WESTFIELD – Déjà vu.
For the second time in less than three weeks, the Westfield Bombers and Minnechaug Falcons will meet in a big high school football game Thursday – at least in the eyes of 14 senior players and their head coach, Rob Parent.
“I think Thanksgiving Day football is great,” said Parent, a Warwick, R.I. native who, as a player, participated in his high school’s holiday bowl against Coventry (R.I.), a series that dates back nearly a century. “It’s certainly kind of woven itself into being a part of a football tradition, really an American tradition.”
“I come from a town where Thanksgiving Day football meant everything,” he said. “It didn’t matter whether you won a state championship or you were 0-9 heading into Thanksgiving Day. If you won that game, you had a successful year.”
Westfield heads into Thursday’s matchup with a 7-3 record, having only lost to Central (twice) and Longmeadow. The Bombers’ season came to a crashing halt in the West Division 3 finals against the top-ranked Golden Eagles, a 22-0 winner.
It proved to be no fluke as Central went on to obliterate Central Mass champ St. John’s 56-20 in the state semifinals last weekend.
Westfield earned its second crack at the Golden Eagles with a 27-6 win over No. 2 Minnechaug in the West D3 semifinal Nov. 2 in Wilbraham.
In that game, No. 3 Westfield overwhelmed the Falcons with a three-touchdown performance from senior quarterback Mike Nihill (2 passing TDs, 1 rushing), including a pair of long scoring passes to senior wide receiver Baley Collier.
Westfield raced out to a 14-0, first quarter lead with a short touchdown run from senior running back Adam Boggs and a 50-yard scoring strike from Nihill to Collier.
The Bombers’ dynamic duo struck again early in the fourth quarter on another long scoring play as Collier took a Nihill pass to the end zone for a three-touchdown lead.
Nihill darted ahead on a long TD run midway through the final quarter to effectively end it.
“It’s definitely awkward because we did just face these guys two weeks ago,” coach Parent said. “They’re kind of fresh in our minds, but we’re fresh in their minds. We had the unfortunate displeasure of kind of ending their year. It just kind of is what it is.”
Conventional wisdom says it is tough to beat the same opponent twice in the same season.
“Minnechaug has a shot to right the wrongs from that game,” Parent said. “We have to be on our toes. They’re a really good team. I think what we did that night was great, but we have to be better this time around. They’re going to be itching to get back at us, so hopefully our senior day goes the way it should and we come out with a victory.”
Westfield’s seniors appear ready to defend their home turf in honor of their family, friends, fellow teammates, and coaching staff.
“The holiday means a lot to me,” said lineman/linebacker Ryan Paro, reflecting upon what it means to be a part of this holiday classic. “It’s about family and being thankful for what you’ve got. The sport is incredible. I love it. It’s an American tradition, and I’m glad I can be a part of it.”
Although it is only the second year of this holiday partnership between Minnechaug and Westfield – the Falcons won the game 19-18 a year ago – the Bombers’ tradition of playing on Thanksgiving stretches back decades against now defunct, Cathedral.
“We don’t want to go 0-2 on Thanksgiving Day,” he stated. “Our coach even says turkey always tastes better with a dub (translation: ‘W’, or rather, a win). And then the nap even better after the dub with a turkey in your belly.”
Lineman Johann Schieppe echoed the sentiments of his teammate.
“Thanksgiving is just a time for family … and football is a big part of it,” Schieppe said. “It’s just a good bond with your brothers – the last ride.”
Late Monday night, officials from both schools agreed to move the game to Westfield State University due to unsafe playing field conditions at Bullens Field. Kick off is at 10 a.m.
Said Parent: “If we can duplicate our performance from a couple weeks ago, and even from last Friday night, we go out and we win, I certainly think there should be no question that we’re one of the better teams in this area. I think a win on Thanksgiving Day solidifies that.”