MORRISVILLE – While the football season is over for most of the gridiron warriors in Lower Bucks County, there is one traditional duel looming on the near horizon.
Morrisville welcomes one of the oldest Thanksgiving Day rivalries in the Keystone State and on Thursday will play host to Bristol this year.
“We’re really excited to be able to continue to play and go out there on Thanksgiving,” said Bulldogs head coach Derrick Savage.
“It’s always better to have it at home. We just want to make sure we put on a good show for our home fans. Hopefully, everything falls our way.”
The host team Morrisville is 2-8, 1-4 in the BAL. The Bulldogs have lost their last four including their most recent duel in Delaware versus Wilmington Friends. The Warriors are 5-4 after losing 7-6 to Valley Forge in the District 1/12-AA semifinal.
Morrisville last won the battle against Bristol in 1999 – by a 19-2 score. The Warriors have won the 13 duels that have taken place since including last year’s 38-0 triumph (there’s been three forfeits since 2001).
Bristol leads the series 49-34-2. The Warriors have won the past two Thanksgiving games by a combined score of 91-6.
Savage believes the outcome of the 2016 duel is a 50-50 prospect.
“From our side, it depends on what team shows up,” said Savage. “We’ve been a team that on some days, looks real good and on other days, we look like a team that hasn’t been working on anything since August.”
“I’m hoping that it will be a little bit more competitive than it’s been in years past.
“The kids are really focused on what they have to get done.”
Morrisville comes to the table with a new and improved defense this season. While the Bulldogs gave up a ton of points in recent duels with Wilmington and Jenkintown, the defense has limited several foes to a touchdown or less this year.
Offensively, Morrisville has used junior Zeek Kershaw’s talents to ignite its ground attack. The 2015 transfer from Pennsbury has rushed for 692 yards on 127 carries. After a year playing at tight end, classmate Amir Pack is back at fullback, run-blocking while adding 212 rushing yards on 50 attempts.
Through the air, the ‘Dawgs have demonstrated they can also move the ball with quarterback Felix Feliciano throwing for 759 yards on 52 completions. However, he’s thrown 11 interceptions this season and Bristol’s defensive backfield which includes seniors Parker Kelley and Samir Brisbon will do their best to disrupt Morrisville’s aerial attack.
Though the battle will take place this year at Robert Morris Stadium, Kelley doesn’t think the Bulldogs will have much of an advantage.
“I don’t think home field advantage plays a big role in the Thanksgiving game,” said Parker. “I mean, we’re so close to one another.”
While the Conwell-Egan/Truman game has been scrapped this Thanksgiving, partly due to a postseason run by the Eagles and mostly because the Tigers are having their turf replaced at Hank Morgan Stadium, Kelley says there was never any talk of putting the annual Bristol-Morrisville game aside this year.
“We were going to play it no matter how far we went (in the postseason),” said Kelley. “It’s a tradition.”
“We’re looking to come out and have some fun. And we’re looking to win.”
Kelley likes the crowd that comes out on Thanksgiving.
“It’s a big rivalry. Every year, we have a whole bunch of alumni coming, all the parents, friends, family – everyone is at the game.”
Win or lose, neither team will advance beyond the Turkey Day tilt. Still, to the winner go the spoils of gridiron warfare.
“Whoever wins the game gets bragging rights for the rest of the year,” said center/DT Danny Collins.
“They’re looking to come out to play but I think we got it. We want to have one more big game for the seniors.”
Junior running back Eric Bell, who finished with 143 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries in last year’s game, will look to lead the Warriors’ ground assault.
Senior Samir Brisbon, who caught a 10-yard touchdown pass to put Bristol on top 20-0 in the first quarter of last year’s game, is looking to lead the receiving corps for the visitors.
All the seniors for the Warriors are looking to go out in a blaze of glory, said three-year starter Rodney Courtney.
“Me and Parker – we have a brother relationship so we’re looking to make a lot of noise on the field,” said Courtney.
As a team, it’s been a tough year for Bristol. The four losses by the Warriors were for a combined 12 points. Bristol lost to Valley Forge Military Academy (VFMA) by a total of two points in two games including a 7-6 loss to VFMA in the District 1/12 Class AA semifinal. They also lost to New Hope by three and to Pennington by seven.
In a way, the Warriors are not unlike the Philadelphia Eagles, who ironically, possess the same 5-4 record. The NFL franchise has lost its four games by a total of 19 points.
“Just like the Eagles, we beat ourselves in some type of way,” said Courtney. “There’s always that one mistake that changes the game, situation or drive – that one little mistake.”
On Thursday, Bristol will look to limit those errors and force the Bulldogs into making a few for the home team. Last year, the Warriors forced a pair of fumbles in the first quarter and grabbed four interceptions to turn the battle into a 26-0 rout by halftime.
This year, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Contact Steve Sherman at ssherman@21st-Centurymedia.com or @BucksLocalSport on Twitter
NOTES: The game was forfeited by Bristol in 2012 and by Morrisville in 2001 and 2013. Warriors looking to take their game to the next level include Kelley (Susquehanna, Lycoming, DelVal, Wesley, Kings) Courtney (Temple, IUP, Susquehanna), and linebacker Aaron Pulinario.