Turkey Bowl: New Canaanites Gather for Beloved Annual Tradition as Rams Beat Down Blue Wave 27-0

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For generations of Americans, Thanksgiving Day and football are synonymous. And for New Canaanites, the football appetite is fed each year when the New Canaan High School Rams football team is pitted against their arch rival, the Darien Blue Wave in the Turkey Bowl.

Thousands of New Canaanites traveled to Stamford’s Boyle Stadium on Thursday as part of the local holiday ritual—students, teachers and faculty, alumni, parents and residents.

Among them was James Freyre, a 2017 NCHS graduate, and linebacker of two state championship Ram football squads, who said he was eager to come back and enjoy his first game as an alumnus.

James Freyre, NCHS 2017 graduate, enjoying the scene of the Turkey Bowl on Nov. 23, 2017. Credit: Jes Sauerhoff

“It’s definitely a little less stressful to be a fan than a player,” Freyre told NewCanaanite.com while standing on the sidelines on a sunny, mildly chilly day. “This time last year I’d be feeling the butterflies quite a bit right about now. It’s great to be back for one of the best traditions there is—in both the town and the state. I was fortunate to play both in front of the big crowd at Boyle like today will be, and in front of our hometown fans at Dunning last year. And even though both those games ended in defeat, there’s truly nothing like the Turkey Bowl. It’s one of the most amazing, special experiences I’ve had—and probably ever will have—when it comes to sports. I feel confident those guys playing out there today will cherish it as well.”

The Turkey Bowl as it’s known today started in 1994 when the FCIAC expanded Thanksgiving Day games from just its conference championship—then the only game with the ‘Turkey Bowl’ moniker—to include all member schools playing games against their respective rivals.

Thursday’s contest marked the 91st time New Canaan and Darien have squared off against one another, with New Canaan holding a 50-38-2 advantage.

The game itself was played against an unusual backdrop, as three Darien teens—at least two of whom, the starting quarterback and a receiver, had helped lead a Blue Wave squad that entered the Turkey Bowl undefeated—were arrested by warrant the day before following the assault earlier this month of a New Canaan juvenile. Jake Ciancio intercepted a pass on the first play of the game, taking it in for a pick six and 7-0 lead, and—thanks in part to a 23-yard TD run from senior back Owen Shin—went on to win the game handily, 27-0.

For football alum David Reed, a NCHS class of ’07 graduate and 2006 Turkey Bowl MVP, the game gets a star on the calendar each year.

“It’s the only game I get to go to each year with me no longer living in Connecticut,” Reed said. “It’s a good tradition and a great time to be out here with the community of New Canaan.”

David Reed taking in the atmosphere of the Turkey Bowl on Nov. 23, 2017, as he has every year since graduating NCHS in 2007. Credit: Jes Sauerhoff

Asked to recall that glorious effort 11 years ago, Reed replied, “It was a freezing cold and rainy game that we pulled out 14-0. The weather was miserable, but any victory over Darien is one you don’t forget. And your teammates stick with you, too. We were state champs that year so it was definitely a special group.”

The game’s become an event so popular that neither school felt its respective home fields were large enough to accommodate all who wanted to attend. So last month, the two schools came upon a two-year agreement where Stamford’s Boyle Stadium, with a capacity of 10,000, would play host to the annual affair—marking the fourth time the venue has been the game’s location (the others being in 2008, 2014 and 2015).

NCHS senior Jackie Newlin said she believes that the larger crowd only adds to the raucous atmosphere that this game’s environment typically provides.

NCHS senior Jackie Newlin (left) poses with a couple of friends in the midst of Turkey Bowl 2017. Nov. 23, 2017. Credit: Jes Sauerhoff

“We students are passionate about cheering the football team on—especially against Darien,” Newlin said. “Combine that with all the rest of our fans and our team’s certainly going to feel the support today. I just hope we can come out and perform well and reverse the outcome of recent years.”

Meanwhile, veterans of the rivalry like retired NCPS physical education teacher Charles Milot, who has attended every New Canaan-Darien game since 1960, knows that it’s just terrific to have a quality game to count on and look forward to each year.

“I first became a fan of the team and game because of knowing the kids who were playing due to them being my students,” Milot said. “And my interest has stuck throughout all the years. These two teams have continuously represented the class of the FCIAC for decades, and they always give you a great game. But, being a little biased, I’m hopeful that New Canaan will pull out the win today.”

Charles Milot, a retired NCPS P.E. teacher takes in his 68th consecutive New Canaan vs. Darien contest on Nov. 23, 2017. Credit: Jes Sauerhoff

Entering play Thursday, the Rams led the “Turkey Bowl” series 13-9-1, with the lone tie coming in 2003. But while New Canaan leads the overall series, thanks in large part to winning eight consecutive times from 2004-2011, Darien who had been riding the wave of success of late, winning five straight contests coming into this year’s.

And that wasn’t the only streak at stake. Darien started the day atop both the FCIAC and state standings with an undefeated 9-0 record, seeking to extend its 34-game win streak. While New Canaan (7-2) was desperate to snap its five-game Turkey Bowl losing streak so it could extend its streak of consecutive state tournament appearances to 13.

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