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Norristown, Upper Merion focused on finishing strong in Thanksgiving game

The game, both coaches agree, will be the fun part.

But the long weeks leading up to the Norristown-Upper Merion football game Thanksgiving morning at Norristown High School (10 a.m.) have not been all giggles and smiles for Upper Merion head coach Harold Smith and his Norristown counterpart Jason Powel.

There’s been the task of keeping the respective teams together, interested and focused.

There’s been juggling the intrusion of the upcoming winter sports season.

And there’s been the usual concern of young minds deciding that playing one game in the span of two or three weeks might not be worth the effort it takes.

But both coaches have said that their young squads are focused, anxious and ready to put on a show on Turkey Day.

With both squads featuring a predominantly young core, the focus has been on the future of the respective programs.

Both want to play and play well because their eyes are on a prize that may be a year or two down the road.

“I think our guys are young enough to understand that this could be the start of something successful in the near future,” said Powel. “This is a very young group, and they know that if they can grow together, we can be successful in a year or two or three.

“All they have to do is stay together.”

“It’s a long season,” Smith said, “and playing the game is the fun part. But getting there hasn’t been much fun.”

Bob Raines--Digital First Media Norristown's Barry White celebrate his long touchdown run against Penn Wood Sept. 17, 2016.

Norristown’s Barry White celebrate his long touchdown run against Penn Wood during their game on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

To that end, Smith has dialed down the length of the Vikings practices and tried to inject a little fun into the proceedings.

In last year’s game, the first in the renewal since 1989, the Vikings opened up the playbook and the new wrinkles paved the way for a 33-21 Upper Merion win.

Smith said that won’t necessarily be the case this year.

“We’ll probably be a little more traditional this year,” Smith said. “But we’ve seen some things we think we can take advantage of.

“Still, both teams are very young, and young sometimes translates into mistakes. We’ll stay as conservative as we think we’ll need to be.”

Powel echoed that plan, adding that the Eagles would likely open the game trying to run the ball, and progress from there, depending upon the situation.

“We’ve had success lately (winning two of their last three games), and that’s what led to that success,” the coach said. “But things change according to who’s available.

“Everybody is healthy, but we lost six or seven players in the season’s first five or six weeks, to broken bones, and those guys are still out.”

As for a game plan, look for the Vikings to play things a little closer to the vest.

They feel if they can control the ball they can control the game.

That means quarterback JP Batten (45-111, 603 yds., 3 TDs, 7 ints.) will have to play things close to the vest, and that the Vikings will have to get more out of a ground game that is led by Tyrese Leach (117-366 yds.) and Zach DeSanto (68-319 yds.)

Upper Merion does have a major weapon in placekicker Anthony Littlewood, who was third in the Pioneer Athletic Conference in field goals (5).

“You can see they’re a lot like us, they make a lot of young players’ mistakes,” Powel said. “We’re both very young, which is why I think you’ll see a real good, exciting game.

“Whoever can avoid making the big mistakes will probably win.”

On the other side, Smith said the Eagles’ speed is a major concern.

“Speed is always a concern when you play a Norristown team,” Smith said. “You have to try and keep everything in front of you. If they get behind you, they’re gone.”

Those Eagles speedsters include running back Kirk Wilson (84 carries, 401 yds., 3 TDs) and wideouts Eleazar Hill (19 catches, 352 yds., 4 TDs), Koran Butler (23 catches, 318 yds., 3 TDs) and Barry White (24 catches, 290 yds., 2 TDs).

For two teams with five wins behind them, it should be an entertaining game.

As for the tradition, Smith said it’s something that is new to him.

“Hey, I’m from Jersey,” he quipped. “But I’ve heard so much about those old games from people I talk to.

“I can’t wait to play this game.”

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