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Gilbert/Northwestern football travels to Falls Village to take on Housatonic/Wamogo on Thanksgiving Day. John Nestor has the preview.

POSTED November 23, 2011
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

Gilbert/Northwestern (6-3) has dominated the series of late, winning the last three and six of the last seven. Starting with a 34-0 victory in 1995 that snapped a three game losing streak to the Mountaineers in the series, the Yellowjackets have gone 13-3 in the rivalry.

However, there have been upsets and close calls throughout the series and records usually matter little when pride, tradition and a rivalry are at stake.

It's hard to say a game like this means more to either team but at first glance the Yellowjackets have more at stake. They are coming off a backbreaking 22-21 loss to Stafford/East Windsor in which the Bulldogs scores all 22 of their points in the fourth quarter and their Class M playoff hopes are on life support.

Gilbert enters the game 10th in the Class M standings and will need some help. No. 9 Bethel meets Brookfield and No. 8 Stonington has a game with Westerly of Rhode Island.

There are a number of other games that Class M teams that are in the top eight could conceivably lose, so the Yellowjackets need to take care of busniness against the Mountaineers and see where the rest of the chips fall. With No. 4 Berlin at six-win New Britain (Class LL) and No. 6 Wolcott meeting an eight-win Holy Cross team (No. 3 in Class S) that went to the NVL championship game, they is still the potential for a shake-up in the standings.

"we aren't focused on anything else right now but this game," GN coach Scott Salius said. "We had a chance to play our way in and control our own destiny without anyone's help. Now we can't worry about that. Could we get in, maybe. But we are focused on Housatonic and winning the Berkshire Bowl.'

Housatonic is playing for pride, to snap a five-game losing skid and to finish with a .500 record. The Mountaineers started the season with four straight wins and could conceivably be entering the Thanksgiving showdown with up to seven wins, but they have come up just short in close losses to Avon, Enfield and SMSA/University.

Despite the rough patch that they are going through, the Mountaineers are focused and ready to end not only their losing streak to the Yellowjackets, but their rivals' playoff hopes as well.

"The team's spirits are great and they are ready to play football," Housatonic coach Deron Bayer said. "It was a tough stretch and we knew it would be. Especially the losses to Enfield and Avon, they were painful, but that's football. They are stronger for it and realize that people realize they are a pretty good footbal team and they are ready to prove it tomorrow."

If Housatonic is able to prove it tomorrow it would give them a 5-5 record and its seniors a first-ever victory in the series. It's something the team has been talking about off an on the entire season.

"A win would wean a lot, we have group of kids who haven't won the Berkshire Bowl before," Bayer said. "The Berkshire Bowl for us is symbolic, it is not just a trophy. It's a symbol of coming together, sacricing what you want short term for the long term good.

"We talk about it all season, do you want to hang out with your friends or lift, can you run all the sprints you need to. It's a quest, can you put off what you want in short term for a worthy goal."

Last season Gilbert locked up a playoff berth with a 37-18 victory in Falls Village. Housatonic's last win in the series was in 2007, a 42-12 triumph. If the Mountaineers are to earn a win this year, the running game will be key.

"We'll live and die with our running game and a big key wil be for us to stop their running game," Salius said. "Last year they gave us some problems and had some long drives that are up the clock and they scored points. We made some adjustments in the second half and were able to stop them better and we'll have to be able to do that again this year."

Housatonic will need to get Jake Sutterlin, Donyell Williams and Jake Foley cranking with its single wing offense. The Mountaineers will also have to control the running game of the Yellowjackets and try and limit Devon Molway and Tony Ortiz.

"The run game will be the key, on both sides, can we outrush them and control the clock and keep their running game in check," Bayer said. "Obviously Moway and Ortiz are big factors, we have to try and contain them. They are going to run for some yards but we have to make sure that they do not run all over us."

Salius is 3-0 in this game as GN coach and obviously wants to make it four straight, but he knows there are going to be seniors on both sides who want it just as bad and he expects them to be big factors in determining the winner.

"The kids have started to come back after the disappointment of last week's loss and one of the things we have talked about is that our seniors want to go out having never lost the Berkshire Bowl," Salius said. "And Housatonic has a great senior class and those guys have been playing really well for them this season so I expect a lot of seniors to be stepping up on both sides and making plays. None of the seniors will want to walk off that field going out with a loss."

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