November December 2014

Thanksgiving football rivalries on Cape Cod and the Islands

Cape Cod Life  /  November/December 2014 / ,

Writer: Matthew J. Gill

Thanksgiving football rivalries on Cape Cod and the Islands

November December 2014

Cape Cod Life  /  November/December 2014 / ,

Writer: Matthew J. Gill

Very early on Thanksgiving morning in 1987, a few years after he had stepped down as head football coach at Barnstable High, Don Dorr gathered his young son, Jayme, and daughter, Lyndsey, out of bed, and drove with them to his sister and brother-in-law’s house in Falmouth. A holiday visit, for sure, but this was no social call. Dorr’s sister, Janet, you see, is married to Ed Winslow, then the head football coach at Falmouth High School.

Classic moments and cherished memories — like the fox that ran on the field — from a century of Thanksgiving games at Cape high schools

At the time, the record in the historic football rivalry between the Barnstable Red Raiders and the Falmouth High Clippers—the Cape’s two largest towns and high schools—stood slightly in Falmouth’s favor: 50 wins, 43 losses, and eight ties. Dorr, who had coached Barnstable from 1977 to 1980, apparently wanted to introduce his children to the rivalry early: Jayme and Lyndsey were 7 and 4, respectively—and it was 4 a.m.

Very early on Thanksgiving morning in 1987, a few years after he had stepped down as head football coach at Barnstable High, Don Dorr gathered his young son, Jayme, and daughter, Lyndsey, out of bed, and drove with them to his sister and brother-in-law’s house in Falmouth. Local Football Rivalries

Sandwich vs. Mashpee | Martha’s Vineyard vs. Nantucket | Dennis-Yarmouth vs. Nauset High | Bourne vs. Wareham

When the trio arrived in Falmouth, they decorated the Clipper coach’s house in red and white streamers—Barnstable’s colors—and posted several signs on the house and in the yard. Though Dorr and Winslow had been friends for years, the messages were conspicuously one-sided: one sign posed an updated record for the rivalry featuring an extra loss for Falmouth; another simply stated, “Barnstable Rules, Falmouth Drools.”



1960’s team

Such is the rivalry that exists between the football teams of Barnstable and Falmouth High Schools, which have met on the gridiron on most Thanksgiving mornings since 1895. Over the decades, the rivalry has fostered both friendships and fierceness, tradition and tailgating, mutual respect and—in the case of games in 1931 and 1980—the occasional riot. On the following pages, we share some classic moments from the rivalry as well as from two other Turkey Day games on the Cape that, though shorter in duration, do not lack for competitiveness, drama, and a little holiday humor.

A longtime supporter of Barnstable High athletics, Sean Walsh organized the school’s athletic hall of fame a few years ago; he founded the history-laden website,, and serves as an assistant coach for the football team. He has also spent a dozen years studying this unique Barnstable-Falmouth rivalry.

falmouth high team

Falmouth High team

“For the longest time, I think [the Thanksgiving game] meant the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work,” says Walsh. “I think if you take a look at the culture of Cape Cod—say the 1950s, 1940s—people would work twice as hard all summer long and would basically live on credit in the winter. So, the Thanksgiving Day game was like the end of the season.” It was a kind of celebration, he adds, “the last battle of the year.”

Years ago, Barnstable and Falmouth played each other twice every season: once on Columbus Day, once on Thanksgiving. In 1905, they played three times. In 1932, no game was held, Walsh says, because a riot had broken out the year before. In the fall of 1931, Barnstable had played at Falmouth and, according to Walsh, “annihilated them.” In the crowd, good sportsmanship took a backseat. “The Barnstable fans were tearing down the goalpost,” he says. “A Barnstable fan knocked a cop out and there was a complete riot.”

In 1943—during World War II—Walsh says Falmouth did not have enough players to field a team, so Barnstable played Yarmouth on Thanksgiving. Another year, Barnstable played a team from Wellfleet High School; they have also played Turkey Day games against teams from Provincetown, Chatham, Bourne, and Middleboro. Since 1943, though, all games on the holiday have been with Falmouth.


