A Revived Thanksgiving Football Classic ~ Burlington and Bedford ~ After a 48-Year Hiatus

The 2021 Bedford Buccaneers football team ~ Image (c) Shannon Dillon, 2021 all rights reserved ~ Click to view the full-size image


The seniors on the Buccaneers 2021 football team (l-r) Aram Varjabedian, Reidon Ford, Mikey DeLia, Joel Indipiginja, Eli Almonte, Jake Morrison, and Charlie Naylor ~ Image (c) Caroline Fedele, 2021  all rights reserved

The most unusual calendar year in the chronicles of Bedford High School football concludes Thursday with a short trip back to the future.

The Buccaneers will travel to Burlington on Thanksgiving for the first time since 1972. Kickoff at the Red Devils’ Varsity Field is scheduled for 10 a.m.

Bedford and Burlington have opposite records for the fall season. The Bucs are 8-2; most recently they fell to Grafton in the MIAA Division 4 state quarterfinals. Burlington is 2-8, but has a two-game winning streak, scoring 82 combined points vs. Somerville and Winchester.

“Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows,” said fifth-year Bedford Head Coach Tom Tone. He was referring not only to the loss at Grafton but also to the preceding week’s upset win at Tewksbury.

Tone said the Buccaneers will not be taking the Red Devils lightly. “They could have won five or six, and they have been playing tough,” he said. “They’re fully healthy, and they’re getting one of their best players back. If we play well, it should be a competitive, close game.”

“I’m really proud of the small group of seniors,” Tone continued. “They have been doing a fantastic job their whole careers here. The three captains (Mikey DeLia, Jake Morrison, Charlie Naylor) have been leading by example and having a great season. Those three on that 2-9 team in 2019 and helped turn the program around.”

The success of the 2021 fall Buccaneers was in many ways a carryover over the success of the spring 2021 Buccaneers. That so-called “Fall II” season, abbreviated after a postponement from actual autumn by the pandemic, finished with five wins, two losses.

That means in calendar 2021, the team—albeit with different personnel between spring and fall—has a record of 13-4.

And the Thanksgiving Day return to Burlington adds to the unique atmosphere. The Red Devils and the Bucs met every Thanksgiving between 1957 (the first year of interscholastic sports at Bedford High) and 1972, with each team winning eight.

Then Burlington was off to the Middlesex League, precluding a non-league holiday game; and for the next 48 years, it was Bedford vs. Concord-Carlisle. Over the past decade, the C-C program advanced to the point where the Thanksgiving game was not competitive, leading to a realignment announced several months ago.

Senior football players, cheerleaders, and marching band members from both Bedford and Burlington dined together at Tuscan Kitchen in Burlington last week to celebrate the return of the rivalry. Preparations continued last Saturday when the Bedford junior varsity defeated Burlington, 26-19.

“Basically, it’s like we’re starting something new,” Tone commented. “We’re playing in the inaugural game and hopefully it becomes a long rivalry.”

Looking back on the fall campaign, Tone said, “I think we have been steadily improving. We have a fantastic group of kids. They play hard and they practice hard.”

The three captains were reflective and thankful as they prepared for their final high school game.

Morrison commented in an email that the team “is like a family to me and I will never forget the memories made and all we accomplished. I’m gonna miss it but knowing that I left it all on the field with this team gives me a great feeling to end my career.”

Naylor, getting ready for practice Tuesday, observed that “we all came from a lot of different backgrounds, and we came to play football.” Now, he said, he is trying to savor the remaining hours. “It’s kind of surreal,” he said.

DeLia agreed with that one-word description. “I’ve been playing football for 12 years, and I’m trying to live every second,” he said. DeLia was seriously injured on a long kickoff return last April and spent weeks in recovery and therapy. He said he was grateful for support from family and friends.

“I feel we had such a tightly-knit group and our chemistry helped us win lots of games,” Morrison wrote. “I want to thank all my coaches and teammates for making this season so special.”

Quarterback Morrison and junior tailback Eric Miles (22 touchdowns) comprise the potent Bedford running attack, with DeLia also carrying the ball on occasion. Morrison also has a devastating aerial game. Naylor is his favorite target; DeLia, Rich Fedele, and placekicker Nick Tatarczuk have all scored on receptions. Morrison also has completed passes to Aiden Pompi, Jaydon Williams, and Miles coming out of the backfield.

The Bedford defense has been spectacular for most of the season, particularly at Tewksbury, which required a trick play just to stay with the Bucs.

Burlington is led by quarterback Ronan Noke and his favorite receiver, Sammy Doherty. The lead running back is Adam Eldeeb.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763

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