Through no fault or intention of their own doing, there's still no denying as time moves on the luster has lessened from what was once the very consequential holiday football rivalry between East …
Through no fault or intention of their own doing, there's still no denying as time moves on the luster has lessened from what was once the very consequential holiday football rivalry between East Providence High School and LaSalle Academy.
For the better part of the first 85-odd meetings between the Townies and Rams the result of their Thanksgiving Day game meant something of substance in terms of the regular season standings and the eventual state champion.
But when the Rhode Island Interscholastic League decided nearly a decade ago now to change its postseason format, the game's significance took quite a hit.
Instead of Thanksgiving being the last Division I game of the regular season for the Townies and Rams, one often packed with playoff ramifications, it's now played after the championship tournament has concluded and is almost an afterthought because it doesn't have the impact it once did.
That's especially become the case since LaSalle and Hendricken, the state's preeminent private schools athletically, have separated themselves more and more in recent years so far beyond most of the public schools, East Providence included.
So when East Providence does travel to Providence to face LaSalle for the 94th time on Thanksgiving Day morning Thursday, Nov. 23, with a 10 a.m. kickoff, even those closely associated to it don't know quite what to expect.
"Obviously the importance of the game isn't what it once was," EPHS head coach Jon Stringfellow admitted in the build up to the 2023 encounter. "I think now it's more about it being our last game of the season, the last game of their careers for the seniors. I think that's what resonates more with them at this point more than any rivalry with LaSalle."
Unlucky and not opportunistic at times during the 2023 regular season, the Townies failed to qualify for the eight-team Division II championship tournament. East Providence, which went 2-4 in the league this fall, enters the game with a 4-6 overall record.
LaSalle's Division I campaign also ended in an unsatisfactory manner as for the first time in four years and just the second time in 10 the Rams did not reach the state final. LaSalle, seeded second in the four-team D-I tournament, was throttled by third-seeded North Kingstown 45-12 in the semis. The Rams also are 4-6 overall heading into their 2023 finale.
"Them getting knocked out could make things interesting. It's a different type of scenario. It hasn't happened before under this playoff format," Stringfellow said of the Rams' loss to the Skippers. The current postseason set-up began in 2016.
He continued, "We're down some key starters and personnel with injuries and other things, so we'll see how things go. Hopefully we'll have a performance like we did last year."
Last Thanksgiving, the upstart Townies took LaSalle to the wire before falling 41-36 in the contest played at Pierce Stadium after a drainage problem at the new EPHS stadium meant a considerable portion of the stands were closed for safety reasons. In the end, the locals couldn't score the would-be game-winning touchdown late and after having a first-and-goal situation in the final minute.
Stringfellow added, "This group has continued to work hard. They've stuck together. They've worked hard with the idea that we're still playing, still trying to be competitive. Hopefully we go out Thanksgiving and give a good effort."