Portland High’s football team is still smarting from a tough, competitive loss in a state championship game. Deering hasn’t played in nearly five weeks.
But, according to their coaches, both teams are excited to continue a Portland holiday tradition when they meet Thursday in the 110th edition of Maine’s only Thanksgiving Day high school football game.
The exhibition game kicks off at 10 a.m., at Fitzpatrick Stadium – a half hour earlier than in recent years.
“It means something to us. This game’s been played for over 100 years. It’s one of the oldest rivalries in the entire nation,” said Portland Coach Jason McLeod. “It’s still a big deal and it’s an opportunity to end your season with a victory and on a positive note.”
Portland (8-4) lost 20-14 loss to Skowhegan in Saturday’s Class B championship game, which was also played at Fitzpatrick Stadium. It was the Bulldogs’ fourth playoff game.
Portland did not practice Monday and planned to have some light workouts on Tuesday and Wednesday. McLeod said he plans “to give the whole roster an opportunity to compete on the playing field.”
For a second straight season Deering (1-7) did not make the playoffs. They have not played since a season-ending 35-0 loss at home to Gorham on Oct. 21, meaning a 34-day span between games.
Deering first-year coach Leon Smith said he’s kept his team engaged with weight-lifting sessions and practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Attendance has been in the 28- to 32-player range. Most of Deering’s starters this season were underclassmen.
“I had a lot of young kids this year, they stuck through it all and they’ve been at practice every day. They have the will to learn and get better,” Smith said. “I want them to feel like this is more than just a game. This game has history. So they can be a part of history, win or lose.”
Last season a 10-1 Portland squad, coming off a loss in the B South regional final, beat Deering 68-3. Deering had gone 0-8 in the regular season.
The game was not played in 2020 when the tackle football season was canceled because of the pandemic.
Portland leads the all-time series 60-42-7 and has won six of the past eight holiday games.
Deering’s most recent Thanksgiving victory came in 2019, 32-13. That season Deering qualified for the B South playoffs with a 2-6 record and lost its playoff opener to Kennebunk. Portland went 1-7 and did not make the playoffs in 2019.
Tickets for the game are $5 for general admission, $3 for seniors and veterans and free for students with an ID/Metro Pass.
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.