Hillers face big challenge in renewal of T-Day rivalry with Ashland

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After missing out on the annual Thanksgiving Day showdown between border rivals a year ago, Hopkinton and Ashland are ready to renew their rivalry this Turkey Day (10 a.m.) in Ashland.

“It’s going to be awesome,” said first-year Hopkinton head coach Mark Sanborn. “I think just having football in the fall again has been awesome overall and it’s always special to be playing football on Thanksgiving.”

Sanborn is a graduate of HHS and was part of four matchups with the Clockers. He called the long-running series one of the best high school football traditions in the state.

“It’s definitely a rivalry,” he said. “But there is plenty of mutual respect there as well.”

The two teams’ seasons have gone in somewhat divergent directions. Ashland rolled through the regular season unbeaten but suffered its first loss Nov. 12 at Scituate in the Division 4 quarterfinals. Hopkinton comes in at 3-7 and on a three-game losing streak. But Sanborn said the records are less significant on Thanksgiving, when the two teams wake up and head right to the game with both towns bringing scores of fans.

“It has a different feel to it, a different environment,” he said. “The fans come out and the family and community support is great for both teams. It’s a special day whether you have the best team or you’re struggling, it’s always a good football game. We are looking forward to keeping the tradition going.”

The Hillers have a trio of senior captains looking to end their careers on a positive note. Offensive/defensive lineman Hunter Bertucci-Bissonnette, linebacker/fullback Aidan Kelley and tight end/defensive lineman Brady Auslander have been instrumental in leading Hopkinton this fall, Sanborn said.

“They have set the tone for us on and off the field,” the coach said. “The way they carry themselves on the field, in the community, they have set the tone for what we expect from them and from their work ethic. The rest of the seniors have fostered the same idea and we think the younger guys have bought in.”

The senior class is relatively small this year, but Sanborn said the players make up a “high quality group.”

“You don’t have to worry about them, they show up every day and they have their own motors,” he said.

In addition to sending the seniors out with a win, Sanborn is hoping to build momentum heading into next year, when many of the skill position players will be returning. Among them are junior quarterback Robert Litscher and junior wide receiver Seamus Murphy.

“Robert has done a good job getting better every single week, he is making the most out of our offense,” Sanborn said. “Seamus has put up big numbers catching the ball.”

While Sanborn has fond memories of being part of the Hopkinton-Ashland rivalry, he said he will never live down being on the losing end of the game his senior year.

“It was a tough one,” he recalled. “I am still friends with a lot of the guys from Ashland who played on that team. You get one shot to play Ashland your senior year, you have to make the most out of it and work hard, because there is nothing better than going out on your senior year with a victory.”

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