HUDSON, N.H. -- The words displayed on the shirts worn by a high school athletic team speak volumes about the culture of that program.
These are heady times for Alvirne High School's football team. So it's fitting that players were sporting the slogan "Want It? Earn It!" on the back of their T-shirts at a recent practice as this edition of the Broncos has gone about the business of putting in the time, work and effort it takes to win football games -- and lots of them.
The upstart Broncos have bucked the odds this fall and provided the good folks of Hudson, N.H., with some long-awaited gridiron glory. You can't blame Bronco fans for being excited about Alvirne's rapid ascent up the ladder of success in its first season competing at the NHIAA Division 2 level in football.
After posting a combined record of 9-38 over the previous five seasons playing in Division 1, Alvirne dropped down a division and stepped up its game while compiling a record of 8-2 in 2018.
On Sunday, Alvirne won the first playoff game in its history, which began in 1996, topping Milford, 32-19, in a quarterfinal matchup.
Now the Broncos find themselves a win away from "earning" a trip to the state championship.
Third-seeded Alvirne will play second-seeded St. Thomas Aquinas (9-1) in a Div. 2 semifinal Saturday at Portsmouth High School at 3:30 p.m. The winner will advance to the state final scheduled to be held at the University of New Hampshire on Saturday, Nov. 17 at 2:30 p.m.
"We moved down to Division 2, and this is the division I believe we should be in," said Alvirne head coach Tarek Rothe, a former Dracut High standout who was a member of the Middies' 1988 EMass. Div. 2 Super Bowl championship team. "The difference now is we have a sense that going into every week we have chance to compete and win a football game.
"When we were going up against the Pinkertons, and the Bedfords, and the (Manchester) Central's of the world (in N.H. Div.
The hard work the Broncos have put into winning this season has helped them experience the sweet taste of success other teams had experienced at their expense in recent seasons.
"I've always felt this team could reach this level," said senior co-captain Jake Champagne. "I've believed this the whole time I've played here. I could see it building. We've been getting better every year. I always saw the light at the end of the tunnel. We kept working as a team, feeling we'd eventually reach this point.
The Broncos went 2-7 in Rothe's first season as head coach in 2017. The win total wasn't as high as anyone associated with the team would have liked, but a young Broncos squad, that took its share of lumps, provided a snapshot of the program's future.
"I knew we were going to have a strong season this year just based on the amount of returning starters we had coming back," said sophomore standout Kyle Gora, a two-way starter at quarterback and linebacker each of the past two seasons. "But it took a lot of hard work in the off-season and that's what has been paying off for us."
Gora, who is one of the top wrestlers in the Granite State, is a dual threat quarterback who makes big plays through the air and with his feet. He passed for 839 yards and six touchdowns during the regular season, and rushed for 362 yards and 10 scores.
In the playoff win over Milford, Gora threw a touchdown pass and ran for two scores. Prior to that win, Alvirne had been winless in three previous postseason appearances.
"He's athletic," said Rothe. "He's been a wrestler at the national level since he was young. So he's used to the spotlight. He just keeps calm under pressure. The moment doesn't get too big for him."
Rushing right in
Junior Alex Giuffrida, who scored eight touchdowns during the regular season, is the Broncos' leading rusher.
"He's a tough back," said Rothe. "He's a downhill runner who is not easy to tackle."
Receivers Jack Regan, James Bertrand and Kyle Boucher are all big-play threats.
Offensive linemen Tom Keegan, John Porter, Greg Ellis, Champagne, Peyton Layman and Tyler Clegg, along with tight end Paul Chouinard, serve as the launch pad for the Broncos' potent attack.
Leading the way on defense are Mitch Dobek, Grady Hudson, Morgan Williams and Alec Prescott.
On a major roll
It was during a hard-fought 26-22 loss to St. Thomas Aquinas in week two when Alvirne realized it could play with the top teams in Division 2. Following that loss, the Broncos ripped off five straight wins.
"This has been the most fun I've had coaching," said Rothe. "It's a great group of kids. They are very focused."
This week, Alvirne is focusing its attention on a very talented St. Thomas Aquinas club. St. Thomas Aquinas' only loss was to two-time defending Div. 2 state champion Plymouth (10-0).
"Every game we play is bigger than the next," said Champagne. "It's fun. That's what happens when you are pushing for a championship."
Follow Carmine Frongillo on Twitter @cwfrongi