Down, but not out. A cliche used in sports to describe a situation when a there is a slight, albeit improbable chance of pulling off a given task.
Out, but not down might be a good way to describe the Stoughton High football team's current situation, however, heading into its annual Thanksgiving Day showdown with rival Canton Thursday at 10 a.m. at Stoughton High.
Stoughton is eliminated from postseason contention, despite a 9-1 record, but is still fired up to play Canton on Thanksgiving. Stoughton will be going for its eighth-straight Thanksgiving win, a win streak which dates back to 2005. It's a series Stoughton has dominated since 1995, winning 15 of the last 17 matchups.
A win will also give Stoughton a 10-1 record, which would be the most regular season victories in program history.
"Our view is to go into this game just as prepared, and probably more, as any other game. Canton and Stoughton has a good rivalry and to be a part of it is something special," senior captain Adam Leonard wrote in an email.
"This is my last football game ever and it would be awesome to end on a win and giving us the school record for wins (10)," fellow senior captain Mike Connelly added in an email.
"I was very disappointed we didn't make the playoffs because our team is one of the best in the state and it's a shame to see all of hard work not go into playing in the playoffs," Connelly continued. "This will make us play harder than ever because for most of us it is our last game together and some forever."
Stoughton is coming off an impressive come-from-behind victory, 25-21, Nov. 9 at Bridegwater-Raynham, also considered to be one of the better teams in the state. But, Stoughton's postseason fate would be decided the following afternoon in Sharon when the Eagles hosted the Foxborough warriors.
Up 7-0, facing a 4th and 9 in Foxborough territory, Sharon quarterback Sean O'Neill floated a 25-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brad Kaufman, who caught the ball in the end zone. The extra point gave the Eagles a 14-0 lead with just over four minutes to play, effectively ending Stoughton's season.
Sharon held on for the 14-7 victory in a game Stoughton needed Foxborough to win in order to have a chance at winning the Hockomock League's Davenport Division title and with it a Division 3 playoff berth.
Instead, Sharon clinched the Davenport that afternoon. Stoughton was eliminated.
Sharon improved to 3-0 in the Davenport, assuring the Eagles of at least tying Stoughton (currently 2-1) and Sharon has the head-to-head tiebreak, beating Stoughton 16-14 on Oct. 20 thanks to a 9-yard Jordan Asnes touchdown run with just 11 seconds left in the game.
Heading into week 10, Foxborough, Stoughton and Sharon (Davenport), and King Philip, North Attleboro, Franklin and Mansfield (Kelly-Rex) were all vying for the league's two playoff spots.
Stoughton and KP, both a Hockomock-best 9-1 overall with a chance to finish the season 10-1, will be left out of the playoff picture. Stoughton disposed of Kelly-Rex champ Mansfield, 25-6, Sept. 28 and KP routed Davenport champ Sharon 43-0 Oct. 12, but their losses to the foe within their own division proved costly.
An expanded state-wide playoff system, which will be implemented starting next season, comes a year too late for Stoughton and KP (and Foxborough, NA, and Franklin).
"I think this season, despite how successful it was, is the exact answer to why it's important to have a better playoff system than the one we have now, Stoughton High Athletic Director Ryan Donahue said. "If you go 10-1, that's the best record in school history and you're not going to the postseason because they played probably one quarter of football [at Sharon] that was not where it needed to be."
"I wish we we were moving on," said Stoughton High head coach Greg Burke, who was instrumental in pushing for a new expanded football playoff system.
"I think we deserve to be moving on, but the playoff system now is not a good one - for a lot of teams - not just us. It doesn't make sense to win over 90 percent of your games and not go. That's a bad system. That's why I got involved in [forming the new system for next season]," Burke continued.
"In our situation, we had to go undefeated in our [division]. Really our other games meant nothing, which isn't a good system either," Burke said. "Why play the other ones? You can technically just say I'm playing four games a year and that's it and rest. That's not the way it's supposed to be."
But none of this matters on Thanksgiving, a game which has become it's own separate season in many ways, that's how big it is.
"[Coach Burke] has said all year there is the "preseason, regular season, and Canton season," so I think this game means just a little bit more than some of the others for past and present Black Knights," Leonard wrote in an email.
"Unfortunately we didn't get into the playoffs, but that takes away nothing from this game," Burke said. "This game is as big as ever."
Stoughton won last year's Thanksgiving game at Canton, 27-7 and the team has outscored the Bulldogs 229-35 over the current seven-game win streak. Stoughton has turned in dominating victory after dominating victory this year, and will look for one more to cap the 2012 season.
"We were pretty disappointed not to make the playoffs after all the hard work we put in and dedicating the season to , but unfortunately we couldn't make it. It's bad to see the playoffs go down the drain because of one bad game or even quarter but that's football," Leonard wrote in an email.
"Us not going to the playoff doesn't mean anything to us as of now. We are in Canton season and all our focus and energy is on Canton. We can't change what happened and I think the team has moved on [and] is working to get the 10th win of the season," Leonard continued. "Hopefully the new playoff system will help end ties like this, but I can assure you now, nothing else matters but Thanksgiving."
Can't make it to the Thanksgiving game (10 a.m. at Stoughton High)? You can follow all the action right on Stoughton Patch with our live blog.