The recipe to clinch the Hockomock League’s is simple: With a win at Canton on Thanksgiving and a little help from Sharon, the Stoughton High football team will be playoff-bound.
The Black Knights have to beat , a team they have beat six Thanksgiving mornings in a row, and 14 of the last 16 times the two squads have gone head-to-head since 1995.
Then there’s Sharon. The Eagles host Oliver Ames on Thanksgiving, but history isn’t exactly on the Eagles’ side. Since 1982, Sharon has beat OA just twice in their annual Thanksgiving Day game (1990 and 2003).
With the Davenport Division getting a playoff berth this season, more than just pride is at stake for three Davenport schools (Oliver Ames, Stoughton and Sharon) this Thanksgiving.
If Oliver Ames (5-4, 2-1 in the Davenport) beats Sharon on Thanksgiving, the Tigers will win the Davenport Division and earn a playoff berth. OA controls its own destiny thanks to a on Nov. 11.
In order for Stoughton (5-5, 2-1 in the Davenport) to make it to the postseason, the Black Knights need to beat Canton and hope Sharon pulls off the upset. Sharon can make it if the Eagles beat OA and Stoughton falls at Canton.
The Davenport winner will take on Pembroke in the Division 3 football playoffs.
“We have a nice, great group of kids and it could be the final game, it could not be,” said. “This is our first time in a long time that we’re going into the possibility of continuing playing.”
And while Stoughton needs Sharon to win in order to have any chance of making the postseason, the Black Knights must first take care of business on their own end and beat Canton. The OA-Sharon game isn’t even on Coach Burke’s radar, he said.
“We’ve got our own game. I can’t worry about anybody else,” Burke said.
“How do I have control over that? If I had control over that it’s one thing, but I have no control. I’ll wait ‘til the end of the game [to find out about OA-Sharon]. If we win, then I’m hoping someone gives me good news.”
The players are not looking past Canton either.
“It’s big, it’s real big. It’s a must-win pretty much if we want to get into the playoffs. [It’s] definitely a must win and it’s our last time playing Canton,” senior John Olsen said.
Added senior captain Andrew Paredes, “It’s a pride thing. It’s Canton; it’s our rivals—always want to keep that [Thanksgiving Day] trophy here.”
Senior captain Brandon Alves said the Nov. 11 loss to OA was a “wakeup call” for the Black Knights.
“We have to beat Canton. [The OA loss] makes us want to play harder for it,” he said.
That’s not to say the players aren’t thinking about the OA-Sharon game.
“It will definitely be in the back of our minds,” Olsen said. “But we just have to focus and do our part and hope for the best—for Sharon to come out victorious and get that win.”
Like OA has historically dominated Sharon on Thanksgiving, Stoughton has had its way with Canton under Coach Burke.
Stoughton holds a 42-39-4 edge in the , which dates back to 1926. During this current six-game Stoughton winning streak, dating back to 2005, Stoughton has outscored Canton 202-28, notching two shutouts against the Bulldogs (2006 and 2009).
Last season Stoughton won 26-6 at home. Stoughton will look to make it seven wins in a row at Canton this Thanksgiving.
“I don’t look at it saying we won six in a row, and we’ll make it seven in a row. All I’m concerned is we’re going to make it one in a row this week,” Burke said.
“You can’t look in the past, the past doesn’t do you any good…You’re not playing in the past.”
Canton is quick and has a good running game, Burke said. After finishing the 2010 season at 0-10-1, the Bulldogs are more competitive this season, heading into Thanksgiving at 3-6, which includes an upset win, 27-21, at OA.
Burke said Stoughton’s key to victory is controlling the ball on offense, moving the ball, and scoring—the Black Knights have had a number of drives stall deep in their opponent’s territory in recent weeks.
“You have to score to win,” Burke said. “It’s that simple."
For Stoughton’s seniors, the Thanksgiving game is bittersweet. It may be their last time playing high school football.
“It’s crazy, you don’t think it’s coming, then it comes so fast, and you’re like wow,” Alves said.
“This game means 50 times more than . You may remember Mansfield, you may remember OA, but you’re never going to forget Thanksgiving,” Burke said.
Whether Stoughton can beat Canton and whether Sharon can come up with the assist and knock off OA, Burke is pleased with how his team has performed this season, regardless of if they advance to the playoffs.
“If it happens, it happens; if it doesn’t, we had a great year,” he said.
Check out video clips of the team’s four senior captains—Brandon Alves, Alex Kimball, Andrew Paredes and Kevin Richard addressing the crowd at Wednesday’s Pep Rally in the media gallery.
Not able to make it to the Stoughton-Canton Thanksgiving football game? Follow all the action with our . Kickoff is Thursday at 10 a.m.