Thanksgiving football: Holyoke finally takes down South Hadley to claim Battle of the Bridge Trophy

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  • Holyoke receiver Jael Cabrera runs the ball on a jet sweep against South Hadley on Thursday in Holyoke. The Purple Knights defeated the Tigers 36-30 for their first victory over South Hadley on Thanksgiving. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Holyoke receiver Dymetri Gonzalez skies for a catch against South Hadley on Thursday in Holyoke. The Purple Knights defeated the Tigers 36-30 for their first victory over South Hadley on Thanksgiving. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • South Hadley’s Evan Piquette pulls in a touchdown catch against Holyoke on Thursday in Holyoke. The Purple Knights defeated the Tigers 36-30 for their first victory over South Hadley on Thanksgiving. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • South Hadley’s Evan Piquette carries a defender against Holyoke on Thursday in Holyoke. The Purple Knights defeated the Tigers 36-30 for their first victory over South Hadley on Thanksgiving. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Holyoke receiver Jael Cabrera stiff arms a South Hadley defender Thursday in Holyoke. The Purple Knights defeated the Tigers 36-30 for their first victory over South Hadley on Thanksgiving. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • South Hadley’s Owen Dawson breaks a tackle against Holyoke on Thursday in Holyoke. The Purple Knights defeated the Tigers 36-30 for their first victory over South Hadley on Thanksgiving. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • South Hadey’s Brock Fitzell breaks away for a 73-yard touchdown run against Holyoke on Thursday in Holyoke. The Purple Knights defeated the Tigers 36-30 for their first victory over South Hadley on Thanksgiving. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Holyoke’s Adrix Madera cuts up the field against South Hadley on Thursday in Holyoke. The Purple Knights defeated the Tigers 36-30 for their first victory over South Hadley on Thanksgiving. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Holyoke raises the Battle of the Bridge Trophy after defeating South Hadley 36-30 in their Thanksgiving rivalry football game Thursday in Holyoke. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Holyoke line coach Felix Colon raises the Battle of the Bridge Trophy, which Holyoke claimed for the first time Thursday after the Purple Knights defeated South Hadley 36-30 on Thanksgiving. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer
Published: 11/25/2021 4:43:15 PM
Modified: 11/25/2021 4:42:59 PM

HOLYOKE – The Battle of the Bridge trophy left South Hadley’s sideline for the first time in five years. Holyoke defeated the Tigers 36-30 on Thursday in the rivals’ fourth Thanksgiving meeting on the football field.

Purple Knights line coach Felix Colon retrieved the silver cup affixed to a wooden base from the South Hadley sideline that its never left before and carried it high over his head as the Purple Knights gathered around him.

“It still feels surreal. I can’t believe that we won,” Holyoke senior Jael Cabrera said. “It felt amazing to finally hold that trophy up and say it was ours for once.”

Holyoke hadn’t won on Thanksgiving since the Purple Knights beat Chicopee in 2015. Senior Adrix Madera delivered the game-winning run.

Holyoke’s play called for him to run left late in the fourth quarter, but the Purple Knights senior saw the pieces falling into place and threw on the brakes. He cut back through the center of the defense and up the right sideline for a 41-yard touchdown with 3 minutes, 34 seconds left.

“I see my teammates go hit a block, and I know they want to make that block, so I just used it the best I could,” Madera said. “Once I see daylight, I just hit the hole and ran full speed.”

It made the score 36-22 and pushed the Purple Knights over the finish line, but the Tigers made it a photo finish. After Holyoke forced a turnover on downs following Madera’s run, South Hadley’s defense held firm on three consecutive run plays and a fake punt to get the ball back.

Then sophomore Owen Dawson burst up the left side for a 53-yard score on the first play of the next drive and ran in a two-point conversion to make it a six-point game with 1:07 remaining. He finished with a game-high 139 yards on just 13 carries.

“The mantra is never quit, never give in, never give up,” South Hadley coach Scott Taylor said. “All the kids did that. I thought everybody gave everything they had, and that’s all you can ask of your team.”

The Tigers (5-6) had to fight back from the first drive. Cabrera began the scoring with an eight-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep with 7:42 remaining in the first.

“Every time I get the ball, I know I’m scoring or doing something with it,” Cabrera said.

He finished with three touchdowns in his final game for Holyoke, two on the ground and one through the air. Cabrera also had a team-high 92 yards receiving.

“He’s a game-changer. Playing with him is different,” Madera said. “He’s not just the best, he makes everyone else better.”

South Hadley answered his score a few drives later with a 13-yard jump pass from Dawson to Evan Piquette. Dawson ran in the conversion to put the Tigers up 8-7.

But Cabrera had a rebuttal. After two Quinn Cauley incompletions to start the drive, Cabrera jumped over South Hadley’s Colin Mailhott to bring down a 36-yard reception on third down then followed it with a 29-yard touchdown catch on a go route up the left sideline.

“I feel like everybody follows my lead,” Cabrera said. “Everybody goes off when I go for it.”

The Tigers ground game roared back. South Hadley ran the ball six times for 58 yards, and Piquette finished the drive with a seven-yard plunge that tied the game at 14 with 5:55 to halftime.

South Hadley took its first lead of the game two plays into the third quarter. Junior Brock Fitzell broke open a 73-yard burst up the middle then Dawson added a conversion to make it 22-14 Tigers 59 seconds into the half. Fitzell ended with 86 yards on 12 carries.

“They played so well this year. They really improved since their freshman year,” Piquette said. “They’re going to be great players.”

Holyoke responded with 22 points in a row to put the game just out of reach. Cauley, who completed 19-of-37 passes for 253 yards, ran in for a two yard score. A two-point throw to Cabrera tied the game at 22 with 7:15 left in the third.

The teams traded punts, then Holyoke’s Dylan Lubold intercepted Dawson on the sideline to end the third quarter. Cabrera finished that drive with a three-yard go-ahead run with 7:49 to go.

“Especially with how the season started – the rough start – this win means a lot,” Madera said.  “This W is huge, especially to the seniors, the seniors wanted this one a lot.”

South Hadley’s seniors will end their final season without a victory on Thanksgiving for the first time. They made the playoffs in all three years tournaments were contested and won the 2019 Division 7 Western Massachusetts title.

“I love it. I love playing this sport, I love playing with these guys, I love playing for these coaches,” Piquette said. “It’s just so special.”




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