H.S. Football: South Hadley, Holyoke expecting tight Thanksgiving Day showing

  • South Hadley quarterback Burke Belsky, right, hands the ball off to teammate Julius Hebenth (2) earlier this season against Chicopee. The Tigers host Holyoke for their annual Thanksgiving Day game. PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER EVANS

Staff Writer 
Published: 11/23/2022 8:19:44 PM
Modified: 11/23/2022 8:19:33 PM

While the Thanksgiving Day rivalry between South Hadley and Holyoke remains relatively new, expect the two teams to still bring the fire on Thursday morning. 

Thursday’s tilt will be the fifth Thanksgiving meeting between the Tigers (3-7) and Purple Knights (2-8). South Hadley has a 3-1 series edge, but it’s Holyoke that will walk into the game in South Hadley as the reigning champs, besting the Tigers 36-30 in an absolute nailbiter last year.

Kickoff in South Hadley is 10 a.m.

South Hadley isn’t letting last year’s loss cloud its focus this time around. Though they’re riding a three-game losing streak heading into the contest, the Tigers ready to end their season on a high note. 

“It's a new year, we're moving on, we’re ready to go. Hopefully, it's gonna be a good one this year. Holyoke’s got a great program this year,” South Hadley head coach Brian Couture said. “We're a young program – we've had our ups and downs this year, but I think our boys are well-prepared and ready to hopefully get after it.” 

Both Couture and Holyoke’s David Guzman are first-year head coaches, and while both have been on the sidelines for their respective team’s Thanksgiving days in secondary roles, this will be their first time stepping up and taking the helm. 

Like South Hadley, Holyoke also has a younger squad this season that has had its ups and downs. What the Purple Knights do have going into the game is momentum – Holyoke picked up a 54-36 win in its most recent game against Chicopee. The Purple Knights have also kept things close in several of their losses this season, coming within four points of Chicopee Comp and staying within fighting distance against Amherst. A young team that plays by committee and relies heavily on its passing game, Holyoke has the potential to defend its title this year. 

“They like to throw the ball a lot… their quarterback likes to scramble, so that makes game-planning a lot different than when you're going against teams that are primarily a heavy run team,” Couture said. “They have some good athletes over there, so matching up the right kids on our side with their kids to try and stop them.”

While South Hadley will be looking to pick up the W, it’ll also be anticipating a milestone moment early in the game. Junior Owen Dawson is just seven yards away from 1,000 rushing yards this season, a threshold he should pass quickly against the Purple Knights. With 14 touchdowns this season, he should factor in heavily to South Hadley’s game plan. The Tigers roster has dealt with injuries this season, and while some players have had time to heal up and may see the field on Thursday, not everyone is ready to go. 

It’s a game that both teams are looking forward to. There’s familiarity between both of the programs, and it will be both a friendly and intense rivalry on the field.

“We're one town over, our kids know kids on that team and our program, so yeah, that builds up a nice little rivalry. The kids are excited about it,” Couture said. “We’ve deemed it the Battle of the Bridge and we took it the first (three) years and they took it back from us last year and we hope to do the same this year.” 

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