Who will break through in storied rivalry?

  • GHS 5 Jacob Sak returns a kick off vs Athol Friday night. October 19, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ

  • Turners Falls' Wyatt Keith (11) runs for a first down before being brought down by Hoosac Valley's Joe Delmolino (10) in the first half of the WMass Division 8 semifinals Friday night at the Bourdeau Fields Complex in Turners Falls, Nov. 2, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Turners Falls' Wyatt Keith (11) breaks through a tackle from Hoosac Valley's Liam Feeley (21) for a first down in the first half of the WMass Division 8 semifinals Friday night at the Bourdeau Fields Complex in Turners Falls, Nov. 2, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Turners Falls quarterback Kyle Dodge (12) throws for a first down against Hoosac Valley in the second half of the WMass Division 8 semifinals Friday night at the Bourdeau Fields Complex in Turners Falls, Nov. 2, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Turners Falls will try to get back on track after it suffered a rare loss on Turkey Day in recent years last November. FILE Photo/Dan Little

  • Greenfield quarterback Owen Phelps has been one of the top passers in the area this season. FILE Photo/Dan Little

  • Above, Turners defensive lineman Reilan Castine is a playmaker who will be looking to bottle up RJ Byrd and the Green Wave offense this morning. Below, Danny Vega has been the top receiver in the area this season and is a constant threat to break a big play for the Wave. FILE PhotoS/Dan Little

  • Greenfield's RJ Byrd (22) outstrips the Frontier defense on a run in the first half Friday night in Deerfield, Sept. 14, 2018. Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield's Daniel Vega (3) pushes Easthampton runner Fred Murray (10) out of bounds in the first quarter Friday night in Greenfield, Oct. 5, 2018. Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield's RJ Byrd (22) runs up the middle through the Easthampton defense for a touchdown in the first quarter Friday night in Greenfield, Oct. 5, 2018. Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield's RJ Byrd (22) celebrates a touchdown against Easthampton in the first quarter Friday night in Greenfield, Oct. 5, 2018. Staff/Dan Little

Staff Writer
Published: 11/21/2018 9:37:18 PM

Where do we begin?

As if the outcome of the traditional Thanksgiving Day game between Greenfield High School and Turners Falls High School was not enough, today’s 92nd edition of the rivalry has several storylines worth following on the frozen tundra of Veterans Memorial Field in Greenfield.

We know one thing for sure: It’s going to be cold. Perhaps the coldest meeting of all time between the teams since they began playing in 1927 when the Green Wave earned a 14-0 victory. Since that first meeting, Greenfield has dominated the series, with a 60-23-8 record, which includes a 15-year winning streak from 1950 through 1964, as well as an 11-year unbeaten streak by the Wave that saw it go 10-0-1 between 1985 and 1995.

Recent years have not been as successful for the Green Wave, as Turners Falls has gained ground in the all-time series courtesy of a six-game winning streak that began in 2011 and carried through until last season, when the Wave used a late comeback to put a halt to the Powertown’s winning streak. After being stuck on 59 wins since a 28-14 victory in 2010, the Green Wave finally hit the 60-win mark last year with a 22-18 victory. 

One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the feeling that players get from playing on Turkey Day, something Turners Falls head coach Chris Lapointe has now experienced both as a player and a coach.

“Especially for the kids who were born and raised around here, they know the tradition,” he said. “It’s two proud communities who support their football programs. Having grown up and been a kid on the sideline and played in the game and now coaching in it, there is nothing like it. It’s something special.”

While history is nice to look back on in the series, both coaches realize nothing that occurred on the Bourdeau Fields Complex last Thanksgiving or in any of the previous 90 meetings before that, has any bearing on what will take place this season.

“We are only as good as our last game,” Greenfield coach Mike Kuchieski said. “We played well last year and it was a good win for us and we are happy about that, but you are only as good as your next Thanksgiving.”

Lapointe concurred, saying that his players are not focused on what transpired a year ago, but what will take place this morning.

“They know that the results from last year don’t mean anything,” he said. “No matter what the records are, or what the scores have been in recent years, this year is a whole new game. It’s the seniors on both teams giving it their all in their last game, and we have to bring our best to compete with them.”

Recent games

Last year’s Turkey Day game was one to remember for the Green Wave as Turners Falls led 18-6 with 4 minutes, 10 seconds to play and Greenfield faced a fourth-and-23 from the Turners 38. The play that changed the game saw receiver Danny Vega take a handoff on an apparent end around, pull up and heave a strike to receiver Hunter Campbell for a touchdown. After a three-and-out by Turners, Greenfield took over at its own 30 with just over two minutes remaining and drove down the field before RJ Byrd plowed into the end zone with 13.7 seconds to play to give the Green Wave the victory.

Things were vastly different when the teams met during the regular season in late September. The Thunder keyed on Byrd and held the running back to a career-low 20 yards during a 35-8 victory. Turners running back Wyatt Keith gashed the Green Wave defense for 250 yards and three touchdowns.

“We have to be a lot better than we were that night,” Kuchieski said. “We need to cut down on the mistakes and be more aggressive. These seniors want to show they are better than the first time around.”

The 2,000 Club

For only the second time in the history of area football, there was a 2,000-yard rusher this season in Keith, as he joined former Turners Falls running back Ryan Wilder in the prestigious club. Keith enters today’s game with 2,009 yards, which leaves him six yards shy of Wilder’s mark of 2,015 from 2012. 

Keith was one of several players to join Turners Falls from Pioneer Valley Regional School this season. The senior back was converted into a running back last year at Pioneer and topped the 1,000-yard mark. This year, he started out as the lead back for the Thunder and has not disappointed, going over 100 yards in each of the 10 games, as well as going over 200 yards on six different occasions. He is coming off his biggest performance — a 316-yard output — against Mt. Greylock last time out.