Because of the number of years and games involved, Falmouth High Athletic Director Kathleen Burke says it’s difficult to nail down exactly how many times the teams have met. In Barnstable, Walsh has the Red Raiders winning 61 games to Falmouth’s 59—with eight ties. Burke says Falmouth’s numbers show 59 wins a side.

Regardless, Burke says the rivalry has been evenly matched over the years. “It’s long on tradition,” she says, “maybe short on competition right now, but overall, Barnstable and Falmouth have one of the longest rivalries in the state.” She adds that all Falmouth teams—regardless of sport—circle the date of “the Barnstable game” on their calendars.

As an athletic director, Burke says she is always concerned about the weather on game day. In 1996, she recalls awakening to snow on Thanksgiving morning, and that the Barnstable field had to be plowed before kickoff. “The Patriots had [a plow game],” she says. “How many people knew Barnstable-Falmouth had one too?”

In his first few years as the Barnstable coach, Dorr and his teams suffered two heartbreaking holiday losses. One game he calls a classic, though, was Barnstable’s victory at Falmouth in 1980. In that game, Barnstable kicker Michael Dwyer, who later played for the Dallas Cowboys, booted a late field goal to seal the game. Adding to the timeliness of the kick, says Dorr, was the distance it traveled: the ball soared through the uprights, over the track, over a fence, and bounced off a motel window on the other side. With just seconds remaining, Barnstable kicked off, but fans began to run on the field; eventually the Falmouth runner was tackled, ending the game. “It was pandemonium,” Dorr recalls. “The cops went nuts!”

barnstable high 1951

Falmouth High’s coach from 1986 to 1998, Ed Winslow has witnessed upsets on both sides of the rivalry—and even coached in the 100th game in the series. He says what he loves most about the Thanksgiving game is the family reunion feel of it all. “The kids come back and they reminisce,” he says. “It’s a real neat situation.”

In recent years, the pendulum has swung in Barnstable’s favor, with the Red Raiders winning 13 of the last 17 games—and often reaching the playoffs. Citing a recent classic, Walsh referred to the 2004 game—a rare Barnstable loss of late—and the team’s running back Zach Wilson. “It was a gray, dismal, muddy, bloodbath,” Walsh says. “Falmouth won 7 to 0, but I’ve never seen a running back run the ball the way Wilson did. He single-handedly almost wore them out.”

Finally, remember that Don Dorr home decorating story from before? Here’s the denoument. The trespassing trio returned home that morning to get in a few more winks; they woke up, went to the game, and later that day hosted Ed and Janet Winslow for Thanksgiving dinner. Suspicions from the Falmouth side were raised, but innocence on the Barnstable side was proclaimed. After turkey and pie, the Winslows offered their grateful goodbyes. Would this holiday whodunit go unsolved?

Departing from his house the next morning—not quite as early, surely, as he had the day before—Dorr found taped to his garage a familiar looking sign; it was one of those he and his kids had dropped of at the Winslows’ the day before, yet the records had been updated to include Falmouth’s victory. “It was funny,” Winslow says of his brother-in-law’s prank, “but the best part is . . . we won that game!”

Bourne vs. Wareham

“The rest of the country doesn’t understand our fascination with Thanksgiving football,” says Wareham High football coach Dan Nault. “It’s just a way for the kids to show everything they’ve done the whole year. It doesn’t matter how good you are during the year; you’re playing on a holiday, all the family in town comes and watches the game, and there’s 5,000 to 6,000 people there.”

The Bourne Canalmen and the Wareham Vikings have competed on Thanksgiving on 83 occasions, dating to 1934. Wareham has a decided lead in the series, but Bourne has won three of the last four games. One nice aspect of the rivalry, Nault says, is many of the players on either side know each other, having gone to middle school, or played sports together growing up.

Bourne VS Wareham

“I think it’s just a great time for people from all different classes throughout the years,” adds Bourne High athletic director, Scott Ashworth. “It’s a very well attended game, either here or there. I get to see students I haven’t had in class in 15 or 20 years.” Ashworth, who also coached football from 1993 to 2002, says last year’s game was memorable as Bourne was able to preserve a fourth-quarter lead by running out the clock with a series of standard, old school running plays.

