Tuesday, November 25, 2014

ESPN NH's FNL Football Poll - Final End of Season Edition

Here's how I voted in the final, end of season ESPN NH Friday Night Lights football poll.

1. Pinkerton
2. Londonderry
3. Salem
4. Bedford
5. Windham
6. Exeter
7. St. Thomas
8. Concord
9. Portsmouth
10. Goffstown

Briefly, here's why I voted that way...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Windham Beats St. Thomas in a Thriller, Wins School's 1st Football State Title

All 3 football state title games that were played on Saturday at UNH had a lot of build up. 1 of them lived up to the hype more than the others. That was the Division II championship between Windham and St. Thomas. After blowing a 21-0 lead, Windham came back to beat the Saints 38-28. The Jaguars complete an undefeated championship season in just their fifth year as a varsity program. It was their second time in a football state final - the first was in 2011 when they fell in the D-V title game to St. Thomas, a year when they Saints went undefeated.

"It's a credit to the players, buying in to what we asked them to do" said Windham High head coach and A.D. Bill Raycraft. "Our motto was 'Out-work Everybody'and they did it. I'll take these guys into battle any day."

All 9 touchdowns scored in this game were through the air. Windham senior QB Brendan McInnis threw for 5 TDs and St. Thomas junior QB Stephen Hedberg tossed 4 TDs. Ay 6'3", 205 lbs. McInnis has a cannon for an arm, made some huge throws and is also very quick for a QB his size. Hedberg meanwhile set the NHIAA state record for passing TDs with 35 on the season.

Pinkerton Crushes Bedford 37-0, O'Reilly Wins 11th D-I State Title

This game had a lot of build up, a lot of hype. It was two teams that were both undefeated coming in, meeting in the title game at UNH. It was a supposed to be a battle, an even match up - right? Wrong. Pinkerton was the better team in all phases of the game. They had the size, the speed, the physicality. They executed, they were a well oiled machine out there. Pinkerton led 23-0 at halftime and went on to beat Bedford 37-0.

Junior RB/DB TJ Urbanik rushed for 247 yards and 2 touchdowns, plus intercepted 2 passes on defense. QB Jack Hanaway rushed for 38 yards, passed for 38 yards and rushed for 3 TDs. While those 2 will get the headlines (and deservedly so) this was a team effort fr Pinkerton. The Astros are undefeated state champs and won the title game 37-0, despite playing without 2 of their best players FB/LB Jason Hansen and OL/DL Hayden Studevevant. Hansen has been out with a knee injury and Sturdevant has been out with a back injury. Other guys stepped up, including Justin Poitras, Austin Whitehead, Bryson Pacocha, Noah Robison, Mike Curley, Peter Cyr, Nick Coombs and Michael Martinoli.

"It's a great TEAM, We have no superstars - although TJ is pretty darn good" said Pinkerton head coach Brian O'Reilly, who won his 11th D-I state championship. "We haven't had Sturdevant for the past month. We could have used him at tackle, but Pacocha stepped in. This year I felt we needed out seniors to step up and be leaders. Justin Poitras did that, and so did Jason Hansen before he got hurt."

Campbell Captures First Championship in School History

By: Ross Laorenza
It was an impressive all-around performance for the Campbell Cougars, as the defeated the Newport Tigers 20-6, Saturday afternoon. Senior Quarterback Kyle Manning was 12/22 on the day for 108 yards and a touchdown.

“It’s an amazing, on top of the world feeling,” Manning said post-game about winning the D-III title.

Manning showed great poise through his team’s victory over the Tigers. His touchdown pass to Connor Gannon on fourth and goal, all but sealed the game late in the third quarter.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

ESPN NH's FNL Football Poll - Championship Weekend Edition

Well folks, it all comes down to this - Championship Saturday. Are these 3 games being hyped up too much? Absolutely not. It gives extra sizzle to these championship games, since there is only 3 of them. There's only 3 divisions now instead of 6, so now being a state champion is truly a BIG deal.

There's only 6 teams left standing. 3 of them are undefeated. 2 of them only have 1 loss. The other team has 2 losses and that team just beat a previously undefeated team by 3 scores. All 6 of these teams are legit. They deserve to play on the big stage at UNH. Saturday is going to be a great day for NH football. All 3 if these games are tossups - there will be no upsets. Best of luck and let the best teams win.

Here's how I voted in this week's ESPN NH Friday Night Lights football poll.

1. Pinkerton
2. Bedford
3. Exeter
4. Londonderry
5. Salem
6. Windham
7. St. Thomas
8. Concord
9. Portsmouth
10. Goffstown

Briefly why I voted that way...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mason Steps Down as Windham Girls Hoops Coach

Joe Mason took over a brand new Windham High girls varsity program 4 years ago. In those 4 years the Jaguars won 10+ games and made the state tournament all 4 years, they made the quarterfinals 3 times and the D-II Final Four twice. Perhaps most impressive is that fact that he coached 4 girls who are went on to play college basketball - Kerry White (Curry College), Bernadette Connors (Bates College), Kelsey Schiebel (Suffolk) and Clairee Putnam (Saint Anselm). That's an outstanding coaching job. But unfortunately it ends here.

"Yes, I can confirm that I have stepped down" Mason told the NH Notebook. "Anne Haky was named head coach. Anne was my assistant and JV coach the past few years. Before that she was the JV coach at Merrimack Valley under Joe Raycraft."

Mason joins a list that includes John Fagula (Londonderry), Maureen LaRoche (Memorial), David Hartnett (Coe-Brown), Matt Courchesne (Trinity) and Steve Signor (Milford) as girls basketball coaches who have all stepped down since the end of last season.

