This year’s Thanksgiving Day game between longtime rivals Beverly and Salem will feel a bit different this year.
The Panthers, who have been one of the more powerful teams in the Northeastern Conference in recent years, are suffering a down year despite winning their last two games. Salem, on the other hand, made the playoffs at 4-3 this year before falling to Hamilton-Wenham in the Division 6 North playoffs.
But, as with most rivalries, Thanksgiving Day is the day that you can throw the records right out the window.
“Obviously this is a special time of year for us, it’s Beverly-Salem and it’s a big deal,” said Beverly coach Andrew Morency. “This is certainly our biggest game of the year, and we want to come out here and play well.”
This has certainly been a down year for Beverly. After dropping games against Lynn English and Gloucester to open the year, the Panthers looked to be moving in the right direction with a 53-13 win over Malden in Week 3. But then, a five-game losing streak to all NEC teams all but eliminated them from playoff contention before rattling off two straight wins to get to this point. According to Morency, youth was a big reason for the inconsistency after losing a host of seniors to graduation last year.
“Obviously it hasn’t been our strongest year, but we’ve played a tough schedule and played on the road a lot, so I think we’re really battle-tested in that way,” Morency said. “We’re going to try to build off of some of the momentum we’ve been gaining these past couple of weeks.
In Salem’s case, the Witches jumped out to a 4-1 record before losing three straight games. The first two losses came to English and Classical to close the regular season, then Salem ran into a buzzsaw in undefeated No. 1 seed Hamilton-Wenham in the Division 6 North playoffs and lost 31-10. But going up against such a strong team only helped Salem get better.
So now, with the roles reversed, the Panthers find themselves as underdogs for the first time in a few years.
“I think it does change the dynamic with them being a stronger team than in the past couple of years, but it doesn’t change things dramatically,” said Morency. “It’s still a game that we know we have to go out and play well to win, and it’s a game that we’ve been looking forward to for a while now.”
Salem and Beverly will kick off at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning at Bertram Field in Salem.