Thanksgiving football: South Hadley looks to keep momentum on Turkey Day when it travels to Holyoke

South Hadley’s Owen Dawson (4) stiff-arms Taconic’s Evan Roccabruna (15) en route to a first down earlier this season in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s Owen Dawson (4) stiff-arms Taconic’s Evan Roccabruna (15) en route to a first down earlier this season in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Holyoke quarterback Nathan Pok (8) throws downfield against Amherst earlier this season in Holyoke.

Holyoke quarterback Nathan Pok (8) throws downfield against Amherst earlier this season in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE


Staff Writer 

Published: 11-22-2023 5:57 PM

Now approaching their sixth Thanksgiving Day meeting, it seems fair to officially call the Holyoke-South Hadley Thanksgiving game a rivalry. 

The Purple Knights and Tigers will face off at the Roberts Complex in Holyoke on Thursday at 10 a.m. for bragging rights and a trophy. Last year’s victor was South Hadley in a dominant 60-36 victory, led by Owen Dawson and the offensive line. The season prior, the winner was Holyoke in a dramatic 36-30 win. Both teams have tasted victory, and both squads want to get the trophy back in their possession for another year.

Holyoke (2-8), in particular, is still feeling the sting from last year’s loss and is determined to turn things around. Though they dropped a close 28-21 contest to East Longmeadow to end the regular season, the Purple Knights picked up a 42-0 win against Commerce at the beginning of November. 

“Our kids have been talking about it all week and they're anxious to get another win. We didn't have many wins this year, we’ve had two wins, so they got a taste of that,” Holyoke head coach David Guzman said. “We've improved, we really have throughout the year, if you look at us from the beginning of the year... our kids have really worked hard. They're looking forward to this. It’s always good to play your rival, so we’re excited.”

Though last year’s victory was a blowout in South Hadley, Tigers head coach Brian Couture thinks this year’s game is going to be much more competitive. Despite South Hadley entering the contest with a 7-3 record, the Tigers are riding a two-game losing streak, dropping their first-round contest in the MIAA Division 7 playoffs to No. 3 West Bridgewater 39-8, and falling to Amherst in a non-playoff game, 28-14. Uncharacteristic mistakes have plagued the Tigers during those games, something they can’t repeat against Holyoke. 

“You never know in football. We’ve been making a lot of mistakes,” Couture said. “As well as the boys have been playing, we lost to West Bridgewater on the capitalization of our mistakes and they made none. (Against) Amherst again, a lot of mistakes.” 

South Hadley, which leads the series on Thanksgiving 4-1, will be keeping an eye on Holyoke’s sophomore quarterback, Nathan Pok, who can do it all for the Purple Knights. Pok can launch the ball accurately and pick up the yards on the ground, whatever his team needs him to do. For South Hadley to secure the win, it’ll need to focus attention on slowing him down. 

“Their quarterback can throw the ball and he is also a mobile kid,” Couture said. “So keeping him in the pocket hopefully, and good coverage on the outside will keep him there. But we can't let him get out of the pocket — he can run.” 

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Some news the Tigers can be grateful for is that they’ll return three starters who had been sidelined due to injury to help reinforce their defense – Jayden McMains, Ryan Poirier and Sly Curto are all returning to the field for South Hadley. The trio should help them out on both sides of the ball. Fans might also want to keep an eye on senior Owen Dawson, who had a monster game last Thanksgiving to propel the Tigers to victory over Holyoke, running for 300 yards on just 19 carries, scoring five touchdowns and snagging two interceptions on defense. 

For Holyoke, it’s going to come down to whether it can execute the game plan successfully. Pok gives the team options to both run or pass, something they hope they can take full advantage of. They have a number of other players they’ll rely on to try and pick up the win. 

“Jaden Diaz for one. He plays tackle on the defensive line, fantastic, is a really solid player. He's someone that could really make an impact in this game both offensively and defensively,” Guzman said. “We have some skill position players – very talented wide receivers, Jayden Cauley-Guzman and Jayderson Lugo, along with Ethan Zayas, and we have a nice little stable of running backs, too. So if we're able to throw the ball and open up the run game, that's what we're hoping to do.”

While both teams want to win, both coaches also acknowledged that Thursday’s game is a chance for family, friends and alumni to gather together and enjoy spending time with each other while watching football. Couture didn’t get a chance to play in a Thanksgiving game when he was in high school, so he cherishes the time he gets to coach in one; the Tigers also invite their players and families to celebrate bright and early with a potluck breakfast at 6:30 a.m. before heading down to Holyoke.

For Guzman, who was a member of the Purple Knights’ 1995 Super Bowl champion team, Holyoke Thanksgiving games have been part of his life for as long as he can remember.

“The Thanksgiving Day game has always been a huge deal in my family. I played four years of high school, we used to play Chicopee… and that was the biggest day of the year. You have all of the alumni coming, all the former football players coming in to support you, all of your classmates, it’s just a big, big day,” Guzman said. “Even when I wasn’t coaching, I haven’t missed a Thanksgiving game, I go to all of them. It’s just an important part of being a Holyoker, I guess.” 

Hannah Bevis can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Hannah_Bevis1.