At the lowest point of the season, GNB Voc-Tech head coach Justin Cruz walked off the Jeffrey E. Riley Football Field following a 38-7 loss to Apponequet and began questioning his team’s purpose.
Even though the Bears lost the following week to Somerset Berkley in their regular season finale, something changed.
“The guys stuck with it,” Cruz said. “The kids bought into it; keep working hard and doing things right and it will pay off. It’s finally coming to fruition.”
Even though Voc-Tech failed to qualify for the MIAA postseason, the Bears were awarded a spot in the MVADA State Vocational Large School tournament and won back-to-back games against Whittier Tech and Assabet Valley to reach Friday’s championship game against Northeast Metro.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said GNB Voc-Tech senior quarterback Cam Lynch. “It was my goal coming into the school to win a championship. That I have a chance to do it, it’s pretty good.
“We didn’t really know we had a chance at the vocational (playoffs), but once we found out that we would be playing for something again, I think that gave us more of an inspiration to keep going and try harder.”
Senior running back Rylan Rose added, “What made us turn it around is we realized that we had something to play for ... a ring to play for. At the end of every practice coach would say, 'We have something to play for,' so we just worked for it and now we’re playing for it.”
Rose said every time he walks into the Z. Walter Janiak Field House, he looks up at the State Vocational championship banner for football.
“I just picture 2021 on it all of the time,” Rose said. “We just want it. I think we’ll be remembered for the hard work we put in to get here and the ambition that we had. How we held each other up when we went on our losing streak.”
The Bears are going after their first state vocational title since 2012 when they beat Greater Lawrence Voc-Tech 26-6 for their third straight Vocational championship under former head coach Chuck Allaire.
“Once coach Cruz told us in the playoffs, everything changed,” said senior wide receiver Aziz Ba. “Everyone started focusing more and worrying about what we have to do. We just realized how important it is.”
Senior running back Elijah Raymond added, “It’s very exciting. We haven’t been there since 2012 so it’s a good opportunity to leave our legacy.”
Voc-Tech is playing its best football of the season right now and enters Friday’s state vocational final riding a three-game winning streak.
“We’ve had some good weeks of practice,” Cruz said. “That comes back to the kids buying in and believing in what we have going on.”
The Bears have been clicking on all cylinders on offense, averaging 36 points per game in their last three outings.
Over the past three weeks, Voc-Tech has enjoyed a ton of success with its ground game, scoring 14 rushing touchdowns with five from Rose, four from Lynch and two each from Raymond and Joe Brightman and one from Avery Sylvia.
“If you look at us, it's pick your poison,” Cruz said. “The run game has been great and there’s certainly a pass threat that’s there. It’s nice to have multiple threats in multiple positions.”
Lynch added, “We have weapons everywhere — wide receivers, running backs. We have a lot of weapons. It’s hard to defend us.”
For Voc-Tech it all starts with Lynch, who leads the team in scoring with 11 rushing touchdowns while also throwing eight scoring strikes.
“Cam is Cam,” Cruz said. “He’s just a leader on the field. With all the options we have, he’s certainly one that’s the most reliable. He’s always cool, calm and collected.”
Lynch has enjoyed an experienced offensive line led by senior Max Lague.
“Our offensive line, we’re not coaching the basics,” Cruz said. “We’re coaching higher level thinking.”
The Golden Knights, whose MIAA postseason ended against Old Rochester in the Div. 5 first round, wrapped up the Commonwealth Athletic Conference Large Division title on Thanksgiving with a 42-6 win over Essex Tech. Northeast Metro has won three straight and eight of their last nine heading into Friday's game.
The Golden Knights are led offensively by senior running back Steve Donnelly, who has rushed for more than 1,800 yards this season. Junior C.J. Moriconi is a dual-threat quarterback who can run and throw.
“Northeast is pretty good,” Cruz said. “They’re very well coached. They take care of the football. They’re a power-running team similar to Old Rochester in some ways. They have a quarterback that can run and a few good running backs. They’re well disciplined and we’ll have to match that.”
Lague said the Bears are determined to make the most of this special opportunity.
“It’s something I never thought I’d experience in my life,” he said of playing for a championship. “It’s such a good feeling. It means a lot and not just for us, but the school.”
TALE OF THE TAPE
GNB Voc-Tech vs. Northeast Metro
What: MVADA State Vocational championship
When: Friday at 6 p.m.
Where: Landrigan Field in Wakefield, MA
Records: GNB Voc-Tech (7-4); Northeast Metro (9-3)
Last week: GNB Voc-Tech 42, Diman 21; Northeast 42, Essex 6
State Vocational Semifinals: GNB Voc-Tech 31, Assabet 6; Northeast Metro 34, Shawsheen 13
Laurie's Line: GNB Voc-Tech 28, Northeast Metro 21
This article originally appeared on Standard-Times: GNB Voc-Tech football to play Northeast for State Vocational title