MANSFIELD — Mansfield High head coach Mike Redding and the Hornets will welcome Jack Martinelli and the Foxboro High football team to Alumni Field for the first time in five years Thursday morning in the 90th holiday meeting.
Mansfield last played at home on Thanksgiving in 2016, with its home game in 2018 turning into an overtime classic at Fenway Park prior to the 2020 edition, obviously, being cancelled.
“It definitely does,” Redding said when asked if the wait makes it any more special. “I feel like everybody this year is appreciating getting back-to-games. I just think it took a year of not being able to go to these things to appreciate maybe how much you miss them. And, you know, I think in some ways it was a blessing that we didn’t play last April (due to the Foxboro COVID outbreak). I just thought it would have been weird playing Foxboro on a Friday night in late April. It wouldn’t have felt right.
“For our rivalry, I think, having it delayed to Thanksgiving morning, being the 90th game, playing in the traditional day and time in front of a big crowd without any restrictions, it’s kind of all worked out in the end.”
Mansfield (6-4) will host the Hockomock League-Davenport Division champion Warriors (9-2), who were eliminated from the MIAA Division 4 State Tournament after a semifinal loss to Duxbury on Friday. Mansfield was eliminated from the postseason after a quarterfinal loss to now MIAA Division 2 State finalist King Philip. The Hornets benefited from a bye week ahead of their Thanksgiving Day game, while the Warriors have a quick turnaround.
“It’s still a very meaningful game to both communities and schools, with really nothing at stake other than the pride of winning on Thanksgiving,” Martinelli said.
And the two teams enter with a lot of added excitement, given how their respective seasons have played out.
Foxboro scored the most points of any team in the Hockomock during the regular season. The Warriors were led by senior running back Dylan Gordon, who had 33 offensive touchdowns (26 rushing, seven receiving) with some 2,400 yards of offense this season. Foxboro quarterback Thomas Marcucella complemented the standout running back by completing 75 percent of his passes for 2,200-plus yards and 26 touchdowns. One of Marcucella’s most trusted targets, senior wideout Rashaad Way, compiled 35 catches for 730 yards and 14 receiving touchdowns.
“They’re very dynamic offensively, obviously. Dylan’s (Gordon) the leader of the gang and he’s a great back, as good as we’ve seen, and we’ve seen a bunch of good ones this year,” Redding said before complimenting Foxboro’s efficient passing game. “So, you got to gang up on Gordon as best you can, but going one-on-one with their receivers gets dangerous. We’ve got to try to find that balance of stopping the run game, but not giving up the big play in the pass game.”
Mansfield has been led on defense this season by leading tackler Mark DeGirolamo (74 combine tackles, four for loss), Rocco Scarpellini (55 tackles, four for loss), Zander Holmes (53 tackles) and Aidan Devlin (50 tackles).
And the Hornets are battle-tested themselves. All four of Mansfield’s losses this season came to state finalists North Attleboro and King Philip (twice), along with Division 1 semifinalist Franklin.
“Mansfield is still as good as anybody. On any given day those games could have gone the other way,” Martinelli said. “They’re obviously well-coached, as they always are, a lot of young players in their lineup that are all good players. We’ll have our hands full. Mike is the master of any formation, so we’ve got to be prepared for that.”
The Hornets were sixth in scoring among Hockomock opponents, and a big part of that was their balance, as they averaged 288 yards of offense per contest. Quarterback Conner Zukowski threw for 1,595 yards passing and 15 touchdowns in 10 games, while Scarpellini led the ground game with 606 yards rushing on 5.4 yards per attempt and five touchdowns. Redding noted how he was looking forward to having a full and healthy backfield with Drew Sacco (4.5 yards per rush, four touchdowns) and dual-threat CJ Bell (545 yards of offense, four scores) among the mix as well.
Stopping them will be the job of Gordon, an inside linebacker with three pick-sixes this season, along with Foxboro senior nose tackle Ryan Addeche, Lincoln Moore and Brandon O’Grady. Addeche, specifically, compiled 12 tackles for losses, including six sacks and two fumble recoveries. The sophomore tandem of Moore and O’Grady, an inside linebacker and defensive end, respectively, each have 40-plus tackles on the season.
“They’re physical,” Redding said. “I think we got to kind of do what we’ve done: be as balanced as possible and be able to throw when they expect us to run and run a little bit when they expect some pass game.”
Foxboro will travel to Mansfield with kickoff set for 10 a.m.