Turkey Day game is no more
There was plenty of change in high school football around New Hampshire this season, and this Thanksgiving will be no different.
For the first time since 1996, the teams from Souhegan and Merrimack won’t be meeting for their annual Battle for the Milk Jug, and as long as the NHIAA keeps the current regular season and playoff format, they likely won’t any time soon.
With both teams missing out on their respective conference championship games – and also the postseason – neither team has played a game since Nov. 1. The coaches, and each school’s athletic directors, agreed before the season that 26 days between games was just too much.
“Ending up with three-and-a-half weeks between games could be problematic for a number of reasons,” Souhegan coach Mike Lochman said. “Another game is always a good thing, but it’s hard to get the kids focused (for that long), especially depending on how the season ended. It’s almost anticlimactic in some cases.”
Lochman’s counterpart at Merrimack, Dante Laurendi, who also finished his first season as head coach, agreed.
“That’s a really long time to keep these guys at bay,” he said. “When you’re going through weeks of practice and that long wait, focus gets tougher, especially for kids that start to play other sports. They start to itch to get into whatever else they’re doing.”
Tryouts for some sports – wrestling and swimming to name a few – have already started, and others, like basketball and hockey, begin either the Monday before or after the game.
And with two new coaches – and two relatively new athletic directors in Souhegan’s Dick Miller and Merrimack’s Eric Sabean – it seemed to be the right time to call of the series, which was almost canceled two years ago.
“It seemed to be a good point to take another look at the game,” Lochman said. “None of the players were passionate one way or the other, which says something right there. There was really no reaction that came my way.”
The end of the series was a somewhat bittersweet for Lochman, who participated as both a player and a coach at Merrimack.
“It certainly would have been special and interesting to coach it this year,” he said. “I really remember how competitive it was the years I was there, and some of the great athletes on both sides of the ball.”
The Tomahawks won four of the first six games in the series, but Souhegan had won nine of the last 10, including the last two, each by 27 points.
The Battle for the Milk Jug wasn’t the only game to become a casualty of the new football format. Just two Thanksgiving Day games remain – the Turkey Bowl between Nashua North and Nashua South, and the Manchester City Championship, which will this year include Central and Trinity.
The last few years, the Thanksgiving Day game was the 11th – or in some cases 12th – game of the year for both teams, but this year, both Souhegan and Merrimack only played nine, as did every other team that didn’t make the postseason.
“That’s definitely a downside,” Laurendi said. “We’ve love to get an extra week. Even the teams that don’t have a Thanksgiving game, they were done a week early as well.”