High School Football: Springfield ‘thankful’ for Thanksgiving Day practice

Wildcats will face Cincinnati Moeller in state semifinals on Friday night

SPRINGFIELD — Maurice Douglass got his Christmas wish early this year.

All the Springfield High School football coach wanted was for his program to hold practice on Thanksgiving Day — an event that brings symbolizes team success, he said.

“It’s got a lot to do with the commitment of the kids and the coaches throughout the year,” Douglass said. “It’s a great way to spend some time together and reminisce on some of the things that have happened throughout the year.”

A practice on Turkey Day means the program is one of four teams remaining in Ohio in their division. Springfield has done it three of the past four years, only missing out on the Turkey Day practice in 2020 due to the shortened COVID-19 season.

“It’s a time of giving and being around loved ones, sharing great moments and memories and things that have happened throughout the year,” Douglass said. “It’s a time of being thankful. What better way to be thankful than being able to play for a state final.”

The Wildcats (12-1) will face Cincinnati Moeller (13-1) in a Division I state semifinal at 7 p.m. Friday at Piqua’s Alexander Stadium with a trip to Canton for their second straight state final on the line.

The winner will play either Lakewood St. Edward (13-1) or Gahanna Lincoln (13-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.

A year ago, the Wildcats beat Moeller 22-21 to advance to the program’s first state final appearance since the playoff era began in 1972.

With a victory, the Wildcats can become the first program in Clark County history to advance to back-to-back state championship games. Only two other Clark County programs — Catholic Central in 1991 and Shawnee in 2011 — have advanced to the state championship game.

Springfield enters the state semifinals having won eight straight games since falling to Fairmont in Week 6. The Wildcats routed Olentangy Liberty 35-7 in the Region 2 championship game last Friday night at London’s Bowlus Field to advance to their fourth straight state semifinal game. They became the 25th program in Ohio history to accomplish the feat, according to the OHSAA unofficial record book.

Springfield senior defensive back Tyron Barnes is practicing on Thanksgiving for the third time. The state semifinal has been a big topic at the dinner table in previous years, he said.

“It feels good to just still be playing and go home and eat with your family and then go out and play the next day,” he said. “(At dinner) It’s like, ‘Hey, you gotta get this win’.”

Senior defensive end Robert Owens, Jr., is practicing on Thanksgiving for the first time.

“It’s a new experience,” he said. “It’s a good experience to have. Everybody should get a chance to do it, but not everybody does. I’m just ready to go prepare for the game.”

The Wildcats’ preparation for the state semifinals got a boost a few weeks ago when Springfield Superintendent Bob Hill canceled classes this week as part of a Wellness Week for the district. The break has allowed the Wildcats to focus solely on the task at hand — beating Moeller.

“It’s pretty cool,” Douglass said. “We’ve been able to get a good practice in and not have a lot of distractions. … It’s been a pretty pleasant situation to be in.”

Douglass isn’t surprised to be preparing for Moeller on Thanksgiving for the second straight season.

“(Moeller coach Mark Elder) has done a great job with those guys since he’s been down there,” Douglass said. “He’s got the support of the community and I know they’ve got a lot of people who believe in what they have. They returned a lot of guys from last year’s team. Even though we weren’t really looking at it like that, it was kind of meant to be. I know (Coach Elder) has been looking forward to this game. We did our part and now we’re both here and on Friday night at 9:30, we’ll find out who’s the champion.”

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