To Nault, who has coached Wareham since 1999, another classic game was in 2006—a Vikings victory. While most area schools postponed their games that day due to heavy rains, this one went on—in some wet and wild weather. “The rain came down in sheets,” Nault says. “Anything in the middle [of the field] was just poor, brown, splashy, mushy mud. You could not distinguish the two teams even by their helmets because their helmets were caked with mud too.”

Nault added that the “best game” in the rivalry, though, is subjective, as different games mean different things to different people: the winners, the losers, and the players who played. “The classic game is whoever you’re talking with,” he says. “When you lose on Thanksgiving, it’s awful for the rest of the year because you don’t get another chance to redeem yourself. If you get upset on Thanksgiving—it’s even worse.”

Dennis-Yarmouth vs. Nauset High

Perhaps the best word to describe the 17-year Thanksgiving rivalry between Dennis-Yarmouth and Nauset High is “streaky.” The Dolphins of D-Y won the first two “Chowder Bowl” contests in 1996 and 1997, the Warriors won the following five, and since then, the Dolphins have won 10 in a row. Though the rivalry is young compared to many across the state, D-Y head coach Paul Funk says playing on Thanksgiving really means a lot. “All over the state, high school football players are playing their last high school game,” he says, “and probably 95 percent of them are playing their last game.”

The Chowerbowl

Thanksgiving on the Cape is generally a cold affair, Funk adds, but seemingly everyone in town still comes out for the game. “When we have a home game against Nauset, the crowd is huge,” he says.

To Funk, the 2003 game was particularly special because that was his first win coaching in the series. “That was a great game,” he says. “We were losing 14-13 with under two minutes left and on our own 20.” Then, the Dolphins drove down the field and a touchdown pass from QB Trevor Rose to Richie Klemm sealed the victory.

The coach also listed 2006 as another classic. “The field was a mess,” says Funk. “It was muddy; it was pouring rain; we were not playing real well.” As the teams awaited the referee’s whistle to start the second half, Funk says an unusual scenario unfolded: a fox ran on the field—and for a few minutes, the warmly dressed visitor would not leave. Also, during one of the breaks in the game, a cheerleader lost her shoe in the mud. Eventually, the referees located the shoe, the fox departed to find its own holiday meal, and D-Y went on to win 14-6.

Thanksgiving Day football game

A graduate of Wakefield High, Funk is well versed in Thanksgiving football tradition, having participated in that team’s annual game against Melrose. Following a close game on Thanksgiving in 2011, the undefeated D-Y Dolphins made it to the Division 2 Super Bowl, providing Funk with the unique experience of having to coach against his alma mater—Wakefield. The game went swimmingly for Funk and the Dolphins: a 35-0 rout.

Stu Fyfe understands what it’s like to coach against a town one knows well. Once a teacher in the D-Y public schools, Fyfe landed a part-time job in 1995 as Nauset High’s first ever football coach. The following year, Nauset and D-Y played on Thanksgiving, commencing a tradition. “A great way to give your program a boost is to have a great rivalry,” Fyfe says. “Thanksgiving football in Massachusetts is huge. This [new rivalry] was a win-win for both schools.” With a laugh, he adds that his new coaching job a few miles to the east made for some fun conversations with his students.

Fyfe, who retired from teaching and head coaching in 2005, says he knew a Thanksgiving game would be good for Nauset, but adds that at first, his players did not understand the significance. Then, graduated players began returning year after year to spend time with the team prior to the big game, talking about how much they missed playing on the holiday.

Though D-Y has had the edge in the series for the last decade, Fyfe says the games have all been competitive. “It’s more of a homecoming game than Homecoming,” he says of the Turkey Day game. “It can make or break your season. You can have a horrible year and [winning the game] makes it easier going back to school. It is a wonderful experience.”

