High school football on Thanksgiving Day presents a lot of opportunities.
There’s a chance for young players to have their breakthrough moment and it allows established seniors to walk off the field one last time with their heads held high. It also renews old rivalries and gives historic schools a chance to honor past figures who played key roles in all the festivities that make Thanksgiving football so special.
All of that was present at the South Philly Supersite this year as South Philadelphia High School took on Neumann-Goretti in the oldest public vs. Catholic rivalry in the city as the two squads met for the 82nd time.
The Thanksgiving Day game returned last year after a five-year absence when Neumann-Goretti won a lopsided game. This year’s version was much closer as Neumann-Goretti prevailed with a 26-20 victory, although many of the Saints’ starters were rested as they were scheduled to compete in the state quarterfinals just two days later.
Those who did step on the field left it all out there.
“It’s definitely emotional,” said Southern senior Razan Parker. “It’s the last high school game with my guys. The seniors talked about it before the game. We wanted to make something happen. We wanted to have fun. And that’s what we did. It wasn’t the outcome we wanted but we played our hearts out.”
Neumann-Goretti, which recognized its heritage by wearing throwback orange uniforms with “Pirates” embroidered across the back nameplate from its time as St. John Neumann High School, jumped out in front early on a long touchdown run by freshman Terrance Page and the Saints added two more scores to lead 19-0 early in the second quarter. Page took advantage of the early touches and later added a second touchdown on a 70-yard kick return.
“I knew there were going to be a lot (of people) in the stands so I had to put on a show for everybody,” Page said with a smile. “I was able to score twice and get out of the game early. It’s great. I feel blessed that I can get the time that I do as a freshman.”
The Saints landed the first barrage of punches, but the Rams responded. Parker scored all three touchdowns and even threw a successful two-point conversion to Samad Cromwell. Parker struck on a 71-yard run and on a 20-yard reception from Jaylen Johnson before halftime to make it 26-14. The Rams landed another blow in the fourth quarter as Johnson hit Parker in stride for a 69-yard score with 6:25 left.
“I’m very proud of my team,” Parker said. “We prepared for this all week and guys were hyped for it. We wanted to make a statement in this tradition.”
And the Southern vs. Neumann-Goretti tradition added another chapter and more prestige to the gathering as organizers honored dozens of past players and cheerleaders from both sides who took part in past games. Honorees came onto the field during halftime, posed for pictures and exchanged hugs and handshakes.
Last year the game was renewed. This year was another step further in making it a can’t-miss event.
“Bigger and better is always great,” Neumann-Goretti Athletic Director Pat Devenney said. “But I think more of it is getting people involved again. This was a big thing when I came in last year. People were so fired up that the game was back. And we wanted to honor people that were the grassroots for this. Seeing former cheerleaders and people who played in the game and neighborhood friends able to continue this is awesome.”
As part of a newer tradition, the game honored a lineman from both teams after the game. Neumann-Goretti senior David Kpeglo and Southern senior Tahaj Washington were each given the Coach Paul Delveccio Award in the form of a plaque. Delveccio played in the game for Southern 60 years ago and coached the Rams on Thanksgiving 50 years ago.
The Thanksgiving tradition between the two schools dates to 1934 but had a few pauses along the way. Neumann-Goretti now holds the overall advantage with a 60-19-3 record against Southern in those games. The Saints have won the last three meetings and 10 of the last 11.
“After all those years I realized this is not just a game,” Delveccio said before handing out the awards. “It’s a South Philadelphia tradition.”