Jim Fennell: Sometimes underdogs win the big ones
MANCHESTER -- Don't expect the players and coaches from Trinity High to think they can't beat Central in today's 32nd annual Turkey Bowl at Gill Stadium.
That's just not part of a competitor's makeup.
And, sometimes it's good to think you're not an underdog.
Sometimes you need to believe you are just as good as the team you are playing.
Dick Powers and his Trinity High team certainly did 41 years ago.
That was the "Snow Bowl" game of 1971 between the Pioneers and the Crusaders of Memorial High. People still talk about it.
The Memorial team that year, with players like quarterback Tom Kathan and running back Dave Croasdale, is mentioned in the conversation as one of the best teams the city ever produced. Powers coached a Trinity team that, much like this year's Trinity team, wasn't as flashy, but was effective.
Back then, the Thanksgiving Day game was part of the regular season and there were no playoffs. With Memorial being undefeated and Trinity having just one loss, the game would decide the Division I champion that year in addition to who was the city champion.
Memorial was 9-0 and playing for the title was expected. Trinity was 8-1 and kind of ssneaked up on people.
The Pioneers lost their season opener to Nashua, but won their next eight and had just knocked off highly-regarded St. John's Prep of Danvers, Mass. They certainly didn't believe they were the underdogs.
"I didn't feel that way," Powers said. "I guess other people did."
There was no upset that day. Trinity lost 12-6 in such white out conditions that the grass field at Gill Stadium had to be plowed at halftime just so the game could continue. Powers said he was proud of his players, said they left it all on the field that day.
And that bring us to this morning's game.
There are no state titles on the line. The playoffs are over. This is just about bragging rights to see who is the best team in the city.
Trinity went to the championship game in Division IV this year, losing a 7-0 heartbreaker to Plymouth. The Pioneers are 9-2.
Central lost 42-21 to Exeter in the first round of the Division I playoffs and is 6-5.
The Little Green are still the favorites.
Let's answer that question with a question: If Trinity didn't beat Central in last year's Turkey Bowl, why do you think it can do it today?
Central was 6-4 and didn't make the Division I playoffs last year; Trinity was 11-0 and coming off a 30-14 win over Plymouth in the Division IV championship game.
In the final 2011 Union Leader/WGAM/WMUR Power Poll, Trinity was ranked eighth and Central was ninth.
Central won the game, 37-26.
The Little Green also beat the Pioneers, 7-6, in this game two years ago. They have won the last four Turkey Bowls and 15 of the last 18.
What do you expect will change today?
Powers, who left Trinity shortly after that memorable game in 1971 and took over as the head coach at Manchester West, returned to Trinity in 2003 to help keep the football program going when it was on the brink of falling apart because of a lack of participation and competitiveness. Although he no longer coaches, he is still there as an administrator and teacher and believes the Pioneers are ready for today.
Like his players back in 1971, Powers said these Pioneers believe. They do.
"Everyone sees it as Division IV against Division I, but we view them as equals," Trinity quarterback Carmen Giampetruzzi said. "They may have more numbers, but it only takes 11 on the field."
Giampetruzzi said Powers is one of the team's biggest backers, never letting them forget the program's rich tradition, one that includes wins in five of the first six Turkey Bowls - all wins over Central.
"He's always there rooting us on," Giampetruzzi said. "He knows it's more than just a game. We want to win the bragging rights."
There were 10,000 people that braved the blizzard-like conditions to watch the Snow Bowl game in 1971. There probably won't be half that many today. Maybe the stakes aren't as high, but Powers believes the game still means something.
"It's still a big deal to the kids," Powers said. "I just wish there were more people to see it."
One person who won't be in the stands is Powers. He's at most of Trinity's games, but not today. Family obligations.
"That's a sore point for me," Powers said.
Maybe, just maybe, the Pioneers will bring news back to Powers of a great victory over the Little Green.
After all, sometimes the underdogs do win.
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Jim Fennell may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.