MANCHESTER — For two teams that failed to qualify for the NHIAA Division I playoffs this year, Thursday morning’s Turkey Bowl gave the Manchester Central and Memorial football teams the opportunity to play one last time in 2019.
Playing on Thanksgiving Day is a big deal for high school football players. The records from the regular season are thrown out the window and it’s all about deciding who the better team is.
That distinction went to the Little Green, who grinded through a cold and windy day to come out on top with a 14-0 win at Gill Stadium.
Central has won four straight Turkey Bowls.
“It’s great for our seniors because they know where we’re going to be on Thanksgiving every year,” Central coach Ryan Ray said. “They know how they’re going to go out. Win or lose, they’re going to go out playing football as Central Little Green one last time and that’s awesome.
“It’s a great Thanksgiving for everybody involved. Obviously, it’s better when you win. You gotta give a lot of credit to Memorial. They fought hard. They got a lot better as the season went on.”
Other than winning, that was the biggest point of emphasis for coach Rob Sturgis and Memorial coming into this game. The Crusaders wanted to prove that despite their rough go of it the last few years, they’re moving in the right direction. After dropping their Week 7 matchup against Central 42-15, a 14-point loss showed improvement.
“It wasn’t perfect but this is probably the most complete game we’ve played all year,” Sturgis said. “We played 48 minutes and played hard.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but just to see the progress from Day One to where we finished, it was night and day better. Central’s a good team and to come out here and compete with them on this level was good. It was exciting.”
Memorial showed resiliency at nearly every turn. After Jaylen Burris’ 36-yard run that resulted in the game’s first touchdown, the Crusaders turned around and put together a 12-play drive that took them from their own 22-yard line to the Central 33. The drive eventually stalled out when Jeffrey Josefik was intercepted by Jessiah Francis on the quarterback’s third pass of the day.
Central took a 7-0 lead into halftime and added another score with four minutes and 20 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Joshua Jerome did the honors, on a 17-yard QB keeper he took up the middle untouched.
The Crusaders went four-and-out on their next possession, but took advantage of some costly Central penalties the next time they had the ball and reached the Little Green 8before failing to convert on fourth and four.
Memorial’s offense took a hit in the second half without running back Kai Colson, who left the game due to injury. Prior to getting hurt, the sophomore had racked up 52 yards on 10 totes.
“He was just a little banged up,” Sturgis said. “He and Josefik were a little banged up in the second half there so we went in another direction.”
Jerome finished with 35 yards on seven carries for Central, second on the team behind Burris’ 39, which he achieved on just two attempts.