H.S. Football: Franklin Tech-Smith Voke set for 3rd Thanksgiving Day meeting

  • Franklin Tech quarterback Gabe Tomasi (4) hands the ball off to running back Josiah Little (20) against Greenfield during action earlier this season. Both players will look to lift the Eagles when they host Smith Vocational on Thanksgiving morning at 10 a.m. in the Powertown. file PHOTO BY DAN LITTLE

  • Smith Voke senior Orien Blake, left, outruns Belchertown senior Erik Magner on a kickoff return earlier this season in Belchertown. The Vikings travel to play at Franklin Tech on Thanksgiving morning at 10 a.m. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 11/24/2021 3:11:58 PM

A budding rivalry enters its third year of Thanksgiving Day action on Thursday, as the Franklin Tech football team welcomes Smith Vocational to the Powertown for a 10 a.m. kickoff.

The teams split a pair of meetings in 2018 (Smith Voke, 24-14) and 2019 (Franklin Tech, 30-0) before last year’s game was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now in its third edition, both programs are excited about where the rivalry between teams from neighboring counties is headed.

“It’s nice to rekindle some element of normalcy,” Franklin Tech head coach Joe Gamache said. “I would say the rivalry itself is still developing. It’s nice that we’re tied at one win apiece, so this game will break that tie.”

Smith Voke head coach Alex Subocz said that Thursday’s game is an important step in the development of the rivalry.

“I think this is probably the first year that it's starting to really feel like a rivalry,” Subocz said. “The kids really want to win this game. They want to bring the trophy back to Smith Voke. It's definitely reaching an important Thanksgiving Day level, which is awesome to see.”

Here’s a closer look at Thursday's game:

Inside the season

Franklin Tech has posted a 4-6 overall record this season, culminating in a loss to South Shore Voke in the state vocational playoffs two weeks ago. The Eagles picked up wins over McCann Tech, Mahar, Pathfinder and Athol on the season.

Franklin Tech was 2-2 through four games before running into a stretch of games against Ware, Greenfield and Palmer — all teams that qualified for the MIAA state tournament.

“Our goal from Day 1 was, ‘let’s just get a little better each day,’” Gamache said. “If we can be about one-percent better each day, we’ll be in a great spot. We’ve certainly improved as the season's gone on. Obviously we had a stretch there where we played some pretty good football teams. We didn't win any of those games but I think our kids learned from that and improved.”

Smith Voke is 1-8 in its 2021 season, scoring a win over Pathfinder (37-26) back on Oct. 1. The Vikings were competitive down the stretch however, dropping back-to-back tight games against McCann Tech (16-14) and Mahar (14-12) in a five-day span.

“Record-wise, obviously only having one win to this point is disappointing,” Subocz admitted. “But the kids have stayed, worked hard and we’ve seen the growth and development that long term I want to see. We’re starting to break a lot of the bad habits.”

Who to watch

For the Eagles, freshman Josiah Little has morphed into the featured back this season, culminating in a 200-plus yard game against South Shore Voke. Little, listed at 5-foot-3, 121 pounds on the roster, could reach the 1,000-yard mark on the ground for the season if he has a big game Thursday. The tailback needs 249 yards against Smith Voke to accomplish the feat.

“Obviously he’s not the biggest kid on the field, that’s for sure," Gamache said. “Early on, we were kind of limiting his carries a bit, wanted to see what his body could take from a wear and tear standpoint. Now he’s in a position where we’ve been able to give him more carries as of late and he’s made the most of those opportunities. If he gets into the open field, he’s tough to catch.”

Gamache said Franklin Tech quarterback Gabe Tomasi has also developed over the course of the season, and the sophomore signal caller threw his first touchdown pass of the season last time out against South Shore Voke.

“He’s still learning progressions and making sure his mechanics are dialed in, but he’s starting to come into his own and make the right reads,” Gamache said of Tomasi. “He could be poised for a big game on Thanksgiving. I certainly have no fear utilizing him if we need to.”

Subocz said he sees a lot of roster similarities between the two programs. The Vikings also have a freshman tailback in Jared Baer, who ripped off a 99-yard rushing touchdown against Easthampton earlier this season, and a sophomore quarterback in Alex Martinez.

“Roster-wise I think it's very similar, and scheme-wise, (Franklin Tech) likes to run their power and toss," Subocz said. “I think both teams match up pretty decently so I’m expecting a tough, physical battle.”

What it means

The Vikings have 10 seniors on their roster, but only a few were involved when the two teams met in Northampton on Thanksgiving two years ago.

“Our current seniors haven't played a Thanksgiving game since they were sophomores and even then, there are only a handful on the team who were playing in that game," Subocz said. “They understand the important but for a lot of kids, it’s going to be their first Thanksgiving game. We’ve been building it up in practice, how important the game is, and the kids are fully embracing it.”

Franklin Tech has five seniors on its roster, and while Gamache admits his team is less experienced overall, he’s hoping the Eagles bring the heat on Thursday morning.

“It has the makings of what could be a competitive game, for sure,” the Tech coach said. “Last year we played them in the spring in the abbreviated COVID season, and while that wasn’t a Thanksgiving game, they did beat us in that game, too. The kids that did play in that, they sort of remember that. They’re hoping to avenge that loss and do it on a bigger, more important type of stage.”


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