Madoian of North Kingstown. Alex, 17 and a senior, is playing his last game for the Skippers. He says hard work, sticking together and not turning the ball over will be the keys to the game.
Alex said the Thanksgiving Day game is a morning game, and that’s different because the Skippers ordinarily play at night. But that’s about the only difference.
“You come out like it’s a normal game,” he said. “At the end, they give out the trophies. Hopefully, we bring the big one home.”
Jamestowner Drew McIntyre, who plays wide receiver and safety, said playing does make you feel part of a tradition. He had to sit out last year with an injury, so this is his first Thanksgiving Day game.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said.
Justin Zeramby, 18, is a running back from North Kingstown. He was named offensive MVP of last year’s Thanksgiving game, which the Skippers lost 38-18. Regardless of who wins, an offensive and a defensive MVP are selected from each school.
This year the Skippers have an edge: home-field advantage. “It’s time for a win,” said Alex Burke, the Skippers’ quarterback and co-captain who hails from Jamestown.
Overall, South Kingstown has a 13-6 edge in head-to-head Thanksgiving games. The teams started playing on Thanksgiving Day in 1946, and the first three years that the Skippers faced off against the Rebels, they were shutout – the total score of those three games was 71-0. The Skippers finally prevailed in 1953 with a 13-6 win.