South Hadley gears up for first Thanksgiving Day matchup with Holyoke

  • Ben Watkins, left, of South Hadley, takes a handoff from Michael Pratt before scoring a touchdown against Chicopee, Oct. 27 in South Hadley. The Tigers host host Holyoke on Thanksgiving Day. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Published: 11/22/2017 3:41:37 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — South Hadley playing Holyoke in a Thanksgiving Day football game almost makes too much sense.

The neighboring towns, whose high schools are separated by 3 miles and the Joseph E. Muller Bridge on Route 202, will begin a new holiday series Thursday when the Purple Knights visit the Tigers at 10 a.m.

“It makes sense, I think, geographically, it’s a battle for the bridge,” South Hadley coach Scott Taylor said. “It’s the first time we’ve had a natural rivalry (on Thanksgiving).”

The Tigers (5-5) faced Chicopee Comp for the last 16 years and played Northampton before that. Holyoke (6-4) played Chicopee for the last 100 years.

“I think this is a great opportunity for a tradition,” South Hadley senior quarterback Michael Pratt said.

South Hadley and Holyoke have played regularly in recent years, just not on Thanksgiving. The Tigers and Purple Knights have faced off either in the season’s opening game or in a non-playoff setting since the new playoff format took shape.

“They’re a much bigger school than we are, but, historically, we’ve had good games against each other,” Taylor said. “I think it’s only natural.”

South Hadley has no problem playing games against bigger schools or tougher opponents. The Tigers played two state finalists: Mashpee in Division 7 and Hoosac Valley in Division 8.

“We pretty much will play anybody,” Taylor said. “That’s kind of what we do.”

Taylor has emphasized the history at stake leading up to the first matchup in the Thanksgiving rivalry. His team can claim the first victory in the series.

“What an amazing opportunity,” Taylor said.

Holyoke reached the postseason and was the No. 2 seed the Division 3 Western Massachusetts playoffs. The Purple Knights lost to Minnechaug in the semifinals.

Giovanni Carrasquillo carries Holyoke’s offense. He’s amassed 1,137 yards this season with five touchdowns. Leesandro Colon has 14 touchdowns and 323 yards rushing.

“Their offense runs through Giovanni. We have plenty of film on him,” Taylor said. “I’m sure coach (Joe ) Dutsar, having coached for him for three years, I know he’ll have a wrinkle or two for us.”

Taylor was on Dutsar’s staff at Dean Tech from 2002-2005.

“I learned a lot working for Coach Dutsar,” Taylor said. “I’m excited to go against one of my mentors.”

Taylor will have options on his chessboard against Dutsar. South Hadley has four backs with over 200 yards this season led by Liam Dawson’s 827 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Tigers can also throw the ball with Pratt to the tune of 591 yards and four scores.

“That’s the one thing about this team, they’re certainly not the most talented team I’ve ever coached,” Taylor said. “But they’re the top two toughest. They don’t let anything get to them. That’s all you can ask for as a coach.”

A win would put South Hadley above .500 on the year.

“That’s huge,” Pratt said. “If we win this game we end with a winning season and that’s the way us seniors want to go out.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at

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