HS Football: Franklin Tech looks to clip Smith Vocational on Thanksgiving

  • Franklin Tech’s Ian McClure (25) sweeps to the outside on a run against Frontier in the third quarter earlier this season in South Deerfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Franklin Tech’s Ryan Bergmann, left, brings down Chicopee’s Steven Matta in the second quarter Thursday night in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Franklin Tech’s Colby Mailloux (89) fights through a tackle from Mohawk Trail defender Liam Driscoll (5) after a completion in the fourth quarter earlier this season in Buckland. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 11/27/2019 9:17:30 PM
Modified: 11/27/2019 9:17:25 PM

Franklin County Technical School is looking for a better go-around the second time against its newly-formed Thanksgiving rival.

The Eagles (3-7) dropped their inaugural Thanksgiving game to Smith Vocational a season ago, falling 24-14, but don’t expect a repeat of those results this year when the two teams kick off at 10 a.m. today in Northampton.

The Vikings are Franklin Tech coach Joe Gamache’s third Turkey Day opponent in his 18 years with the program. The Eagles played Mohawk Trail for a couple years before having a series with Pioneer that ended two years ago when the Panthers didn’t have the numbers to field a program. Now, the focus turns to developing a rivalry with Smith Voke.

“It’s always a challenge,” Gamache said. “I thought we had a pretty good thing going with Pioneer. It was a relatively even series. Last year, we started this with Smith Voke. We didn’t get off to the start we wanted, not only in the win column but the weather because we had to play on Wednesday night. We didn’t quite get off on the right foot for us. We’re excited to have another opportunity to bring that trophy back here. If we win, we can even the series and start to develop a rivalry that can withstand the test of time.”

It’s been a tough year for the Vikings, who are seeking their first win of the season after an 0-9 start. Their contests haven’t been particularly close either, as they’ve been outscored by a 331-66 margin. Thirty-two of those 66 points were scored against Athol, the lone game the team scored double-digit points. The Red Raiders still came away with a victory, 34-32.

Despite the rough season, Franklin Tech is not taking Smith Voke lightly. Losing the first matchup of the series has the Eagles laser-focused going into today’s contest.

“It’s a big deal to me, it’s a big deal to the guys,” senior running back Ian McClure said. “We got whacked last year. We didn’t play our best game so we owe them one. I know that we’re feeling the rivalry and going for it. Losing here last year was tough. It created some fire and drive. We’re ready for it. We’re coming. Going into any game, you can’t take anyone for granted. You never know so you have to go out there without focusing on the other team and records, you have to go in there and focus on you and what you’re supposed to do and just do your job.” 

The Eagles know rivalries aren’t formed overnight. It takes multiple years and big games to develop one, with Franklin Tech hoping to put together a statement win to add to the lure of the game going forward.

With multiple area teams not playing on Thanksgiving anymore, Gamache is thankful his squad has an opponent to take on prior to his holiday feast.

“If we can find a way to win this year, the series is even and then next year becomes a little more important,” Gamache said. “Then over time it tends to build. We’re very fortunate to be able to play football on Thanksgiving morning. In this region, there’s only a few other teams that can say that. This year has been a struggle for numbers throughout the region. Even our numbers are starting to dwindle as the season’s gone on.” 

While it’s been a down year for the Vikings, Franklin Tech also hasn’t had the season it imagined. The Eagles defense has been one of the best in the area, surrendering a mere 12.4 points per game. The problem has been on offense, which hasn’t been able to match the play of the defense. That unit has been held to single digits in half of their games.

If the Tech offense can get going early today, the Eagles should have a chance to even the Turkey Day series.

“They’ve got some pretty good-sized linemen,” Gamache said of Smith Voke. “They have some decent skill guys. Their season as a whole hasn’t gone as they’d hoped but they certainly have put some points on the board in some games and have had some opportunities with costly turnovers. They’re a lot better than what their record indicates but I think we’re better than what our record indicates, too. It will be a pretty solid game for both teams.”

