For the past three years, Madison looked at its annual Thanksgiving Day rivalry game with Millburn as somewhat of an obstacle in the way of the bigger prize, namely the NJSIAA North 2 Group II championship game.
But this year, there is no state championship on the table, so the 81st annual Turkey Day showdown with Millburn represents the final go-round for 19 Dodger seniors, who have obviously enjoyed their fair share of winning during their career.
“This year is different for a lot of reasons,” Madison head coach Chris Kubik said. “We want to send our seniors out on a winning note. They’ve worked very hard and we want to send them out with a win. It’s a big senior class, a good group. They had a lot of pressure on them and even when things started to go wrong, they battled back and beat three playoff teams just to get in the playoffs. They never quit and that’s something I’m proud of.”
Kubik is also hopeful that the game, scheduled for a 11 a.m. kickoff in Millburn, will also have a positive carryover for the 6-3 Dodgers.
“We’re hopeful that the game is a springboard into next year,” Kubik said. “That can only happen with a win on Thanksgiving.”
For many years, a Thanksgiving Day game would be the rage in the area. Alumni would come back for the annual rivalry, meet and greet old friends, then head home for the afternoon feast.
But that’s not the case anymore. In fact, in Morris County, the Madison-Millburn contest is the only game in town.
“I hadn’t thought that much about that,” said Kubik, when asked if he realized that the Dodgers were the only Morris County team still playing on Thanksgiving. “For us, it’s just another game. But the community likes it, the people in town like it. It’s a chance for others to come back and get together and see us play. For me, it’s just another chance to coach this team. I love coaching. As far as who else is playing on Thanksgiving, I haven’t really noticed.”
In fact, the Madison-Millburn contest has been the only Thanksgiving Day game in Morris County in a decade. Ever since the NJSIAA expanded the playoff brackets from four to eight teams, more and more programs have shied away from playing on Thanksgiving, choosing to save their teams for a possible state championship appearance.
However, playing on Thanksgiving didn’t seem to bother the Dodgers, who have won the last five Turkey Day clashes with the Millers and won the last three en route to the state championship, keeping their gaudy undefeated streak intact in the process.
Last year, the Dodgers steamrolled the Millers, 77-21, for their 35th straight win — a streak that ended at 39 earlier this year.
Last year’s victory enabled the Dodgers to improve their all-time series lead on the Millers to 47-28-5.
Kubik will be happy to see some of the familiar faces that will return for the game.
“I’m very excited to see some of the former players,” Kubik said. “It should be a fun time. It’s nice to see the players of the past coming back. We have a few still playing college football.”
One prominent former Dodger is current Rutgers freshman running back Justin Goodwin, the 2011 All Daily Record Player of the Year who helped the Dodgers to their three straight state championships. It’s unknown whether Goodwin will be in attendance.
Kubik was asked if it was tough to get ready for the 3-6 Millers, especially since the Dodgers had the week off after losing to Lincoln, 28-26, in the opening round of the North 2, Group II playoffs two weeks ago, ending their three-year reign as sectional champs.
“I think it was tough because of the long week,” Kubik said. “In 2009, we only had a couple days to get ready after losing to Summit (in the sectional semifinals). When you have that long to prepare for a game that isn’t a playoff game, you have to hope that everything comes together on Thursday.”
The Millers enter the rivalry on the heels of two straight wins over Belleville and Woodbridge, games that Millburn scored more than 40 points in each.
“I know that they have a very good quarterback (Jared Harris) who is a very good athlete and can make plays,” Kubik said.
Harris threw for two touchdowns and ran for two in the win last week over Woodbridge.
“He reminds me a lot of the Lincoln quarterback (Darius Wade),” Kubik said. “He also has good players around him.”
Gabe Greenberg is a big-play back and Evan Steinfeld is a sure-handed receiver who had a touchdown catch in last year’s game against Madison.
“We have a good feel of what they’re trying to do,” Kubik said. “But they’re always trying to do something out of the box against us.”
The Dodgers don’t have the big play explosiveness of a Goodwin, but they have capable backs in Pat Zimmerman and Noah Gertler and a tough-as-nails quarterback in A.J. Schmitz.
“Zimmerman has been a starter in our backfield all along,” Kubik said. “Gertler got his chance and has been coming on. All of our kids get chances. We spread the ball around pretty well. But unless you have a big name back there, no one notices. We’ve had different people stepping up all season. It all depends on who gets the opportunity to make the plays.”
For the old-time high school football purist, this is the only local game you have to go see before you dig into the turkey, candied yams, mashed potatoes and gravy. In Madison’s eyes, it’s a chance for the seniors to go out with a bang. The 19 seniors will have their last names emblazoned on the backs of their jerseys as a sign of gratitude. A victory would make the Turkey Day dinner taste that much more special.
Again, no Meadowlands
Once again, the Morris County state finalists do not get a chance to strut their stuff at MetLife Stadium. There used to be a mileage determination in place to decide which teams headed to the Meadowlands, but that was scrapped by the NJSIAA a few years ago in order to try to sell more tickets.
In any case, Parsippany Hills will face Summit for the North 2 Group III title on Friday, Dec. 6 at Kean University at 7 p.m.
Mountain Lakes will take on Caldwell for the North 2 Group II crown on Saturday, Dec. 7, also at Kean, at 1 p.m.
Surprising Mendham will face off against Phillipsburg for the North 2 Group IV crown on Sunday, Dec. 8 at 4 p.m. at Rutgers Stadium.
It’s just amazing that annually, some of the best football is played within the confines of Morris County and the ever-so-tough Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference, yet, when it comes time for the state finals, the Morris County teams are left on the outside looking in.
Chance for revenge?
The Vikings of Parsippany Hills will get the opportunity to evoke a little revenge when they take on Summit. The Hilltoppers were the ones who knocked off the Vikings, 30-13, in last year’s North 2 Group III semifinals. You can be rest assured that Parsippany Hills would love to be the one to end Summit’s 23-game winning streak and bring the elusive state title back to Parsippany, especially after what took place last year.