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Friday night’s North Middlesex and Groton-Dunstable football game reminded me of what high school sports are all about.

Both student sections were packed to capacity. The cheers of the fans echoed down to the sidelines, and there is no doubt that both the coaches and players fed off the noise.

Stop and think about this for a moment: It was not until last year that these two rivals, separated by a mere five miles or so, ever met on the gridiron.

Friday’s 21-20 North Middlesex victory was for way more than just bragging rights. It was for positioning in the hotly contested Midland B league.

North Middlesex, with a comparable enrollment to Groton-Dunstable, should battle on Thanksgiving Day for a trophy. Might I suggest a Crusader sword and a musket crossed on a stand that depicts a battle for the border with engravings of the scores from years past?

Friday night’s first half ended in dramatic fashion as the Crusaders were stuffed on the goal line by the North Middlesex defense.

North Middlesex carried a slim, 7-6, lead into half-time. It was apparent from the hard-hitting, bone-jarring action that we had a real classic unfolding.

The quarterback battle was as close to David v. Goliath as you could get in high school football.

The two teams did not disappoint.

Under center for the Patriots was the shifty quarterback John Boutwell, who has the ability to toast you both through the air and on the ground. Then, for the Crusaders, sophomore quarterback Nate Forbes, who before Friday night hadn’t started a game under center in his career.

Forbes, however, like his older brother, Quentin, used his run-first mentality to his advantage. Forbes, who stands about six-foot and 155 pounds, did not shy away from contact.

Forbes bucked up and took a vicious shot to the ribs at the goal line, but he used his forward momentum to dive across the pylon to make it 14-12. On the ensuing play, Forbes reeled in the two-point conversion pass from Michael Tammaro to tie the game at 14-14 with under a minute remaining.

The crafty veteran gunslinger, Boutwell, rallied his troops from their own 20-yard line to paydirt in two plays.

Boutwell connected with sure-handed target Ryan MacDonald on back-to-back 40-yard bombs, and on the last one, MacDonald saw the open field and coasted into the end zone to make it 21-20, after he knocked through the go-ahead PAT.

However, never count out Groton-Dunstable and its well-organized offense.

Groton-Dunstable head coach Derek Asadoorian pulled a wrinkle out of his sleeve with 22.2 seconds remaining in the game.

On third-and-goal from the Groton-Dunstable 7-yard line, Asadoorian dialed up a Boise State-like pass play from Shane Dawson to tightend Danny Howes, who secured it in the back corner of the end zone to make it a one point game. Instead of opting to push the game into overtime, the Crusaders went for two and were shut down at the goal line by the North Middlesex defensive front.

Now, what would make this game better?

Thanksgiving Day, that’s what. For those wondering who Nashoba and Tyngsboro will play, if the two schools do in fact decide to make it a Thanksgiving morning tradition, leave that to the athletic directors to decide.

Both Groton-Dunstable and North Middlesex square off in every other sport offered at the schools, why not football on the biggest regular season stage? Having the game early in October just does not have the same feel to it as a cold Thanksgiving Day morning tilt.

Following the loss, coach Asadoorian called the game “epic.”

North Middlesex veteran head coach Sandy Ruggles summed up the game as a good pride booster for both schools. Ruggles saw a few of his former players come down to the field and congratulate him after the win as I was interviewing him. That’s the moment, as a reporter, where you shut off your recorder and let the coach soak in the moment.Regardless of what I write, that is likely a moment coach Ruggles will forever remember — the pride restored in North Middlesex and Groton-Dunstable football.

For those of you keeping tabs at home, the football series between the two rivals is now level at 1-1.

North Middlesex hits the road tonight for a tilt at historic Crocker Field against Fitchburg (1-3). The Crusaders travel to Northboro to face Algonquin, a team that knocked off the Patriots, 17-12, in week two.

Here’s to another great night of high school football.

It’s going to take quite a finish to live up to the classic that unfolded in Groton last Friday night.

Follow Ed Niser on Twitter/Tout: @EdNiser.

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