By David Willis
---- — Since 1972, it’s been a battle reserved for the most meaningful day on the Massachusetts football calendar, Thanksgiving Day.
But this Friday, Sept. 27, there will be a very strange scene at Andover’s Eugene V. Lovely Field.
For the first time since their Thanksgiving rivalry kicked off 41 years ago, Andover will be taking on Central Catholic football on a day other than Turkey Day.
“It’s definitely a very weird feeling,” Golden Warriors quad-captain Ben Hartford said. “Usually when we face Central, it’s November and it’s chilly out. Now it’s just the middle of September. It’s really strange.”
Due to the MIAA’s realignment of the football playoff system, every school will be taking on its Thanksgiving rival this weekend, then will face them again in the traditional holiday meeting, which will be for pride since the playoffs will have already started.
“The Central game is usually the grand finale,” linebacker Will Eikenberry said. “So it seems kind of off to have them now. But we also know it’s a huge game for the MVC title and everyone is going to come out swinging.”
In two of the last three seasons (2010, 2012), Andover has beaten Central on Thanksgiving Day with the MVC Division 1 title and a trip to the playoffs on the line. While this edition is not quite as decisive, a victory would be a major boost in the Warriors’ title hopes.
“We know this is a huge game,” quad-captain Matt Sutliff said. “I feel like it’s going to be just like Thanksgiving. We want to win and we know they do, too. A win would be huge for the title and feed into our season.”
Central currently stands at 2-1, with convincing victories over Lawrence (39-27) and Haverhill (40-0) and a loss last week to powerhouse St. John’s Prep (40-21).
The Raiders are led by running back/defensive back D’Andre Drummond-Mayrie, who last week committed to play his college football at UNH, and quarterback Mike Milano (393 passing yards in three games).
“Their running back is already going to UNH and that’s impressive,” Hartford SAID. “But they also have a great line and they are always a very smart team. And their defense is tough.”
The Warriors know they will have to put up points, which they struggled to do two weeks ago against BC High.
“They have a lot of skill players that are fast and strong,” Eikenberry said. “But we think that our offense is ready to go this week and our defense is always ready to play.”
The all-time Thanksgiving series between the two teams is tied 20-20-1, but it is last season’s thrilling come-from-behind Andover win that the Raiders will be out to avenge.
“I would say so,” Sutliff said. “I know we would be out for revenge if we had lost that game. We know it will be a tough game, but we feel like we can win.”