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Kingsway seniors will miss Thanksgiving games

James Curtis has been pulling a red-and-black jersey over his shoulder pads to prepare for a football game for the last 12 autumns.

James Curtis has been pulling a red-and-black jersey over his shoulder pads to prepare for a football game for the last 12 autumns.

The Kingsway senior will do that for the last time on Thursday morning.

"It's going to hit deep," Curtis said of the emotional impact of the last football game of his career.

Curtis, a tight end/defensive end, plans to play lacrosse in college, so he knows he likely will never play another organized football game after Kingsway's clash with Clearview in the 30th renewal of the annual Thanksgiving Day rivalry.

It's the same all over South Jersey.

Seniors will take the football field for the last time for their high school and often for the last time ever.

Kingsway seniors Joey Dellaquilla and Darrius Scott hope to play in college. But they realize it probably won't be the same as representing the hometown team.

"It's going to be sad," Scott said. "It's meant a lot to me to play for Kingsway."

Said Dellaquilla: "It's kind of emotional. It's the end of doing something that I love."

The game between visiting Kingsway (3-6) and Clearview (6-3), which matches neighboring schools in Gloucester County, is weighted with extra significance for both teams.

Clearview is trying to win seven games in a season for the first time since 2007.

Led by senior quarterback Jarett Baker, a lacrosse star who also is likely playing the final football game of his career, the Pioneers are trying to put the finishing touches on one of the better seasons in program history.

Clearview's regular-season losses were to South Jersey Group 4 finalist Timber Creek and Group 5 power Vineland. And the Pioneers' last game was one of their best, a 35-34 overtime loss to perennial power Shawnee in the first round of the sectional tournament.

Kingsway's motivation is a little different. The Dragons started 0-5 under first-year coach Mark Hendricks, who has overseen a rebuilding project for the program after replacing longtime coach Tony Barchuk.

But the Dragons have played much better over the last month, winning three of their last four. To finish the season with four victories in the final five games would be a positive step for the Kingsway program.

Plus, the opponent is Clearview.

"There's just something about playing Clearview," Scott said. "It's just such a traditional rival, in every sport."

Said Dellaquilla: The rivalry "is something I can't even describe. It seems like it's been going on forever."

Dellaquilla said playing football for Kingsway has been a "cool experience" despite the Dragons' struggles on the scoreboard at times this season.

"I've loved playing for this team," Dellaquilla said. "For it to end, it's going to be tough."

Scott said older players such as 2016 graduate Wale Mustafa had a "major impact" on his life. He hopes he set a good example for the younger players this season.

"It's sad leaving the younger kids," Scott said. "I hope they keep it going, keep the tradition going."

Curtis said the finality of Thursday's contest could hit him as he walks off Clearview's field after the game-ending whistle and last procession through a handshake line.

"Just thinking back to all the games I played since I was 5," Curtis said. "It's sad to realize this will be it for wearing the red-and-black in football. It's been a great program to be part of.

"It could be the last football game I'll ever play. It makes you want to go out there and give it everything you've got."