LAKEWOOD AND TOMS RIVER SOUTH WILL MEET ON THANKSGIVING FOR THE 100TH AND FINAL TIME
By Mike Ready
LAKEWOOD – One of five Shore Conference Thanksgiving Day rivalry games still standing, sadly, this year’s 100th edition of the Lakewood – Toms River South Thanksgiving Day game will be its last.
The game is the longest-running Thanksgiving Day football rivalry in the Shore Conference and one of the longest in the state.
Born in 1920, the game is the Shore Conference’s oldest continuous rivalry, but in a time when the turkey-day tradition of playing high school football has mostly gone by the wayside, apparently, so will this game.
“They wanted to make it to 100 games and end it,” said Lakewood head coach L.J. Clark. “I would definitely like to keep it going; it’s such a rich tradition. They (NJSIAA) are trying to go to that overall state champion like other states so that’s the reason.
“Personally, this game is my Thanksgiving, “ said Clark. “I grew up in Lakewood, went to school at Lakewood and ever since I was a little kid I’ve watched it, played in it or coached in it. Every Thanksgiving I’ve ever known has revolved around this game. As a little kid and a player we would go to my grandmother’s house after the game and then since I’ve been coaching, my wife and mother would make dinner centered around the game. It’s definitely going to be different next year when the season ends.”
Clark graduated from Lakewood in 1999 a three-sport athlete and went on to play at NCAA DIII Fairleigh Dickinson University. He’s in his 14th year of coaching at his alma mater and his ninth as head coach.
After beating Lakewood, 59-36, on Thanksgiving Day at Toms River South’s Detwiler Stadium last year in a game that originally wasn’t on the schedule, the Indians lead the all-time series, 56-39-4, with one last game yet to be played.
Lakewood had won two in a row in the series prior to last year’s loss.
After losing its first seven games of the season, the Piners have won two games in a row and are playing their best football of the season.
“We started out a little a rough but my team has shown a lot of fight in the last two games and played a lot harder,” said Clark. “We’ve been playing with a lot of kids who haven’t really been varsity football players and now they’re starting to understand the speed of varsity and understand their assignments. It’s starting to sink in what we want out of them.”
Senior quarterback T.J. Paturzo and senior linebacker/offensive linebacker Francisco Santillian are two players Clark singled out as team leaders this year.
“The last two games for us he’s had nine touchdowns and 566-yards rushing,” Clark said of his quarterback. “He’s kind of taken the bull by the horns and carried the team a little bit. And Francisco’s the heart and soul of our team. He plays super hard with a good motor and has been a very good leader for us.”
Paturzo had rushed for 1,138 yards and 13 touchdowns on 187 carries while Santillian leads the team with 64 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss.
Clark also mentioned senior Jayyin Overton (5-foot-10, 295 pounds) for his leadership on the offensive and defensive lines.
“It’s important to our kids because of the rich tradition of playing football on Thanksgiving,” said Clark. “And obviously it hasn’t been the season we wanted but we’ve won two in a row and the kids want to go out on a winning note and set the tone for next year. When you win the final game against Toms River South on Thanksgiving, people tend to forget about the rest of the year.“
Toms River South’s record stands at 3-5 but before they can start game-planning for Lakewood they have a game to play against Mainland. The Buccaneers were the No. 2 seed in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III Tournament before being upset in the quarterfinal by seventh-seed Ocean City, which went on to beat sixth-seed Long Branch in the semifinal.
The Indians are led by junior quarterback Jack Huber, junior wide receiver Bo Marro, junior running back Travis Squire, junior linebackers Gerry Ferrigno and Aaron Height, sophomore middle linebacker Devin Raevis, senior outside linebacker/strong safety Josh Odebode, senior defensive end/running back Devin Porsch and junior cornerback/wide receiver Tyler Madeo.
The final game in this long-standing Thanksgiving Day rivalry will be played on Thursday, Nov. 28 in Lakewood with kickoff scheduled for 11:00 am.
“The committees from both schools have done a great job getting the festivities and extracurricular activities before and after the game done the correct way,” said Clark. “They’ve put a lot of time and effort into it. There’s a lot of history behind this game and we want the last one to be special.”