HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - If you are a fan of high school football over the age 20, you have probably thought in the past week, “I wish we still had high school football on Thanksgiving Day.”
For many schools, from the 1920’s to the early 2000’s, Thanksgiving was the highlight of the season. Crowds were bigger than normal, as alumni returned, especially those only a few years out of high school, to watch their alma maters play. While there are still a few rivalries that have not been eliminated due to the NJSIAA’s obsession with the state playoffs (Teaneck-Hackensack and Dumont-Tenafly are the two remaining Bergen County Thanksgiving games, while Weequahic-Shabazz in Newark still packs them in), most Turkey Day Classics have gone by the wayside, including Hasbrouck Heights - Wood-Ridge.
While the series was rather one-sided, particularly at the end, there were many great close games. What might surprised people is that Wood-Ridge was not the only school that Hasbrouck Heights played on Thanksgiving. That rivalry did not start until 1941, some 23 seasons after Heights began playing football.
Prior to switching to playing Wood-Ridge, the Aviators were usually on the short end of the stick when it came to Thanksgiving games. (Some of the games that are going to be counted as “Thanksgiving” games were not actually played on Thanksgiving, due to weather. Rain did periodically cancel games back before Field Turf adorned Depken Field.)
Hasbrouck Heights first played on Thanksgiving, and was handed a convincing 24-6 defeat at the hands of Hackensack. They would lose in 1919, 1920, and 1921 as well, and picked up their first win in the series against Hackensack in 1922. But that year the Aviators had a different rival to challenge on Thanksgiving, East Rutherford.
In fact the Aviators would lose every year but one, from 1922-1937 on Thanksgiving to East Rutherford. The Aviators and Wildcats had agreed prior to Thanksgiving that the rivals would no longer play on Thanksgiving. Afterwards, following a riot at the end of the game, it probably looked like a smart move.
So far the Aviators were 1-19 on Thanksgiving.
Next up: Lodi. And this was, for a short time a heated rivalry, as up until 1934 when Lodi High School opened, depending on where you lived in Lodi, it was possible you went to Hasbrouck Heights High School. HHHS Hall of Famer Joe Maniaci was one of those students.
Starting this rivalry in the worst year in Hasbrouck Heights football history (while people will debate which Hasbrouck Heights football team is the best, no one will question that 1938 was the worst season ever, being shutout in every game, which gives the result of the first Lodi-Heights matchup away, doesn’t it) resulted in the Rams picking up a 38-0 victory.
That was followed by an 18-6 loss, and a 26-0 loss, giving Lodi a 3-0 lead in the Thanksgiving series.
On November 20, 1941, the Aviators would play Wood-Ridge on Thanksgiving for the first time. (On December 31, President Franklin D. Roosevelt would sign into law that Thanksgiving would be held on the fourth Thursday of November annually. Before that, it was celebrated the last Thursday in November, which sometimes made it fall on either the 29th or 30th. Roosevelt moved it up, partly, to help boost the economy by giving people more time for Christmas shopping.)
The Aviators opened the series with a 19-0 victory. The Blue Devils responded in 1942 with a 13-6 win. Following the 1943 game, which Hasbrouck Heights won 2-0, the rivalry had taken hold. The Aviators would follow that win, with four close victories before Wood-Ridge broke the Thanksgiving Day streak.
(Note in 1944-45, in which the BCSL was down to five schools, Hasbrouck Heights and Wood-Ridge played twice a season.)
1948 saw the Blue Devils eek out a thrilling 14-13 victory. In 1949, they pounded the Aviators, 54-6, and in 1950, would run the streak to three in a row with 19-0 shutout. The Aviators regained control of the series in 1951, winning six straight game, including the final four games by shutout. Wood-Ridge would bounce back, however, capturing four straight, with the fifth game ending in a tie.
Starting in 1962, the Aviators would go 6-2 to finish the decade. In 1968, an Aviator team that was coming off a shocking 14-0 loss to Leonia took their anger out on the Blue Devils, winning 75-0 in the most lopsided game in Hasbrouck Heights history. In 1969, playing at Wood-Ridge, the Blue Devils held the Aviators to a 34-6 victory. It was the closest game the 1969 team would play that season en route to capturing its second straight state title.
Wood-Ridge defeated the Aviators at Depken, 12-6, to start the 70s. The Aviators bounced back with a 30-20 win in 1971, starting a streak that would not see Hasbrouck Heights lose to Wood-Ridge until 1986 (24-8) and 1987 (23-0).
Those two losses would be the last ones, it appears, ever on Thanksgiving. Hasbrouck Heights has a 24-game win streak against the Blue Devils, having won from 1987 to 2011, all but the last two on Thanksgiving.
The NJSIAA in its constant tweaking of the conferences to help the state playoffs had started pressuring leagues not to schedule Thanksgiving Day games. The final two years, the two met in Week 3 of the season.
The teams have not met since 2012, and being in different divisions of the NJIC, it is unlikely they will meet soon, unless it is in either NJIC Crossover games (which almost happened this year), or the State Playoffs.
Ignoring the last two games played mid-season, and the first of the two matchups in 1944 and 1945 when the teams played twice, the Aviators are 55-12-1 on Thanksgiving against Wood-Ridge, and 56-34-1 overall on Turkey Day.
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