For the 111th time, the Portland and Deering high school football teams will be getting together for a holiday tussle.
Game time for Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day game – the only high school football game in Maine played on the holiday – is 10 a.m. Tickets are $5 for adult general admission and $3 for students, seniors and veterans. Portland Public Schools students are admitted free with their student ID. Tickets can be purchased at the gate or online.
Portland (10-1) is coming off a Class A North regional championship season that ended with a 24-14 loss on Saturday in the state championship game against Thornton Academy.
Portland first-year head coach Sean Green said Saturday that playing Deering won’t take away the sting of a championship loss but the Thanksgiving game will be a positive for his players and coaches.
“Obviously it doesn’t change what happened. This is going to hurt for a long time. As it should,” Green said. “I just told (the players), there’s one benefit of playing that Thanksgiving game: even after games like this you’ll get to be together as a family one more time on the football field and we’ll definitely cherish that moment and we’ll get after it.”
It is the fifth time since 2015 the Bulldogs will play on Thanksgiving on short rest after a championship game loss. In 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2022, Portland beat Deering by an average of 41-4, posting shutouts in 2016 (41-0), 2018 (45-0), and last year (37-0) after it had lost to Skowhegan in the Class B championship.
Deering went 4-5 this season, competing in Class B South. The Rams started the season 3-0 and 4-1 under first-year coach Brendan Scully. The Rams qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2019, gaining the fifth seed and losing at No. 4 Westbrook, 30-22, in the B South quarterfinal on Tuesday, Oct. 31.
Portland leads the overall series, 61-42-7. The Bulldogs have won seven of the last nine meetings. Deering’s most recent win came in 2019, 23-13.
Like Green, this will be Scully’s first Thanksgiving game as a head coach. Scully said after limiting practices for the first two weeks after their playoff loss, he has had his team in a close-to-normal game prep starting on Thursday.
“I am just preparing like I would for any other football game. I think the pre-game and the game itself, I’m treating like any other football game and the stuff afterwards, I’m sure that will be nice and is a good opportunity for the kids.”
Following the game, three awards are presented to players: the Merv Kilgore Award to Deering’s outstanding player; the Vinnie Allen Award to Portland’s outstanding player; and the James A Banks Unsung Hero Award to one player from either team.
Scully expects to have around 35 players suited up.
“Everybody that was healthy at the end of the season is ready to go,” Scully said. “We just presented it as, ‘We’ve got a game. Everybody is in. So let’s go.’ ”
The first Deering-Portland Thanksgiving Day game was played in 1911 and has been played every year since except 1920 (ice storm) and in 2020 when tackle football was not played in Maine because of the coronavirus pandemic. It has been an exhibition game since 1967.
FOR THE SECOND consecutive year, the winning coach of the Class A championship game could celebrate the victory with his son, a senior on the team.
Last year, Oxford Hills quarterback Eli Soehren was the returning Gatorade Maine Player of the Year and the face of the Vikings team coached by his father, Mark Soehren, This year, by contrast, Brady Kezal has rarely gotten accolades playing for his father Kevin Kezal at Thornton Academy.
“Brady’s a grinder. We’re not a big social media family and a lot of coaches probably don’t even know I have a son playing football,” Coach Kevin Kezal said shortly after his sixth state title at Thornton.
A senior captain who started at defensive back and played some wide receiver, Brady Kezal entered Saturday’s championship with 62 total tackles (40 solo) and five catches for 100 yards.
But when Thornton needed something to get the offense moving it was a 42-yard catch by the 6-foot, 185-pound Kezal that set up Thornton at the Portland 11 on its first possession of the second half. Then he snared another Wyatt Benoit throw and nearly stretched into the end zone on an 8-yard gain that moved the ball inside the 1. Thornton scored the go-ahead touchdown on the next play. A 45-yard catch in the fourth quarter was wiped out by a penalty.
With 4:07 to play, Brady Kezal dove in front of a would-be Portland receiver and intercepted a pass that clinched the outcome – his first interception of the season.
“He just goes about his business. Last year he got a high ankle sprain early in the season and played the whole season with a high ankle sprain. Had surgery. Had to miss basketball,” Kevin Kezal said. “He just loves Thornton Academy football and he had a phenomenal senior year. I’m just so proud of how it turned out for him and the way he he played today. A proud dad.”
KENNEBUNK JUNIOR Moose Keys is another player who grew up around the team he helped win a state title. The running back scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter of the Rams’ 40-20 Class B victory against Lawrence on Saturday. He finished with 103 rushing yards on eight carries.
“It’s a dream come true. I’ve always wanted it. I’ve been a water boy for Kennebunk High School ever since I was little. Oh yeah. I’ve always wanted to be here and win this and now that I got to play, got to score two touchdowns, it’s an amazing feeling,” Keys said. “I’ve always dreamed of doing this and I finally got to.”
Kennebunk outscored Lawrence 26-6 in the second half, rolling up 290 yards on the ground on 29 carries. The Rams’ only pass attempt was incomplete. In contrast, Lawrence chose to get away from its rushing attack, especially after falling behind by two scores. Lawrence had nine second-half carries for 35 yards after gaining 146 yards on 28 carries in the first half, which included two time-consuming touchdown drives.