Thanksgiving Day football isn’t just about select NFL and NCAA markets, you know. In fact, it’s much more about grassroots football, with families throwing the pigskin and, in some areas of the country, the biggest rivalry games of the year kicking off well before noon so everyone can make it home for a nice turkey dinner.
In total, there are dozens of prep football games that take place across 10 U.S. states on Thanksgiving Day. Here’s how the biggest and most notable shake out:
The State Line Game: Easton (Pa.) vs. Phillipsburg (N.J.) — It’s impossible to reference high school football on Thanksgiving Day without discussing Easton and Phillipsburg. The schools sit on opposite sides of the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border, and the game is played at a neutral site at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. The game has often been a sellout or near sellout and has even received national TV treatment from ESPN in years past. Given that the contest has been played since 1905, and on Thanksgiving since 1916, there’s plenty of heritage and history here (and some fantastic snowy highlights to boot), not to mention heated passions fighting for the Forks of Delaware Trophy, named in honor of the Delaware River, which (along with a bridge) is all that separates the towns.
After a one-year miss, when the game was moved to the Saturday following Thanksgiving 2014 due to a freak snowstorm (Phillipsburg won that contest, 19-14), Easton blanked Phillipsburg, 26-0, in the 109th iteration in 2015 and also captured the 2016 game, 24-14, to cap a winning season … while keeping Phillipsburg from achieving precisely that. This year Easton enters at 7-5 while Phillipsburg is a perfect 10-0. You know what that means: the Rovers are out to ruin a perfect season. You can feel the tension already.
Ye Olde Ball Game: Norwich Free Academy (Conn.) vs. New London (Conn.) — No, it’s not called that, but perhaps it should be. Believed by some to be the longest running annual football game in America — the Northeastern Connecticut towns have played each year since 1875 — this annual matchup has made Turkey Day its own for decades. The teams have faced off more than once in some years, 42 to be exact, which makes the 2016 edition the 155th game between the rivals.
NFA topped New London in 2016, 13-0, and shutdown the Whalers in 2015 as well. The Whalers have plenty of motivation to win the 156th edition of the rivalry. Whether they have the talent — New London enters at 2-8 on the season — is another question entirely.
Old Firm Friends: Winchester (Mass.) vs. Woburn (Mass.) — Like many Massachusetts rivals, Winchester and Woburn have faced each other annually since the 1890s. The rivalry has rolled on uninterrupted since 1893, and there’s no risk of that abating any time soon. The problem is one of too much familiarity, with the two teams now facing off in the playoffs before the annual Thanksgiving Day game. Since Thanksgiving Day 2012, the teams have played five times before Thursday’s game. Most recently, Woburn knocked off Winchester in the MIAA Division 3 Northwest tournament in 2014, then returned to play on Thanksgiving, just like always. Woburrn won an all-time classic in 2016 with a 22-21 victory serving as the official send off for longtime Woburn coach Rocky Nelson.
And if there was any question that the rivalry is a collegial one, just check out the gesture from the 2014 edition of the Woburn team below.
Maryland’s Holy War: Loyola Blakefield vs. Calvert Hall College — This game between two Catholic prep schools goes back 94 years and is said to be the longest running Catholic prep school rivalry in America. Loyola has a 10-win edge on Calvert Hall entering 2016, and local fans can catch the game on Baltimore ABC affiliate WMAR. Want to be there in person? Show up bright and early, 10 a.m., at the Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium, as per usual. Stuffing not required, though an appetite for wild competitive swings can be helpful; the 2015 contest finished as a 6-0 Calvert Hall win while Calvert scored 40 points to capture the 2016 iteration, 40-21.
Loyola Blakefield enters Thursday’s face off at 2-7, Calvert Hall is 6-5.
Thanksgiving Football Where Dreams Are Made: Xavier Prep (N.Y) vs. Fordham Prep (N.Y.) — How long have Xavier Prep and Fordham Prep been playing football before eating turkey? So long that the first game was called due to darkness while still a tie because the field had no lights. The game is considered the oldest sports rivalry in New York City, with official results tracked since 1906. The contest was initially hosted at the legendary Polo Grounds until the stadium was demolished, and now alternates between Fordham University in the Bronx and Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn.
Show-Me the Turkey: Kirkwood vs. Webster Groves — There’s only one Thanksgiving Day game in the state of Missouri, and it’s contested between two suburban St. Louis rivals. There was a three-year spell from 2010-12 in which only junior varsity squads competed in the rivalry because of a playoff scheduling conflict, but the tradition has continued. The winner earns the Frisco Bell, which was donated by the Frisco Railroad Company in the 1950s.
Kirkwood became the first school to capture both a state title and Turkey Bowl victory in the same year in 2016 with a 17-6 victory. They’ll look for more of the same in 2017.
Way out West: San Jose (Calif.) vs. Abraham Lincoln (Calif.) — This is the best-named Thanksgiving Day game by far: The San Jose Big Bone Game. It’s been contested since 1943, with a preceding “Little Bone Game” between the schools’ junior varsity teams always taking center stage a week earlier. As for the big bone in question? It’s a rather large cow femur used to record results from the game, not a giant wishbone from a gobbler. Lincoln is the current holder of the Big Bone dating back 19 years, thanks to a tight 7-0 victory in 2015 and 41-14 blowout in 2016.
Could San Jose overcome the odds and take back the Bone in 2017? The Bulldogs enter at 2-8 while Lincoln is 3-7, so the competitive playing field seems more level now than it has been in some time.
WHEN TURKEY IS FOR CHAMPIONS:
Live Free for Pride: The Manchester city Turkey Bowl — A relatively recent addition to the Thanksgiving Day lineup, the Manchester city Turkey Bowl is a yearly contest for bragging rights in New Hampshire’s largest city. It’s also the only Thanksgiving Day game in the Granite State. The game has been contested between Central and Trinity more than any other teams — one local writer has even taken to calling the game the “Little Green Invitational” in honor of Central’s mascot — with Central earning the most Turkey Day berths with a spot in 30 of the 37 contests heading into Thursday’s game between Central and Manchester West.
True to type, Central is the current holder of all the Turkey Bowl pride after a 48-8 rout of Trinity in 2016. The Little Green will be heavy favorites again in 2017, entering with a 6-4 record compared to West’s 1-7 mark.
Battle for the Capitol: The District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association Turkey Bowl — The annual title game for members of Washington D.C.’s governing body for high school sports, the D.C. Turkey Bowl may have received the most attention when it featured female head coach Natalie Randolph, who led Coolidge High to the title game in just her second year at the helm.
H.D. Woodson faces Ballou in the 48th edition this year, and you can read all about it from our D.C. area Gannett/TEGNA partners at WUSA.
There’s been quite a hullabaloo leading up to the game due to one-game suspensions handed down to 18 Woodson players because of a fight following a playoff game against Eastern Senior High. Woodson is appealing those suspensions, and it’s unknown when the decision on that appeal will be made. Woodson parents are also considering filing an injunction if the appeal is rejected, or if it progresses too slowly to allow the suspended players to take part in the game.