Football on Thanksgiving Day usually means pro games in Detroit and Dallas. But this year, Madisonville has pigskin passion as well.

"All the way to state!" chanted Madisonville North Hopkins High School cheerleaders Thursday afternoon outside Maroon Stadium.

"These guys have done a great job this season. I anticipate the same thing this Friday night," head coach Jay Burgett said alongside his team minutes later.

About 100 people with a serious case of Maroon Mania cheered his words.

The football team received a Thanksgiving sendoff before boarding a large rented tour bus for Paintsville. The

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Maroons face Johnson Central tonight in the Class 4A semifinals. And because it's a 310-mile trip one-way, the team decided to leave a day early.

Many of the supporters were related to Maroon players, and a few held signs of support. With the sendoff happening at 2:45 p.m., they faced an unusual question. Which comes first on Thanksgiving Day - turkey or pigskin?

"We covered Thanksgiving on Monday night," said Angela Garrett, the aunt of senior lineman Jared Gobin. "We took care of that and got that out of the way."

Garrett and the other supporters were treated to a "Maroon walk," as the players passed by the crowd before posing for a team picture next to the bus. The sight of the tour bus alone was enough to impress some players.

"Great experience," sophomore linebacker Zach Carl said.

Tonight marks Madisonville's first appearance in the state football semifinals since 1971 - a year when Adolph Rupp was near the end of his basketball coaching career and Mitch McConnell made his first bid for public office. That history was not lost on some of the fans.

"I graduated with Jonathan Collins, and this takes it all the way to Sonny Collins," said 1989 MNH alumnus Rodney Coleman, recalling the star running back on the 1971 team. "This is the kind of hype we need every year, to build this program up."

"It's amazing. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity," said Misty Flener, the mother of junior lineman Dru Flener.

It was not all hype and ceremony for the Maroons Thursday. Coleman said he watched a morning practice session before the team loaded the bus. But the head coach made sure they had a moment to feel the love of loyal fans.

"It's a great thing for our community, to come out and support these young men on Thanksgiving," Burgett said moments before boarding the bus. "We've got good confidence in our young men. We've had a great week of preparation."

While the Maroons traveled all the way to Paintsville Thursday, some of the fans are taking their time getting to tonight's game. Garrett decided to take an overnight side trip to Louisville.

"We'll try to do some Black Friday shopping tomorrow morning," she said.

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