Franklin Tech had a key player return to its backfield two weeks ago, as Ryan Bergmann played his first game since September during the team’s loss to McCann Tech. The junior rushed for 61 yards in his return to the field after rushing for 356 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the first three games of the season.

Bergmann’s return helps spell McClure (505 yards, six touchdowns) in the backfield. Tailback Bailey Young hasn’t suited up for the Eagles since the loss to Mahar at the end of October, but is third on the team with 358 yards on the season.

Nobody expected McClure to be the team’s leading rusher at the beginning of the season. Buried in the depth chart, he fought his way to the top and is proud of the season he’s had. Now, the only thing left to do is close his career on a high note. 

“It’s tough emotionally,” McClure said. “Growing up, I always dreamed of playing football. I wasn’t allowed to because my mom was scared of injuries. When I got to high school, I got the opportunity to play so it’s been crazy. It’s been a fun four years and I’ll be sad to see it go. (A win) would mean everything to me. I’d never want to walk away with a loss. Unfortunately my last home game was a loss so I want to leave my last final game in general with a win. It would mean a lot.” 

It’s been a mixed bag this season for Tech quarterback Owen Bashaw. The junior has completed 31 percent of his passes this year, tossing seven touchdowns and eight picks while moving the ball 667 yards through the air. Bashaw tossed a touchdown in two of the team’s three wins this season, his best game coming in a Week 3 blowout over Monument Mountain, where he completed 7 of 12 passes for 131 yards and two scores.

On the outside, Bashaw is most likely looking in the direction of seniors Colby Mailloux, Hunter Wozniak or Donte Rosewarne.

Mailloux and Wozniak are tied for a team-high 17 catches on the season.Wozniak leads the team with 314 yards receiving, with Wozniak in second with 274 yards. Wozniak has a team-high five receiving touchdowns while Rosewarne has nine catches for 140 yards and two scores.

For Mailloux, who missed the majority of his junior year with a knee injury, it hasn’t set in yet that he’ll be putting the pads on for the final time today.

“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” Mailloux said. “Once the end of the game comes, it’s going to be emotional. I’ve been playing since fifth grade. This season’s been a lot of ups-and-downs. We’re working through it and hoping to come out with four wins, which would certainly be better than losing. Looking back and knowing I won my final game would feel good.” 

On paper, the Eagle offense should be able to move the ball against a Viking defense that has allowed teams to score 36.8 points per game. Injuries have hurt the Franklin Tech offensive line, however, forcing the team to start three freshmen and two juniors up front.

Smith Voke has a few weapons on offense that could be a problem for the Eagles.

“Throw the records out,” Wozniak said. “It’s 0-0, you’ve got to give it your best. They haven’t had the best season but they have a few athletes. I think we’ll do a good job covering them but we have to execute. It’s way more intense in these games. You’re just in the moment and you’re so ready for it. It happens and it’s so much fun but it’s such a big rivalry because you really want to beat them.” 

The Vikings run an offense similar to other teams in Franklin County, which Franklin Tech has done a solid job of defending this year. 

“They have a couple athletes for sure,” McClure said. “They have some talented kids who are quick. They run a similar offense that we’ve seen previously and we’ve had some success against it. Overall, it’s going to be a good game, it’s going to be a fun game.”

For Gamache, he’s hoping to earn a win the program can build on for 2020. 

“Thanksgiving Day football is one of those things where as rivalries grow, you can throw the record out the window,” Gamache said. “It boils down to this is your Super Bowl because it’s your last game. The seniors, it gives them an opportunity if we win they can go out with something to hang their hats on. For the younger guys, it starts to build momentum for next year. If they win, they get that taste on Thanksgiving and the hope is they come back and are ready to go the following year.” 

McClure is trying to win so he can enjoy his meal after.

“After last year, I didn’t really enjoy my Thanksgiving meal,” McClure said. “I’m trying to enjoy my meal this year.”

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