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This Thanksgiving more at stake in ‘Battle of the Bridge’

Finally, the “Battle of the Bridge” Thanksgiving rivalry game is for more than just pride and a trophy.

In year eight since Amherst Regional and Northampton started playing on the holiday, the teams have potential postseason bids to play for when they square off at Community Field in Amherst at 10 a.m.

“It’s fantastic. It’s the first time this game has had a meaning beyond the rivalry,” Amherst athletic director Rich Ferro said. “The guys are definitely gearing up for it. They are excited for the prospect of moving on, but also for the excitement of playing this game and having it mean something.”

Northampton (6-4) has the best chance to extend its season. The Blue Devils can clinch the fourth and final seed in the Western Massachusetts Division 1 field with a win and a South Hadley win against Chicopee Comp.

The Colts clinch the fourth seed if they can knock off the Tigers. Things will get interesting if both Comp and Northampton lose, as other results could change the power rankings enough to flip No. 4 Chicopee Comp and the No. 5 Blue Devils.

Amherst (5-3), meanwhile, needs to win and have a handful of other games go the right way for a chance to leap No. 4 Commerce in the Division 2 power ratings.

Still, there’s a chance and having a pair of teams with winning records square off in one of the best rivalries in WMass is likely to make Thursday one of the best attended games of the series.

“I think it will bring out the crowd,” Northampton AD Jim Miller said. “It will be very exciting. It’s going to be good for the sport at both schools.”

Ferro said approximately 400 people attended the game in 2010, the last time it was in Amherst, and he hoped the teams’ improvements will mean a significantly larger crowd.

“I’ve heard from a lot of people who haven’t attended recently and they are coming on Thursday,” Ferro said. “The interest has definitely grown.”

Northampton is 4-3 against the ’Canes since the game moved to Thanksgiving, but Amherst has won the last two years by two points each. The Blue Devils hold a 37-28-3 overall advantage in the series.

Getting into the postseason “would mean a lot,” senior lineman Harrison Tremaine said. “It would be the first time in a long time. We just need to play our game. They are a great team and they have fast linebackers, a couple fast receivers that beat us last year. We have to play hard, play physical.”

Northampton will be without senior tight end and safety Shawn Wackerbarth, who suffered a leg injury in the team’s Nov. 9 win over Westfield.

Danny Mam will take over on the defensive end, while Andre Barnes and Peter Higgins will see time at tight end.

“I’m glad we’ve had the bye week,” Mam said. “It’s helped me know where to go and all the play calls and everything. I feel much more confident.”

SOMEONE’S UNBEATEN — There will be one — and only one — unbeaten team left in WMass after Pathfinder (10-0) plays at Belchertown (9-0) at 10 a.m. this morning.

The Orioles and Pioneers have clinched the top seeds in the D-3 and D-4 power ratings and the Intercounty and Tri-County championships, respectively.

This will mark their 12th holiday meeting. Belchertown leads the series 7-4 and has won three straight.

SUBURBAN LEAGUE UP FOR GRABS — There is a true league championship game today, as South Hadley (8-1, 5-0 Suburban) heads to Chicopee Comp (5-4, 4-1) at 10:30 a.m.

The winner of the contest will win the league title as the Colts will have the head-to-head tiebreaker with a victory.

While the Tigers have already clinched a D-2 postseason bid, Comp needs either a win or a Northampton loss and some help to reach the D-1 field.

South Hadley is 10-2 against the Colts on Thanksgiving and has won eight straight.

EAGLES DOMINATION — While the other three local games today are between relatively equal teams, Easthampton’s matchup against Dean Tech at Williston at 10:30 appears to be lopsided.

The Eagles (6-4, 6-1) have already clinched a D-4 tourney berth and take on the last-place Hawks (0-9, 0-7) to wrap up their regular season.

Easthampton has dominated the series in its three years to date, outscoring Dean 137-6.

TOURNEY DATES — The MIAA will announce its official WMass tournament pairings and schedules on Friday.

Semifinal doubleheaders are scheduled for Tuesday at Westfield State, Chicopee Comp, Holyoke and Mahar Regional.

The Super Bowls will be played Saturday, Dec. 1 with Division 2 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough at 6 p.m., and Divisions 1, 3 and 4 at Westfield State at times to be announced.

Jim Pignatiello can be reached at jpignatiello@gazettenet.com.

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