Every coach will tell you, it's not how you start the season, but how you finish it. And with that mindset, the Winchester and Woburn football teams will take the field Thursday morning for the 106th game between the two schools.
Its public school football game in the state as kickoff is slated for 10:15 a.m. Thanksgiving morning. This rivalry sits only behind Malden-Medford (123 years) and Needham-Wellesley (123 years) as the longest in the state.
"You compare this to Army-Navy or Ohio St.-Michigan," Winchester coach Paul Sobolewski said. "This is the game that everyone waits for. It means everything to the teams. It's a one game championship. None of the teams play anymore games after Thursday, so this is it, this is where you lay it all on the line."
Winchester holds the lead in this series, defeating Woburn 51 times, while losing 42 games to the Tanners. There have been 12 ties over the course of the last century of games. Winchester won last year's matchup, 7-0, in the first game at the newly renovated
It's a game that Sobolewski urges his players to attend early and often.
"I tell them not to wait until their senior year for this game, you have to experience it all four years of high school," Sobolewski said. "You have to experience the drive into the stadium an hour before kickoff and see the place packed and people grilling all over the place – it's unbelievable. It's such a great atmosphere. It's something you don't want to miss."
Both teams started this season off slowly but seem to be rounding into form just in time for Thursday's game. Woburn (5-4) began the season 1-3 before winning three in a row against Wakefield (23-8), Lexington (21-13) and Melrose (35-7). The Tanners last lost came against state power Reading – 37-13.
"We were a very young football team, but got great senior leadership," said Woburn coach Rocky Nelson. "To finish the season 6-4 would be a great accomplishment for our seniors, our program and our boys."
For Winchester, the Sachems graduated 17 players from a team that went 9-2 a year ago. It's been an up-and-down season so far. They lost their first four games, and in three of those games Winchester nearly pulled it out in the fourth quarter.
Then the Sachems had their signature win of the season, 7-6. And now after winning three of their final four games – (26-7), (43-7) and (28-7) – the Sachems are confident they can close the season with one more victory.
"What we did in September doesn't matter in this game," said Sobolewski who's coaching in his fifth Thanksgiving Day game, Winchester is 2-2. "We won three of our last four and are hitting our stride at the right time. Our kids that were young at the beginning of the season now have the necessary experience."
But both coaches, teams, players and fans all know that this is a game you never take for granted no matter the record.
"Records don't mean much in this game," said Sobolewski. "Once we take the field both teams are even with wins and losses."
And when the game comes to an end, it's something the players will never forget.
"The one thing about this rivalry, and I've played in it and coached in it for 40 years, it's always a rivalry of respect," Nelson said. "We're going to get after it for 44 minutes, but then after the game it's all about respect."