Martha’s Vineyard vs. Nantucket Island Cup

Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have much in common including affluent residents, natural beauty, boatloads of summer tourists, and a proud high-school football tradition that was cemented into the local psyche by two legendary coaches: the Whalers’ Vito Capizzo and the Vineyarders’ Don Herman. What they do not have, however, is a Thanksgiving football game.

Except for one blip (2009), the island rivals have played each other at least once a year since 1960—but the game is usually played on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. And since 1978, the winner has been awarded the Island Cup. “Many people who live on the Island have played in the game or have been to the game over the years,” says Mark McCarthy, the athletic director at Martha’s Vineyard High School. “Everybody knows about it. Regardless of what happens during the year, you always have the Nantucket game.” As a high-school senior for the Vineyard, McCarthy played in the very first Island Cup game in 1978, yet cringes when recalling the score: a 36 to 0 Nantucket victory.

Martha's Vineyard vs. Nantucket

Martha’s Vineyard vs. Nantucket

During the 1970s and 1980s, Nantucket was a football powerhouse, fielding Super Bowl teams and winning many games in the rivalry; for the past decade, however, the Vineyarders have held the upper hand. “I would call it a respectful rivalry,” says Chris Maury, Nantucket High’s athletic director. “The Vineyard, unfortunately, has had the bragging rights for a number of years now.” Maury says the last three years, in particular, have been great, hard fought games. “That’s really what you’re looking for in a rivalry situation,” he says.

A 1970 Nantucket High graduate, Maury played for Capizzo, the Whalers’ legendary coach who had once played for Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama. Coaching Nantucket for 45 years, Capizzo led his team to hundreds of victories, several league titles, and three state championships. Maury says the competition between the Island rivals began to stiffen in the late 1980s when Don Herman began to coach on the Vineyard.

A native of Savannah, Georgia, Herman came to Martha’s Vineyard in 1988 to teach physical education and coach football. Still the team’s coach today, Herman has led his teams to more than 200 wins including five state titles, most recently in 2003. He listed some great games and moments from the rivalry. “We’ve had a few,” says Herman. “Just like any rivalry that’s been going on for some time, there’s going to be some exciting games.” The 1989 game—a 26 to 14 MV win—was a special one, Herman says, as it was his first win in the rivalry, and the home crowd was impressive. “I don’t know if there was anybody not here,” he says.

The 1992 game at Nantucket was another classic, Herman says, as both teams arrived with 9-1 records, and each riding nine-game winning streaks. With 4:46 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Vineyard was behind 12 to 0—but rallied to win, 14-12. “That set off a celebration that I have not been a part of before or since,” Herman says. Players, coaches, and fans celebrated on the ferry ride home, and when the ship arrived in Vineyard Haven that evening, it seemed the whole community was there to greet them. The fans exited the boat first, followed by the parents, and the players came off last. “It was crazy,” Herman recalls. “You get goose bumps, too!”

Both Herman and McCarthy referenced the 2004 meeting, known to many in the know as “The Water Boy Game.” Late in the fourth quarter, Nantucket was ahead before MV senior, Mike Shea, blocked a punt and junior, EJ Sylvia, kicked a field goal to take the lead. With just seconds remaining, the Vineyarders kicked off and as time expired, members of the Vineyard team went on the field to celebrate—but the game hadn’t ended yet!

What had appeared to be a tackle on the play had been ruled a fumble, and following a series of Whaler laterals a Nantucket player had the ball and was running down the MV sideline. En route, he nearly ran into the MV water boy, an 11-year old whose task was to retrieve the kicking tee after each kickoff. “He got caught trying to get back off the field,” Herman says of the fifth grader—who nearly got run over.

Eventually, and perhaps slowed in his progress by the unexpected obstacles on the field, the runner was tackled by Martha’s Vineyard’s Lucas Sanders—the same player, Herman says, who had made the initial “tackle” several seconds before. The game was over; the Vineyarders had won. Naturally, the two sides have different views about what actually happened on the play, and whether an appropriate ruling was made.

For Maury, one game that stands out was the 1993 game, held on the Vineyard. Nantucket’s win that day was Coach Capizzo’s 200th victory, and Maury says the achievement “was celebrated not only by the Nantucket fans but also by the Martha’s Vineyard fans.”