“They have a good one in Wyatt Keith,” Kuchieski said. “He runs north-south and is tough to tackle. We have to tackle him if we are going to play well.”

“He’s just a great kid and he has worked really hard,” Lapointe added. “He takes pride in what he’s done, but also realizes it’s a team aspect that has gotten him where he has.”

While Keith is already over the 2,000-yard mark, Byrd has a chance to become the third place in area history to eclipse the mark, although he has his work cut out for him. Byrd currently sits second in area rushing with 1,791 yards, leaving him 209 shy of the mark. The 20-yard output against Turners cost him a realistic chance at joining the club, but he could atone for that with a big performance this time out.

“He’s had a nice season and it’s a credit to him because he worked hard in the offseason,” Kuchieski said.

“RJ’s a good athletes, he has great speed, and certainly if you can’t contain him and keep him out of the end zone, it can be a long day,” Lapointe said. “He sees holes and if you make a mistake, he will make you pay for it.”

Both running backs are also battling for the area scoring title, as Byrd enters the day with a 13-point cushion with 21 touchdowns and 13 2-point conversions for 152 points, while Keith has 22 touchdowns and one conversion run (Turners usually kicks extra points) for 139 points. Frontier running back Garrett DeForest is right behind both with 134 points entering his Thanksgiving Eve game.

Elite QBs

Today’s game features two elite signal callers in Turners’ Kyle Dodge and Greenfield’s Owen Phelps, as both are playing their final games.

Dodge has been the uncontested leader in statistics among area quarterbacks this season as he has completed 69-of-133 attempts for a whopping 1,071 yards. The senior has 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions on the season, and has at least one touchdown in every game but one.

“He’s tough. He has good arm strength, is smart, and he’ll do some damage,” Kuchieski said of the opposing quarterback. 

“A great leader,” Lapointe added of his signal caller. “He is always trying to correct himself and make himself better. He is always going to give his absolute best and he will do whatever you need him to do.”

Dodge has several weapons to work with as four players have caught touchdown passes this season. Andy Craver and Jaden Whiting are his favorite targets, as Craver has 20 catches for 425 yards and seven scores on the year, and Whiting has 22 catches for 292 yards and four touchdowns. Jake Wallace has 11 catches for 109 yards, and Tyler Lavin has nine receptions for 138 yards.

“They might only have 18 or 19 kids, but they have 11 on the field who are pretty damn good,” Kuchieski said.

As for Greenfield, Phelps has also completed over 50 percent of his throws as he is 58-for-104 for 783 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions.

“He takes care of the ball and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes,” Kuchieski said. “And he has good bloodlines.”

Phelps’ favorite target in the passing game is senior Danny Vega, who has hauled in half (29) of Phelps’ completions this season for 471 yards, both area highs. Vega has also scored an area-high nine receiving touchdowns. Fullback Nate Haselton is another option for Phelps with 11 catches for 132 yards, and Hunter Campbell has nine catches for 110 yards. 

Weather woes

The weather is going to be on the minds of many in attendance today with temperatures in the teens, but Lapointe said he doesn’t expect the cold to affect the players.

“The weather is what it is. We live in New England,” he said. “When you get into the game, it doesn’t really factor into it. It’s not going to be a clean field, but the kids will be excited because they are going to be playing a game they love with the chance to get dirty.”

Kuchieski said that the lines on the field have been cleared of snow but the decision was made not to entirely plow the field.

“We felt it was better to leave a little on there as insulation with the cold weather coming in,” he said.

No indication if Kuchieski hopes the snow might help slow down Keith after his big performance against the Wave earlier this season.

The skinny on the Line

Turners Falls has had one of the top offensive and defensive lines in the area this fall, highlighted by the play of 6-foot-1, 280-pound senior Reilan Castine.

Castine missed much of last year but came back for Turkey Day and was a difference maker for the Thunder, and this fall he has again been a force in the run game and on defense, where he seems unblockable at times. He is joined up front by classmate Dominic Carme, and Pioneer players Jacob Wilson, Jacob Comiskey and Drew Denny. Sophomores Ryan Duclos and Cam Dresser also factor on the line.

The line play also has helped Turners to finish as the top defense in terms of scoring in the area this fall. 

Greenfield has not been as steady, but has turned in some solid performances and the progression of the line is partially responsible. Greenfield featured a lot of turnover on the line this fall, and players such as Cam Lackey, Nick Lyons, Colby Avery, Brody Baird, Dakota Burgh and Kenny Adams have contributed to the success.

Another player to keep an eye on is senior Nate Haselton, who is a difference maker on both sides of the ball although not one who gets his name in the paper after every game. As a fullback, Haselton is one of the premiere blockers in the league, and defensively, the outside linebacker is a top threat.

“Nate is a tough kid; a great football player,” Kuchieski said. “He has a great attitude. It’s nice to have a fullback in the backfield who blocks like a guard. He has a great attitude about life and the game and he goes all out.”

Series finale?

There is no reason to fear, but Turners does come into the game with 21 players on the roster and of those, 12 are seniors, which leaves the team with several holes to fill next season if it is going to be able to field a team. Still, there is an added reason to attend in the cold if this could be the last.

“There’s been other years when it’s been like this too, it hasn’t been a topic we’ve discussed,” Lapointe said. “We are just going with the flow and will try to control what we can control.”

As always, for those not braving the cold, catch the broadcast on Bear Country, 95.3 FM with Jeff Tirrell and Shawn Hubert.


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