When you’re a team preparing to play for a state championship with another game in between.
Rest the starters so nobody gets hurt for the Super Bowl?
Spend less time preparing for the Thanksgiving Day game and focus mostly on the championship?
Shawsheen Tech football coach Al Costabile doesn’t consider it a dilemma.
“I’m not from the school of let’s rest (the starters),” he said. “Nope. Not at Shawsheen.”
The Rams and their 11-0 record beat Dover Sherborn on Saturday to earn a spot in the state’s Div. 5 Super Bowl against North Reading on either Dec. 2 or Dec. 3 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
But before facing the Hornets, Shawsheen has one more assignment to take care of.
On Thanksgiving morning, the Rams will host Arlington Catholic in the third holiday matchup between the two schools. For AC, it’s the final game for many of the team’s seniors. For Shawsheen, it’s a chance to add to an historic season and get ready for its Super Bowl appearance.
“We’ll have a tough time preparing (for AC),” admitted Costabile. “We will have our hands full. They play in a very tough league.”
While AC’s 3-7 overall record doesn’t look intimidating on paper, the Cougars play in a Catholic Central League loaded with teams that qualified for the state playoffs.
AC, in fact, was a Div. 6 playoff team as the 12th seed that lost to fifth-seeded Blackstone Valley in the first round by a 33-21 score.
Blackstone would lose by a 14-13 score to Cardinal Spellman, who came a possession away from defeating Stoneham on Saturday and advancing to the Div. 6 Super Bowl. Stoneham beat Spellman, 24-17, behind a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
The Cougars started the season with a 28-21 win against Wilmington before falling to Bishop Fenwick, 44-14. Fenwick reached the Div. 5 semifinals before falling to North Reading in overtime on Friday night. Had Fenwick won that game, Costabile would be facing his former team in the Super Bowl.
Arlington Catholic improved to 2-1 with a 40-7 shellacking of Archbishop Williams, but lost its next three games.
On Sept. 30, AC fell to Bishop Stang in a shootout, 35-32. The following week, the Cougars lost to Bishop Feehan, 65-19. AC fell to 2-4 with a 48-21 loss to St. Mary’s on Oct. 15.
On Oct. 22, the Cougars topped Essex North Shore by a 20-14 score before falling to Cardinal Spellman, 34-6. After the playoff loss against Blackstone, AC played a consolation game against Ipswich and was defeated 49-20.
Essex North Shore is the only common opponent between Shawsheen and the Cougars as the Rams defeated Essex 27-13 early in the season.
“We had a tough schedule, every team in our league made the playoffs,” AC coach David Wilcox admitted. “Every week for us, our matchup issues are difficult. I think it’s really helped us be more resilient.”
Arlington Catholic is led by senior quarterback Thomas Driscoll, who was thrown into the quarterback role after an injury to AC starter Isaiah Osgood.
“Isaiah ended up getting hurt in the Spellman game so we haven’t had him in a couple of weeks,” said Wilcox. “That was something we had to quickly deal with, but Thomas Driscoll stepped in and did a really good job, an excellent job actually.”
The Cougars lost one of their top receivers when Driscoll moved behind center, but the former QB at the youth level didn’t need much grooming at the position.
“It wasn’t a huge learning curve for him,” Wilcox said. “He’s one of our captains and he’s an outstanding leader.”
AC is led by five captains, a group that includes Driscoll, Osgood, Brendan Bertolami, Nick Gallagher and AIden Gomez.
Bertolami is AC’s top running back while senior receiver Malikai McClure was one of the league’s top scorers as both a runner and a receiver.
“He’s had a great season,” Wilcox said.
AC’s offense should test a stubborn Ram defense.
“We’ve scored a lot of touchdowns this year, we’ve been pretty explosive on offense,” said the coach. “Our problem has been defense, we’ve had trouble stopping people.”
Wilcox knows that Thursday’s game against Shawsheen will be yet another tough test for his Cougars.
“They’re really good on both sides of the ball,” Wilcox said of the Rams. “But we’re excited, we’re looking forward to it.”
Wilcox attended Shawsheen’s game against Dover Sherborn and was impressed with the Rams.
“(Quarterback Sid Tildsley) and their receiver (Mavrick) Bourdeau is very good and their line is solid,” Wilcox said. “They’re good on defense. They’re a very, very good team. We definitely have to get ready for what they bring to the table. I think we can definitely match them offensively. Can we stop them? Well, we’ll find out.”
This is the third Shawsheen-AC Thanksgiving Day game although the schools have played in non-league contests during the regular season for many years.
The first Thanksgiving game in 2019 was won by Shawsheen, 14-8.
After Covid canceled the 2020 contest, the Rams won again in 2021 by a 35-28 score.
“Al Costabile and I have known each other for a very long time because we’ve been playing each other and also for other reasons,” Wilcox said. “It’s been a great rivalry. It’s usually gone back and forth. It was a good fit.”