Thanksgiving football: South Hadley clashes with Holyoke looking to stay unbeaten in series

  • South Hadley sophomore quarterback Noah Marion prepares to hand off to Evan Piquette (obscured) in the first half of the Tigers' match against Pittsfield on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, in South Hadley.

  • South Hadley junior Brock Fitzell, left, carries past Pittsfield in the first half of their match in South Hadley on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021.

  • South Hadley sophomore Owen Dawson rushes for a touchdown from the Tigers' 29 in the first half of their match against Pittsfield on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, in South Hadley.

  • Holyoke sophomore lineman Dylan Lubold, right, brings Westfield junior Silas Yesu with him as he reaches the goal line on a 2-point conversion following the Purple Knights' first touchdown in a 26-7 win over the visiting Bombers on Friday, April 9, 2021, in Holyoke.

  • Holyoke sophomore defensive back Jael Cabrera, center, misses a tackle on Isaias Gomez of Chicopee Comprehensive in the first quarter of the Purple Knights' 53-35 AA League loss to the host Colts in Chicopee on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.

Staff Writer
Published: 11/24/2021 3:08:11 PM

End of the line.

Regardless of the result, Thursday at 10 a.m. in Holyoke will be the last time South Hadley’s football team – and its seniors in particular – play together.

“This is the last time as a collective they’re going to play football together. Some of these guys have played together for 10 years,” South Hadley coach Scott Taylor said. “It’s more than just a football game for some of these kids. It’s an end of an era for them and the end of a journey that started when they were in third grade.”

The Tigers’ Class of 2021 has never lost to the Purple Knights on Thanksgiving. South Hadley is 3-0 in the series, which started in 2017.

There was no Thanksgiving football last year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, so this year’s edition carries an extra layer of significance.

“There is a sense of relief of this being back. The kids missed being able to play in this game last year,” Holyoke coach Joe Dutsar said. “They’re excited to be back in the normal swing of things and being able to play on Thanksgiving.”

The Purple Knights (4-6) are riding a three-game winning streak after losing six straight during the regular season. Senior Jael Cabrera has been a force in every aspect of the game. He leads Holyoke with 489 receiving yards and eight scores and has also scored on an interception return and a kickoff return. Senior quarterback Quinn Cauley has thrown for 894 yards and 11 touchdowns against seven interceptions.

“They throw the ball really well. They have a lot of team speed. They’re your typical Holyoke team, they’re tough. We have to do what we do,” Taylor said. “At this point in the year you may try to put in a few wrinkles here or there, but at the end of the day you’re going to win or lose this game because of your fundamentals and the system and the schemes you’ve put in place over the last 14, 15 weeks.”

The Tigers (5-5) will have to rely on a small group of players after injuries ravaged the team late in the year. They played as tough a schedule as any small school in Western Massachusetts and made the Division 6 playoffs, losing at Winthrop in the first round.

South Hadley runs a Wing-T offense that spreads the ball to multiple threats out of the backfield. Sophomore Owen Dawson leads the way with 492 yards on the ground and has scored six rushing touchdowns. He’s also contributed 102 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Senior Evan Piquette (372 yards) has run for eight touchdowns, while Brock Fitzell has added 224 yards and three rushing touchdowns.

“Their offense is a juggernaut,” Dutsar said. “Their offensive line is very, very, very good. Their D-line is phenomenal. Their blitz package is solid. They go to the ball well. We’re really concerned about that.”


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