THANKSGIVING SHOWDOWN: NEC Dunn Division title on the line Thursday in Swampscott

The high school football season has once again come down to bragging rights in Swampscott and Marblehead. In recent years, both teams have had Super Bowl games to plan for, but the Thanksgiving Day game was still a priority for coaches, players and their respective towns alike.

This year marks the 114 th time both teams will be playing on the holiday, with Marblehead winning 58 of them. Six games ended in ties. Overall, they have played seven additional regular season games. The Big Blue won four of those contests, while two of those seven games were ties. The Magicians won last year’s game going away, 48-7. This year’s game is scheduled to be played at Swampscott’s Blocksidge Field (Nov. 23, 10 a.m.).

Both teams qualified for the playoffs. Swampscott (6-4 overall, 2-1 in the Northeastern Conference Dunn Division), the 12th seed in Division 6, lost to Lynnfield in a Sweet 16 game, 28-0.

Marblehead (4-5 overall, 3-0 in the NEC Dunn Division) was the 14 th seed in Division 4. They defeated Middleborough in a Sweet 16 game on the road, 21-12, before dropping a 17-6 decision to host Grafton in an Elite 8 game. But a win on Thanksgiving by either squad would give them not just the aforementioned bragging rights, but also a conference divisional championship.

With much on the line, Marblehead coach Jim Rudloff likes the position his team is in right now, heading into Thursday’s game. Rudloff has seen his club bounce back nicely after losing its first four games this year.

“Our improved play over the past six weeks was really a result of the team getting healthy, and getting more varsity experience,” he said.

But Rudloff is not taking anything for granted heading into the game against Swampscott, because he knows both teams have similar characteristics this year.

Marblehead senior football captain Chris DeWitt (17), tries to make a one-handed catch against
Bishop Fenwick in the home opener. He’s given his younger teammates the leadership necessary to snap a four-game losing streak, before gaining a Division 4 state tournament berth this fall. DeWitt also had help from his fellow captains Christian Pacheco, Chris DeWitt, Scott Campbell, Jake Scogland and Andy Palmer to secure a spot in the postseason. COURTESY PHOTO / EYAL OREN, WEDNESDAYS IN MARBLEHEAD

“Swampscott is really just a carbon copy of us,” the veteran Marblehead coach said. “We both run similar schemes. Both teams employ successful spread offenses that can run and pass the ball equally well.”

On defense, Rudloff says Swampscott is very disciplined with its 4-3 alignment up front. Their roster is also young and talented, just like his team. “(Swampscott) has a tremendous junior class coupled with some explosive seniors that will give us some problems,” the Marblehead coach added.

While Rudloff has two young solidly effective quarterbacks — sophomore Finn Gallup and junior Colt Wales — he also likes Swampscott sophomore signal caller Jack Spear, who has thrown for over 250 yards several times this fall. Masconomet transfer running back Sam Nadworny also provides first-year Swampscott head coach Peter Bush with a diversified offense to keep opposing defenses off balance.

Rudloff also had high praise for his seniors, who kept the younger players on the roster focused on the entire season. “Our seniors have been through a lot this season,” he said. “They have been through some lows, and also some exciting games,” he said. “They have stuck together, while rallying the inexperienced younger players back to secure a playoff berth. They really have held this team together this year.”

The coach added that it starts with his captains — Christian Pacheco, Chris DeWitt, Scott Campbell, Jake Scogland and Andy Palmer — and they are all definitely responsible for putting the Magicians in a position to win the Dunn title outright.

Marblehead sophomore quarterback Finn Gallup (12), runs up field for a first down against host Middleborough in a Division 4 Sweet 16 game earlier this month, has seen much playing time this fall on the varsity level to set a positive tone for future success. COURTESY PHOTO / EYAL OREN, WEDNESDAYS IN MARBLEHEAD

With Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day game at Swampscott still on tap, Rudloff is reluctant to turn the page to 2024. But he knows all signs point to a winning season.

“Certainly, getting players back at many critical positions is a positive,” he said. “But we are also still losing a very good senior class, which will be difficult to replace.”

The Magicians are presently just hoping to make it three straight wins over Swampscott since the pandemic to end the season on an upbeat note with the NEC Dunn Division title in tow.

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