Is Thanksgiving, Jr. a thing?
At 6 p.m. on Friday, the Bedford High School Buccaneers will host Concord-Carlisle in the penultimate football game of the 2023 schedule.
The Patriots and Buccaneers were Thanksgiving football rivals from 1973 through 2019, after which the matchups returned to their original pairings of Bedford-Burlington and Concord-Lexington.
Bedford and C-C have this regular-season opportunity because they both emerged from the opening round of the MIAA state tournament with losses last Friday night. The Bucs kept it close for three quarters, but fell to top-seeded Duxbury, 33-6, in Division 4. The Patriots, ranked 11th in Division 2, traveled to Bishop Feehan and were blanked, 24-0.
Bedford Head Coach Tom Tone said he is excited about the matchup. He noted that Bedford hasn’t played in the consolation round for several years. The schedulers often try to match league opponents. The game will be sort of a throwback to pre-state playoffs, Tone said, when league games were highlights in November.
“We battled the top seed, then we get to play an old rival at home, and we get Burlington on Thanksgiving,” the coach summarized, adding, “It’s always fun to play good teams.”
Tone was upbeat about the performance at Duxbury, despite the score. “I thought the kids were definitely ready to play. I thought we played hard and did some things we needed to do to have a shot,” he said. “You need to be mentally ready and I think we were. The kids were not intimidated.”
BHS fell behind early when Duxbury took over at the Bedford 40-yard line after a deflected punt. The Dragons connected on a 25-yard scoring pass on the drive’s fourth play. The defense stopped Duxbury at the three-yard line on its next possession, but the Bucs couldn’t move the ball and punted to the 31. Duxbury scored on the third play of the second quarter and led 14-0. Bedford’s total offense to that point was seven yards.
But soon things got a little uncomfortable for the top-seeded Dragons. Bedford quarterback Ryan McGrath faked a handoff and dashed up the middle for 49 yards to the Duxbury 20, but the Bucs couldn’t finish the drive in the endzone. Two subsequent possessions ended with lost fumbles, both in Dragon territory.
“We had some good field position but couldn’t take advantage,” Tone lamented. “We knew we would need to play really well on offense against them.”
The half ended 14-0, and the Dragons began with possession, but three plays later were in punt formation. Bedford’s Sam DeAngelis diagnosed a fake punt and tackled the receiver a yard short of the first down.
The Bucs, with the ball at the Duxbury 43, reached the endzone in less than two minutes. McGrath connected with senior wideout Xavier Ruiz for six yards, and on third-and-four Ruiz pulled down McGrath’s throw for a gain of 21.
McGrath was stopped on a first-down run, then dropped back and, with time to set and throw, led Ruiz perfectly down the left sideline. He caught and carried into the endzone. Ruiz missed the ensuing point-after-touchdown kick.
Then the defense, bending but not breaking, stopped the home team on downs at the Bedford 24. “We made their run game difficult. Our defensive line was really good in this game,” the coach said.
The Bucs had the ball more than midway through the third quarter and behind by just a score. But the Dragons stepped up defensively. McGrath launched his longest punt of the season, 44 yards. Duxbury responded with its first lengthy scoring drive, 64 yards in eight plays, culminating with a 16-yard touchdown pass with 16 seconds remaining in the quarter.
Trailing 20-6, the Bucs had to open things up on offense, and McGrath threw deep interceptions to end two consecutive possessions. The Dragons added two more scores in the fourth quarter.
“I feel bad for the seniors, but for the kids who are going to be back, there’s really not that much separation” between the top and bottom of the pairings, Tone observed.