MANCHESTER — Coming into this season, the Manchester Memorial High football team had gone winless in three straight campaigns, an 0-27 skid the Crusaders finally snapped when they beat Timberlane of Plaistow 14-7 in their regular-season opener.
Everything after that? Losses, which resulted in a 1-8 record and yet another missed postseason.
This year, though, there will be an extra game for Rob Sturgis’ club, and while it may not have anything to do with the journey to winning the NHIAA Division I title, it’s still a big deal for the Crusaders.
Memorial will appear in its first Thanksgiving Day game since 2014 on Thursday when it takes on Manchester Central at Gill Stadium at 10:15 a.m. Memorial and Central were the only two teams interested in participating in this year’s game; Trinity is now playing St. Thomas Aquinas in a Thanksgiving eve home-and-home series, and Manchester West declared before this season it was not interested in playing in the game.
“Honestly, it’s awesome,” said Sturgis, who has returned from a suspension. “We haven’t had an extra game in four years now, so the kids knowing that they get to play an extra game and knowing who it’s against, being able to play in front of the city at Gill Stadium for such a big event like Thanksgiving, they’re really excited about it. We’re cherishing the opportunity.”
Sturgis was suspended without pay for the last two games of the regular season as police investigated fundraising discrepancies at the school, according to an Oct. 28 Union Leader report.
The last time Memorial played in the Turkey Bowl it handed Central a 41-14 loss. This time around, the first under Sturgis, the Crusaders have been preparing to come away with a similar result.
Practices have continued since the regular season ended three weeks ago, but rather than spend all their time outside in the cold, Sturgis has had his players go through detail-oriented walk-throughs in the school’s gymnasium.
“What we did is we spent a lot of time going over the big picture of everything and helping them understand why we’re doing everything the way we’re doing things,” Sturgis explained. “What it takes advantage of, why we would call certain things in certain situations, and how you can counterattack defenses and offenses in certain areas. It’s really about seeing the big picture.”
Sturgis said the walk-throughs have helped produce some of the best practices the team has had all year when they finally went back to work outside over the last week. The focus and attention to detail is at an all-time high, which is important for a group as young as the Crusaders.
“They know this game is big for us. This is our chance to kind of prove that we are coming up, show everyone what our future holds and shows the city what we can do. It hopefully allows our players to get more confident going into the offseason and allows us to kind of move forward in the right direction.
“Obviously, for our seniors, it’s huge for them. They’ve gone through a lot. Three years of losing every single game to finally winning (a game) and being more competitive this year. Just knowing they can go out with a chance to be Thanksgiving Day champions is huge.”
Central has won the last four Turkey Bowls and defeated Memorial 42-15 in Week 7 of the regular season this year before finishing with a 3-6 record and missing the Division I playoffs.