Thanksgiving Football: Injuries shake up Northampton-Easthampton game

  • Easthampton senior Luke Kraus (4) rushes past Carson Meczywor (3) of Hoosac Valley with help from Connor Mott (32), Jack Boyle (75) and Bb Tauscher, right, during action earlier this season. The Eagles meet Northampton on Thursday at 10 a.m. at Smith Vocational. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton's Trevor Maslowski, left, congratulates fellow senior Connor Tobin on his reception for a two point conversion earlier this season. The Blue Devils tangle with Easthampton Thursday morning. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 11/24/2021 3:10:15 PM

The Northampton and Easthampton football teams will be especially thankful to be back on the football field on Thanksgiving morning – even if it is a slightly unusual meeting. 

“Playing in a game that morning has become a tradition,” Easthampton head coach Matt Bean said. “Not being able to do it last year (due to COVID-19), that was something missing from the day.”

The Eagles will play host to the Blue Devils this year, but with the Easthampton football field at White Brook Middle School currently out of commission, the game will take place at Smith Vocational in Northampton, with kickoff set for 10 a.m.

It will be an end to a season that has been good to both the Blue Devils (6-4) and the Eagles (7-3) in the standings. Though both teams lost their opening-round MIAA Tournament games however.

In their last five Thanksgiving meetings, Northampton has earned the win every time, but it’s been a long time since the two teams have faced off against each other on the field – their last matchup was in 2019, when the Blue Devils shut out the Eagles, 20-0. 

But despite both team’s successes, it’ll likely be a very different matchup on Thursday, as both squads are nursing injuries to some of their key players. Northampton is dealing with a number of injuries, and will be without quarterback Ben Sledzieski, running back Ryan Crowther, and defensive end Caleb Steiniger, among others they lost to injury earlier in the year. As a result, head coach Joe Kocot will be going into the matchup with some new strategies in mind, though he stayed tight-lipped about what exactly those might be.

“We got some situations where if this happens, we're gonna do that. But we got our next quarterback in and we're still going to run our offense,” Kocot said. “On defense, we had to change some stuff up because those guys were two-way starters. 

Easthampton is dealing with similar issues, losing some of their important players as recently as their last game against South Hadley.

“This time of year, it's typical – it’s a physical sport – it’s typical to be dealing with some of that stuff. In our last game, we had a season-ending injury to one of our key players,” Bean said. “It's unfortunately something that we have to deal with at this time of year.”

That said, the Eagles will be relying on their starting quarterback Shea Healy to continue his strong play, as well as some newcomers who will look to fill in the gaps.

“I’m looking forward to Shea Healy having a good game, and we have a new player starting at fullback, Angel Moody, so I'm curious to see how he's gonna step up,” Bean said.

Sharing is caring

Easthampton has had a difficult time practicing and playing all season without a field to call home thanks to construction at White Brook. They’ve had to make do with a variety of different practice setups, including practicing in their parking lot and losing daylight with Daylight Savings Time taking away an hour of light from the already shortening days. But luckily, Hampshire Regional has played a small but important role as the Eagles prep for Thursday's game. 

“Since Daylight Savings Time, we've been practicing in the parking lot in Easthampton, and this week, we are fortunate enough that Hampshire Regionals is letting us practice up at their place under the lights, so we've had three good practices this week,” Bean said. “We've been dealing with whatever's been thrown at us, and so this is a good bunch of resilient kids.”

Close to home

Northampton may be the away team on Thursday morning, but it might not feel like that for some of the returning players and alumni who make their way to Smith Vocational to cheer their alma mater on.

“It's always a great day playing Thanksgiving morning. With all the alums coming back and the former players coming back and watching on the sidelines, it’s kind of interesting because we're away but it's at Smith Voke,” Kocot said. “So the alums and the former players don't have to go (far), they just can go right to Northampton up the street from the high school.”

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