LYNN — As the two heroes embraced on the Manning Field turf, Lynn English senior wide receiver Chris Lessard said to junior quarterback Lucas Harris, “I’m going to remember this forever, man, forever.” The two then posed for a photo that 25 years from now both young men will still have in their possession.
That’s what Massachusetts Thanksgiving football is about. That’s what the annual intra-city clash between Lynn Classical and Lynn English is about — making memories that will last a lifetime and link generations.
Lessard and Harris made one of those memories in the 100th playing of the internecine struggle between two schools separated by a sideline but united by a city.
Thanks to Harris and Lessard, this clash was blessed with an indelible ending worthy of the 100th, one that left English with a 13-12 victory and Classical with turkey that tasted of heartbreak.
With Lynn English trailing, 12-6, and facing fourth and 19 from the Classical 28, Harris rolled right and heaved a pass into the end zone. Lessard leaped between Classical defenders and landed with a piece of Lynn sports lore with 42.9 seconds left. Lessard then booted the extra point to give English the win.
“It’s crazy. It’s one of the biggest games of my life that I’ve ever played,” said Lessard, who moved to Lynn from Southampton four years ago.
The new MIAA playoff system might have dampened some of the traditional Thanksgiving Day games, robbing them of their importance. But that will never be the case for English and Classical.
The game means too much to the city and to its inhabitants. It’s ingrained in the soul of a city that made its name as a manufacturer of soles.
I know because I’m one of them. I’m a Lynner. I grew up going to the annual Thanksgiving Day game. I attended Lynn Classical (Class of 1997). I covered the game as a journalist on numerous occasions, including the final game at the fabled Manning Bowl, the concrete crucible for these showdowns for more than six decades.
I grew up in East Lynn, traditionally English territory. But my mother, a West Lynner for life, refused to send her son to English. That’s how deep the allegiances can run.
The names change, the stadium has changed, but the rivalry remains the same — fierce, hard-fought, and fraternal. It’s like playing against your little brother.
Despite winning four straight years, that little brother role all-time still falls to English. The series, which began in 1911, stands at 53-38-9 in Classical’s favor.
The teams didn’t play in 1913 or 1914, and Lynn had a unified team with players from Classical, English, and Lynn Tech in 1961 called the Lynn Lions.
The Lions lost on Thanksgiving to St. Mary’s of Lynn, which had some kid named Tony Conigliaro at quarterback.
In this series, even the games that were never played are memorable.
The T-shirts made up for the 100th game sartorially summed up the milieu of the milestone. They read, “English vs. Classical,” with a picture of a football with “Lynn” written on it. Underneath the ball, it read, “Divided yet United.”
There were also commemorative coins with a Bulldog (the English mascot) and a Ram (the Classical mascot) on each side.
Perfect. English and Classical are two sides of the same coin. The opposition can be friends, neighbors, even immediate family members.
That’s why it feels so good to win and hurts so much to lose.
Neither team came into the game with a winning record. Classical entered at 5-5, English at 2-7. But winning this game makes the season.
“We didn’t go 3-7. We’re champions today,” said English coach Peter Holey (Class of 1981). “That’s what’s special about Thanksgiving football.”
Even if you weren’t from Lynn, you would know how much the game means if you watched quarterback Jordan Brown, who scored Classical’s first TD on a 5-yard run in the first quarter.
After the last play of the game, a desperation toss by Brown, he lay prone on the field. The senior QB, part of a Classical class that went winless against English, was the last Classical player to leave the field.
Before he did, two girls dressed in English garb, presumably friends, consoled him with hugs.
These teams almost met before Thanksgiving during the regular season because of the new football playoff format. A non-Thanksgiving Classical-English meeting is sacrilege. Fortunately, the athletic directors agreed.
Wise choice, because this was an instant classic that did the momentous occasion of Game No. 100 justice.
The game was tied, 6-6, at halftime. Lessard scored on a 1-yard TD run with 36.7 seconds left in the first quarter.
Classical took a 12-6 lead in the fourth quarter. The Rams marched 64 yards in five minutes and seven seconds on 12 rushes. The final was a 6-yard touchdown by senior Brad Scuzzarella with 3:13 left. But English stopped the 2-point conversion rush.
English got the ball at its 36 with 3:06 left. On second and 9 from the 50, Harris (11 of 15, 117 yards, and a touchdown) connected with Lessard, who made a balletic grab down the right sideline for a 31-yard completion. Lessard’s first catch of the day.
It was a prelude to their Manning Field memory four plays later, giving English bragging rights.
“It means everything,” said Harris. “The Thanksgiving game, when you know your friends and family are here, the alumni from the school, it’s a great game, and knowing that it’s the 100th . . . for us to win that, it’s a great thing.”
English-Classical, Classical-English. It’s the epitome of a Thanksgiving Day football rivalry.
Let’s hope a few of the next 100 games are just as memorable as this one.