By Jim Fenton, The Enterprise (Brockton)
BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- There was plenty of motivation for the Bridgewater State University football team when it reported to training camp in August.
The Bears struggled through a 2-8 season in 2017, had their fewest wins since 1984 and were handed a rare loss in the Cranberry Bowl by the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
So the focus for the Bears in the 2018 season was to get back on track.
"Last year when we lost the Cranberry Bowl, the kids committed themselves to flipping this thing around," said Coach Joe Verria. "When we were 2-8, we made an accountability statement with the kids. We named leaders and they did the job in the offseason.
"When we hit the spring, we hit the spring running. We made a lot of changes to the program, some they liked, some they didn't, but they all bought in to everything and that's why we're here today."
Bridgewater State indeed turned things around, going 7-3 in the regular season and regaining the Cranberry scoop by winning the Cranberry Bowl, 21-7, over Mass. Maritime at Swenson Field on Saturday afternoon.
The Bears are under consideration for a spot in one of two New England Bowl games that will be played next Saturday, and that will be a reward for bouncing back the way they did. They now own a 29-10-1 lead in the Cranberry Bowl series that began in 1979.
"We really bonded this year, came together as a team, came together as one instead of 11 individual guys," said senior wide receiver Jack Lavanchy, the winner of the Lee Harrington most valuable player award after catching two touchdown passes and breaking the BSU career record for receiving yards.
Said Verria: "What a difference a year makes, and a lot of little changes and some big changes, too."
The Bears, who finished 6-2 in the MASCAC, and the Buccaneers (2-8, 1-7) did all the scoring in the first half of the 40th annual Cranberry Bowl.
Mass. Maritime was set up at the BSU 20 after the opening kickoff and scored on a 6-yard run by Matt Long 2:21 into the game with George Lampros of Bridgewater adding the point after for a quick 7-0 lead.
But Stefano D'Emilia, also of Bridgewater, hooked up with Lavanchy for a 21-yard touchdown pass on the Bears' first possession, ending an eight-play, 67-yard drive.
Lavanchy added a 52-yard TD catch from Brad Thiltgen with 1:03 remaining in the first quarter for a 14-7 BSU lead.
Lavanchy, who also kicked three extra points, had five catches for 122 yards and broke the record for receiving yards previously held by Matt Green of Stoughton. Lavanchy has 2,851 yards, ahead of Green (2,765).
"It's definitely cool, but the win's more important," said Lavanchy. "The record is just the icing on the cake."
He now has a school-record 216 career receptions and 27 TDs, third on the career list. Lavanchy broke his own record with 88 catches this season.
"He's going to be sorely missed on this football team," said Verria, looking ahead to next season. "He can do many, many things. He's a heckuva athlete. He's come a long way and is an unbelievable football player."
The final score of the game came with 3:57 left in the half on a 1-yard run by Nick Santavicca (27 carries, 139 yards). He became the eighth different running back to gain 1,000 yards in a season for BSU and has 1,098 yards.
The BSU defense held the Buccaneers to 185 yards of total offense (40 passing yards) with freshman Dimitri Dorinvil of Brockton making 10 tackles with two sacks for a loss of 10 yards and Michael Rosa adding eight tackles.
"They were determined," said Verria of his team. "After losing the scoop last year, it was the worst thing that could happen, finishing a 2-8 season like that. They didn't want to taste that again."
Travis Bassett had nine catches for 104 yards for BSU, giving him 182 catches (second all-time) and 2,566 receiving yards (fourth) for the Bears.