Practicing football on Thanksgiving at Linganore High has itself become a tradition.
The Lancers have done it each of the last four fall seasons after reaching the Class 3A state semifinals.
Coach Rick Conner excitedly dangles the possibility of Thanksgiving practice like a carrot in front of his players for weeks.
“There’s nothing else I would rather be doing, to be honest with you,” Conner said. “And, if I wasn’t doing it, I would probably be depressed.”
At Frederick High, only Kevin Pirri and a few members of his coaching staff have ever experienced Thanksgiving practice as a player.
Pirri did it regularly playing for Downingtown West High School outside of Philadelphia. The Cadets, on the other hand, have not reached the state semifinals since 1985, long before any of their current players were born.
“It’s such a fun day to have parents come out [to watch]. You have an early practice. Then you go home and eat a big ol’ dinner,” Pirri said of the Thanksgiving practice experience. “Then you have the game Friday night.”
The big gap in experience presents a pretty stark contrast between Linganore and Frederick on the football field.
The big question is, will it matter heading into their Class 3A semifinal clash at 7 p.m. Friday at Linganore? It’s just the third state semifinal between Frederick County football teams and the first since 1998.
“At this time of year, your team chemistry and your team leaders evolve, and they get it done,” Conner said. “So, I don’t think [experience] is a big factor in Friday’s game. It’s 48 minutes of football between two good teams.”
Frederick High feels it has gained some valuable experience over the course of the season to help close the gap with Linganore.
In addition to the previous matchup this season on Oct. 15 — a 28-14 home win for the Lancers — Pirri feels that recent playoff wins over 11-time state champion Damascus and three-time state champion Franklin, as well as regular-season wins over county stalwarts Walkersville and Oakdale, proved the Cadets’ mettle and could serve them well going forward.
“They are all business,” Pirri said of his players. “I don’t think [a new experience] affects them at all.”
For the last 30 years, Frederick County teams have had a constant presence in the state semifinals for football.
On just three occasions during that span (1993, 2004 and ‘14) has the county failed to send a football team to the state semifinals.
Linganore and Middletown lead the way with 14 semifinal appearances apiece, while Urbana and Thomas Johnson have each made seven, Walkersville has made six, Catoctin has made five and Brunswick has made four.
Frederick is hoping this season’s run will serve as a launching point to help it close the gap with some of those programs.
“People are starting to believe that we really are who we are,” said junior Travon Neal, a star receiver and defensive back for the Cadets. “I think in the beginning of the season, they were like, ‘They are not playing anybody.’ Now people are like, ‘Frederick is really legit this year.’”
This will be the first state semifinal between county football teams since Urbana beat Middletown 24-0 (Class 2A) in 1998 during its run of 50 consecutive victories and four consecutive state titles.
Conner was an assistant coach for those Urbana teams prior to coming to Linganore.
Walkersville also beat Catoctin 21-8 in the Class C state semifinals in 1986.
“It’s great for our county,” Conner said of two teams butting heads on this level again. “But, you know, it’s no secret that Frederick County is strong in football. So, that’s a given.”