SOUTH KINGSTOWN — South Kingstown High School assistant football coach Tucker Brierty knows nothing but football on Thanksgiving.
“Since I was about 9 years old, I have gone to either South Kingstown versus Narragansett or South versus North Kingstown on turkey day,” Brierty said.
But 2020 has different plans for the 28th edition of the border rivalry between North and South. With the season postponed by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the holiday game has also been canceled. Narragansett’s matchup with the Exeter-West Greenwich/Prout co-op team is also off the table this year, along with traditional games around the state.
While the game is a rite of passage for seniors, North Kingstown offensive lineman Jimmy Bourke had a positive outlook on the situation
“Life can throw things at you, and this virus has taught me to just keep working harder and harder,” he said.
Bourke’s South Kingstown rival Christovin Nehm also has a similar outlook, saying “Not being able to play on Thanksgiving for sure humbled me and it pushes me to work harder.”
The North-South rivalry started 74 years ago in 1946, when South won 12-0. The game would be played until 1954, with the 1948 and 1950 games being canceled. The teams did not pair up again on the holiday until the rivalry was renewed in 2000.
In the time being, South Kingstown took on a holiday match up with Narragansett, while North Kingstown met up with East Greenwich and Rogers.
“North Kingstown and South is a more natural rivalry,” said Gavin Logan who played for South in the 2000 and 2001 matchups. “In all the other sports this is the rivalry.”
This game also stirs some sibling bonding and household rivalry. Multiple players on both teams have family connections to the game.
“Seeing my brother Ethan [Palazzetti] play his heart out when I was a freshman really made me want to work hard up through my senior year,” said South Kingstown senior Luke Palazzetti.
For SK senior Trey Young the rivalry stirs up some father and son intensity. He said, “My dad played at NK and he wore 22 so it became pretty personal. I gotta show him who the better 22 is.”
The advice from family can be sentimental, too.
“Personally this game is a rite of passage for me,” said NK senior Jaiden Tucker. “My dad played for North Kingstown and so did my brother and they always told me that Thanksgiving day senior year hits a little different.”
With no game this year, there is time to reflect on previous Turkey Day matchups.
“Thanksgiving Day is everything,” said South head coach Gerry Zannella, “and the thought of not playing is just sad.”
Zannella is in his second season at the helm for South and has experienced a lot of football but there is something about this game that rings a different bell.
“This is not your methodical game,” Zanella explained. “It’s South running counter criss cross for a fifty yard score, it’s North throwing the ball and hitting hook and ladder plays.”
North Kingstown’s Fran Dempsey was set for his ninth rivalry battle and his first as the head coach. Last year’s Thanksgiving game was the last at the helm for Skipper head man Joe Gilmartin.
“This game is a whole different beast,” said Dempsey. “It’s a true battle.”
South Kingstown senior offensive guard Tyler Pearce has always been told it’s about the memories
“My mom sat me down one day and told me the Thanksgiving Day game your senior year is the one you remember the most,” Pearce said “It just sucks that these memories can’t be made.”
Tucker recalled, “My junior on the first drive I had a huge hit on Andy Sprague. And it was a really good feeling going out one last time with my boys that were seniors.”
South’s Palazzetti said his favorite memory also comes from the 2019 rendition of the rivalry.
“It was back to back, breaking up [James] Osmanski’s fourth down pass on the first drive, and then a few plays later pulling on buck sweep and pancaking the outside linebacker, then watching Andy [Sprague] run for like 60 yards,” he said.
Dempsey recalls his favorite memory: “My first year in 2012 our guys looked at this game as their super bowl… We had only won maybe two or three games but on Thanksgiving they balled out.”
It was a game in which North pulled out a 20-16 holiday win, a victory that sparked the program’s rebuild.
Brierty talked about how as a coach it’s not about the wins and losses as much as making lifelong memories with players.
“It’s hard to remember scores from 15 years ago but I remember all the moments,” Brierty said. “I remember Ryan Sweenor’s first catch all season long was a touchdown on Turkey Bowl and that was about 10 years ago… or the Timmy Hazard two point attempt that was stopped on the goal line.”
Brierty’s favorite memory doesn’t lie in a specific play but within a specific game.
“Going to play at North Kingstown for the first time when they built their new field, it was a rainy day and we stomped them out,” he said. “We were really bitter about not playing at URI and the tradition that goes along with that.”