Warde, Ludlowe Thanksgiving rivalry
It was almost midnight, and Thanksgiving Eve was about to become Thanksgiving Day, when Warde football coach Duncan DellaVolpe and Mustangs athletic director Seth Fry decided that Tetreau-Davis field was good to go.
The edge of a Nor'easter had just swept through the state, leaving an inch or so of ice and slush on the field and rather than let Mother Nature do her thing and melt the mess, Fry and DellaVolpe were riding a four-wheel carts with brushes on it to try and push the ice off the field.
Why? Because there was a game to play.
Warde and Ludlowe may have only been playing as renewed Thanksgiving Day opponents for the past 10 years but it's a rivalry that dates back to the mid-1950's when Warde, the second Fairfield high school, opened and created an immediate athletic rivalry that is still going strong today, 58 years later.
So, DellaVolpe and Fry cleared the field, went home, caught a few hours sleep and by 8 a.m., were back at school, making sure that every last detail had been taken care of.
"I wanted to play today (Thanksgiving) no matter what," DellaVolpe said. "To me, it was important to play on this day in front of this crowd. There was great energy and it was a good game on both sides. I think both schools are getting it going now and hopefully we can establish Fairfield football ... that's the overall goal."
In front of an estimated crowd of 1,800, Warde used three touchdown catches from receiver Ryan Brown to beat the Falcons 27-12 and retain the Gallagher-Banyas Trophy, which was created -- or re-incarnated -- to be awarded to the winner of the Thanksgiving Day game.
"The Gallagher part was the Ludlowe trophy that was given to a well-rounded scholar athlete going back to the late 1940's," said Fairfield First Selectman Michael Tetreau. "I think Lt. Gallagher was someone who died during World War II and there is a plaque at Ludlowe that lists all the award winners. "It's kind of morphed from an individual award to a team award."
Tetreau, along with his two brothers, Bill and Jack, all played football at Ludlowe. Their father, Fern, was the head football coach at Warde. Michael played against his father three times between 1967 and 1969 before graduating in the spring of 1970 and watching his father retire that same season.
"We called it `Family Day.' Absolutely it was fun," Tetreau said. "My dad was the coach at Ludlowe back in the (early) `50's and when Warde opened up (in 1956) he moved over there (starting in 1958), which is why is name is on the football field over there," Tetreau said. "I went to Ludlowe, my coach was Emil Taft, and that field is named after him. Interestingly, Emil Taft and my dad played in the same backfield at Springfield College."
Michael won the Gallagher Award in 1970 while brother Bill received the award in 1974 and brother Jack in 1977.
The first football game between the two schools took place in 1956 with Ludlowe taking a 27-6 victory and then winning 20-6 in 1957. The next year, Warde posted a 26-0 win and in 1959, the two teams tied 14-14. But then, Ludlowe started a string of dominance, winning 15 straight games before Warde finally snapped the streak with a 16-14 win in 1975.
Overall, the two schools have played 40 times -- 20 times on Thanksgiving -- with Ludlowe leading the series 24-15-1.
"They were great rivalries because so many of the kids that you were playing against, you knew who they were," Tetreau said. "It wasn't No. 67, it was Doug Fostrum. It wasn't No. 89 it was Dave Abraham, so you knew who the people were. You really saw more than the facemask and you knew the personalties. Neither side wanted to lose to the other. We knew all the kids at Warde and they knew who we were. It was a function of wanting to beat family."
Since the two schools started playing on Thanksgiving back in 2005, Warde leads the series 6-4 but those 10 games have been packed with electricity, emotion, passion and yes, tremendous disappointment.
"Last year was a bittersweet season for me," said Camera. "We come in (first season as a coaching staff) and put up a six-win season, the first six-win season since the split and there was a lot of fanfare and a lot of excitement and we ended on a very sour note. Warde got the better of us and they got the better of us from the opening whistle to the final whistle. It was one of our worst games of the year."
That loss still sits in Camera's gut today, as does the first one that DellaVolpe was a part of back in 2009.
"Ludlowe scored 17 points in three minutes to end the first half and we just came apart," DellaVolpe said, recalling a 24-14 loss. "Some freak plays happened and that I'd never seen happen before and it's been hard to forget that one. It was one of the hardest losses that I've ever been a part of."
Admittedly, DellaVolpe, who was an assistant at New Canaan before getting the Warde job, was surprised with the intensity of the rivalry.
"I really didn't think it was (much of a rivalry) but it is," he said. "We get great fan support both sides ... there's your typical high school banter back and forth in the two weeks leading up to the game and it's kind of fun. It gives everyone a little extra juice. It's definitely the biggest contest going. Everyone's fired up, everyone looks forward to it."
Likewise for Camera, who played high school football at East Haven and was part of the East Haven-Branford rivalry, a game that dates back over 100 years.
"Although Warde and Ludlowe doesn't have the same longevity as some of the other Thanksgiving games, it has the same passion. The kids want to go against their cross-town rivals," Camera said. "I'll put Warde and Ludlowe up there with anybody in terms of rivalry. This game can decide the entire fate of your season."
Just like it did this week when Warde won to give them a 6-5 finish, the first winning season for the Mustangs since the split.
"It's definitely the most important game of the season by far," said Brown. "Winning this game means everything to us. It's amazing."
"Warde and Ludlowe, it's always intense, said Ludlowe's Howell. "I've got a lot of friends on that team but when it comes to game time, we're not friends for those 40 minutes."
In 1969, Tetreau quarterbacked Ludlowe to a 42-6 win over Warde and still remembers a moment in that game that stands out to this day, 45 years later.
"We were inside (Warde's) 10-yard line and our big fullback, Kevin Pragnast, who was an all-state player, gets to the of scrimmage and he calls out to the opponent, `I'm coming for you, so-and-so ...I'm going to run right over you,' " Tetreau said. "And you could see the Warde defenders getting all fired up and I'm thinking `What is he doing?'
"So, the ball gets snapped I turn, I put the ball in Kevin's gut ... and then I pull it out and throw a pass to the tight end, who was wide open for a touchdown ... because everyone thought that Kevin was going right up the middle. Kevin did that just to set up the play. The rivalry was intense then, it's still intense now and it will be intense for a long time to come."