Fall River and New Bedford are separated by a mere 15.4 miles from one another.
Two cities located in the SouthCoast corner of Massachusetts. But on Thanksgiving morning, the two proud high schools in those towns will be just a few feet apart as they get set to renew one of oldest holiday football tradition in the state.
“It’s always a big day for the city,” Durfee head coach Taylor Brown said. “It means a lot to me as a coach just like it did when I was a player. The guys on my staff played in that game. It means a lot around here. We’ll treat Thanksgiving like it’s our Super Bowl. It’s a special day.”
This year marks the 131st meeting between the two schools. Durfee will host the game for a 10:15 a.m. kickoff. Last year, the Whalers snapped a two-game losing skid that dated back to the 2019 season with a 16-13 win.
New Bedford head coach Mark DeBrito grew up as a New Bedford kid right down the street from the field. He said it was boyhood dream of his to wear the red and white uniform.
“I think for me, just having that feeling of playing for your hometown and school the years I got a chance to play,” DeBrito said. “I’ve been able to live that dream. The best part about it is now I can give back to our community just like the way they gave to me. Our kids go on to do great things. That’s the biggest joy for me.”
‘Turkey Day’ heated rivalry: New Bedford wins slugfest against Durfee in 130th meeting
For more than a century, the Hilltoppers and Whalers have had their share of memorable moments before the big feast at the dinner tables. Last year’s hunger turned into hangry, as police had to separate the squads when a skirmish broke out after the final play.
“I’m sure it is guys competing,” Brown said. “You watch both teams and they are competing hard. We’re always looking to win. [New Bedford] is well coached, so I think it’s Thanksgiving.”
DeBrito added, “I think when you go into this game, records are thrown out. When you play a team that long and being one of the biggest rivalries, not just the state but in the country, there’s a lot of emotions that go into it. This is a game that can make or break Turkey Day. I try to stress to our guys something we need to focus on is not to be too emotional. Play with emotion but not get caught up in any stuff.”
Season in review
The goal for Durfee (2-7) and New Bedford (3-7) this season was to challenge for the Southeast Conference title. Brockton is currently in front with a 2-0 record with a Thanksgiving Day matchup with Bridgewater-Raynham remaining. The Whalers and Trojans are 1-1 while the HiIlltoppers are 0-2.
Durfee started the year, 0-3, which extended its losing streak to 13 games dating back to the 2022 season. A home win over Nauset and most recently Brookline on Senior Day has the Hilltoppers forgetting about lopsided loss against Fairhaven, Taunton, Dartmouth and Dennis-Yarmouth.
“It’s been a struggle,” Brown said. “We picked up our second win last week to give these guys a boost going into the Week 10 matchup with Framingham. It’s been a tough season. Lost a few games … Bridgewater-Raynham, 14-0, and was leading Brockton, 9-6, in the third quarter. I thought a few games we could have done a better job finishing drives.”
Despite the Whalers record, DeBrito said his kids have been great about giving him 110 percent.
“Our number are low compared to what it has been in the past,” he said. “We’re trying to build that back up. I had over 40 freshmen who finished the year, which was awesome. The season has had some growing pains and we had to adapt to injuries and adversity on the field. But I think our kids have handled it pretty well. We haven’t backed down and we’ve competed in every game.”
Brown and DeBrito each started their head-coaching duties at the same time.
Brown took over Durfee in 2014 after applying for the job several times. He was a player, a coach, and even a water boy as a youth on the sidelines for the Hilltoppers during the historic Thanksgiving Day matchup. His first game coaching for Durfee resulted in his team snapping a 27-game losing skid against Bishop Connolly.
DeBrito was the Whalers offensive coordinator under former head coach Dennis Golden before taking over when Golden stepped down after the 2013 season. He also coached in the college ranks.
Both coaches are assistant principals at their respective high school. So what does each coach think about their opposition?
“They’ve got athletes around, big up front,” Brown said. “They’re down a couple of quarterbacks but they still have athletes all over the place making plays. Defense is pretty good. It is going to be challenge like it is every year.”
“Taylor [Brown] is awesome and I respect him,” DeBrito said. “The last two years have been crazy but nothing personal toward him. I think he’s done great with that program considering where it was before. He’s done a great job, a knowledgable person and works hard.”
DeBrito holds a 5-4 record in the matchup between the two.
“We’ve had some pretty good battles over the years,” Brown said. “So, it’s a good year to get even with them.”
Stars come out
Some of the players to watch on Durfee are running back Eric Lucas (leading scorer), quarterbacks KJ Strong and Eli Chace, wide receivers Alvin Gaston and Ben Sherry. Defensively, Nicholas Wood and Cooper Long are solid players.
For New Bedford, Zakari Nunes, Jarren Goodine, Marquise Gonsalves, Dezmond Brunskill, Anthony Diakite and senior linebacker Tayel Guzman.
You never know who will step up this Thanksgiving.
One of the more fantastic finishes in the rivarly took place in 1966, when the Whalers won on the last play of the game, stunning the large attendance at Fall River’s Alumni Field.
Could lightning strike twice with dramatic endings?
You have to wait and find out on Thanksgiving Day morning.
Herald News and Taunton Daily Gazette sports editor Steven Sanchez can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on X (formerly known as Twitter) at @Chezsports.