Reflecting on the fan support for the Nantucket squad, Maury says the biennial ferry ride to the Vineyard game loads up early in the morning, with some 450 to 500 passengers. “It’s a great day,” Maury says. “It’s great to see not just that school spirit but that community spirit. People will make that trip to support a local high school team.”

Due to recent changes in the MIAA football playoffs, the exact date of the 2014 Island Cup game has yet to be determined because the teams are in different leagues. The game will be held in November on the Vineyard—that’s for sure—but either on the Saturday before or following Thanksgiving. Neither a league title nor a Super Bowl berth will be on the line, but the local fans will rise early for the ferry, the Island Cup will be awarded to the victor, and the tradition will continue. After all, Vineyarder McCarthy says, “it’s still the Nantucket game.” Across the Sound, the sentiment is surely mutual.

Sandwich vs. Mashpee Rivalry

In the years before Mashpee High School opened its doors in 1996, students living in Mashpee attended Falmouth High. Early on, a Thanksgiving football rivalry was established with nearby Sandwich High, which also had a fledgling football program at the time. This rivalry was held each Turkey Day morning from 1998 to 2003, when the game was disbanded as the teams found new holiday competition.

As of 2010, however, the rivalry known as the Cranberry Friendship Thanksgiving Game between the Sandwich Blue Knights and the Mashpee Falcons has been reignited. Even the old trophy—given to the game’s winner—was dusted off and used again. “Last year was particularly special,” longtime Sandwich High football coach Bill Luette says of the 2013 contest, “because we got the trophy back—and that meant a lot.” In the game, Sandwich more than covered the holiday spread; the final was 41 to 6.

Luette says he loves seeing the former students and athletes returning from college, filling the stands to watch the Thanksgiving game. “It brings them back to their time in high school,” he says. “It’s like a family reunion.”

When Luette—who just left Sandwich this past summer to take on an assistant principal’s position in his hometown of Scituate—took on the coaching job at Sandwich in 2005, the team played Thanksgiving games against Bishop Connolly High of Fall River or Bishop Feehan of Attleboro (In the meantime, Mashpee squared off against the Cape Tech/Harwich squad). As those schools were far afield and no geographic rivalry existed, Luette says those matchups were “just another game” for Sandwich. “Now that we’re playing Mashpee again, it means something,” he says. “It’s just the town right next door so it definitely means a lot more.”

Matt Triveri, Mashpee’s football coach and athletic director, says the game has developed over the years into “a good little rivalry” and that the opposing teams and coaches have had a good relationship. “We have a very loyal fan following in Mashpee,” Triveri says. “No matter how cold it is or what the weather is like, we usually get a good crowd.”

“Our kids might play with a chip on their shoulder,” the coach adds, referencing the sizeable disparity in the schools’ enrollment: Sandwich has about twice the number of Mashpee’s students. As a result, the schools’ athletic teams don’t face each other often—other than on the gridiron.

A former Barnstable High football player himself, Triveri says “there is nothing like playing at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving. It means a lot.” Having said that, Triveri adds that one of his favorite games between the teams came in 2009—and not on Thanksgiving. It was September and Mashpee’s second game of the season, and the Falcons won on a 50-yard, “Hail Mary” touchdown pass from QB Devin Andrade to wide receiver Robbie Raymond as time expired. Though not on Thanksgiving, for Mashpee, it was truly a moment to be thankful for!

Matthew J. Gill

Matthew Gill is the former editor of Cape Cod LIFE and Cape Cod ART magazines. A graduate of U-Mass Dartmouth, Matthew has worked as a journalist since 2003 and has written on topics ranging from the sinking of Nantucket’s whale ship Essex and the history of the Barnstable-Falmouth Thanksgiving football rivalry, to the Cotuit Rowing Club, Provincetown’s Art’s Dune Tours, and more! A relative newcomer when it comes to the Cape, Matt and his wife Melissa just celebrated a Cape Cod-themed wedding.