"I did what I felt was best for the program and resigned on Sept. 5th" said Mason. "It wasn't an easy decision or one that I made without thought. "Coaching at WHS was one of the best experience of my life. I had the privilege of working with so many wonderful players and families. The AD, Bill Raycraft, is so supportive. He's the best I've ever worked with. It was definitely a team effort that make us so successful the past 4 years. I wish them well."

Windham will certainly miss Putnam who graduated in the spring as Windham's all-time leading scorer, as well as forward Bri Angelini who also graduated. They do have some solid young talent coming up though, including junior Amanda Carey and sophomores Lexi Sawyer and Casey Dinga.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Vailas to Attend Bryant on LAX Scholarship

The multi-sport athlete is a dying breed, which makes it even more impressive on those rare occasions when you have a kid excel in 2 different sport. Bedford High senior Michael Vailas fits that description. Vailas has emerged as one of the state's top players in both lacrosse and football.

Vailas got recruited more for LAX, and similar to his older brother Tommy Vailas (played football and LAX at BG and then at Governor's Academy). Mike Vailas has decided to join his brother Tommy on the lacrosse team at Bryant University in Rhode Island.

"The recruiting process truly started in the summer after my sophomore year which was only for lacrosse" Michael Vailas told the NH Notebook. "Growing up I always thought football would be the sport I'd play in college. But that summer after sophomore year some schools showed a lot of interest in me for lacrosse like Notre Dame, Lehigh, UMass, Towson, Michigan, Ohio State and obviously Bryant. Bryant stood out because they were the most straight forward and gave me an offer. That showed me how much they value me and I believe the coaches at Bryant are some of the best in the country as coaches and people. Head coach Mike Pressler is a former coach at Duke. With Bryant close to home and my brother Tommy Vailas also on the LAX team it made it an easy decision to commit to Bryant. I committed the summer after sophomore year and was hoping football could still get me recruited but only 2 or 3 schools showed little interest."

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Brown to Attend Bryant on Golf Scholarship

Bedford High is headed to the football championship game on Saturday, but thy have already won the Division I championship this fall in golf. Leading the Bulldogs to the title was senior Ryan Brown, who has accepted a golf scholarship to Bryant University in Rhode Island.

"I received scholarship offers from the University of Rhode Island and Bryant University so my decision really came down to those two" Brown told the NH Notebook. "I loved the campus at Bryant and I know some of the kids on the team which helped influence my decision. My dad also went there so hearing him say it is a good fit for me really made me feel like this is the school for me."

Brown and Mike Vailas (also a senior at Bedford High) are both signing National Letters of Intent to play at Bryant. Brown will be playing golf and Vailas will be playing lacrosse.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bedford Outlasts Exeter in D-I Semis

Written by: Jeremy Leveille
Photo by: Exeter Blue Hawk Photos

Bedford's best player Michael Vailas suffered a season-ending leg injury in last week's playoff win over Concord. Their starting running back Mike Collins suffered a season-ending injury during the first week of the season. But this team just continues to overcome obstacles and win football games. Stepping in for Vailas at QB, Tyler Cibotti rushed for 1 touchdown and passed for another score. His 10 yard TD pass to Taylor Larson turned out to be the winning score, with Cibotti redeeming himself after fumbling the ball on the Exeter 1 yard line.

"Coach told me to not get down, because then my teammates will see it in my eyes" said Cibotti, who was 6/9 passing for 110 yards and 1 TD, plus 19 rushing yards and 1 TD. "So I changed my outlook. It was a post across the middle, the safety bit and I threw it to Taylor Larson. It was a small window but I got it in there. I had faith in our defense to hold them from there."

The Bedford defense did just that, forcing a turnover on downs followed by an interception on Exeter's final 2 possessions. Eric Glassman (who was a beast on 'D' all game) recorded 2 sacks, with the second one coming on 4th down and 7 from midfield to force a turnover on downs. The Blue Hawks got the ball back with one last chance at a comeback, but QB Ryan Ball's pass was intercepted by Danny Flynn. Bedford holds on for the 14-7 win. The Bulldogs will take on Pinkerton in a battle of unbeatens next Saturday at UNH for the D-I championship.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Boys Basketball Fall League Update

There are 2 big fall leagues for local boys basketball teams - the Rivier Fall League and North Andover Fall Ball. The NA Fall Ball features many tough teams from Massachusetts, plus Londonderry, Pelham and Salem from NH as well as St. John's Prep of Danvers, MA which features local product, senior guard Ben Judson. The league is down to its final 8 teams. The Elite Eight takes place this upcoming Monday at the North Andover rec center. The schedule is as follows:

5:15 Londonderry vs. Pelham
6:25 St. John's Prep vs. Lawrence
7:35 New Mission vs. North Andover
8:45 Tewksbury vs. Central Catholic

The winners advance to the semi-finals next Tuesday.

Meanwhile, defending NHIAA D-I state champs Manchester Central took home the crown at this year's Rivier Fall League. Central cruised to wins over Lawrence in the semis and Pembroke in the finals. Central was impressive throughout fall league play, and once again looks to be a contender for another title. Memorial transfer Oumaru Kante could have a big year at point guard, Jonathin Makori can flat out score and Joey Martin is a potential first team all-state player. Pembroke advanced to the finals by defeating former D-II rival Lebanon in the semis. Both teams should be top 5 in their respective divisions this winter.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pembroke Boys Basketball Schedule Released

After an off-season of controversy, the Pembroke Academy boys basketball team has a Division I schedule. They won back-to-back D-II championships in 2013-2014, and now move up to D-I. Over the spring/summer it was uncertain whether the D-I Athletic Directors would schedule them, due to allegations of recruiting players from outside the district who also played AAU for the GS Raiders.

There was also doubt regarding whether senior forward and potential all-state player Dominic Timbas would be eligible to play this year. Timbas was initially denied his eligibility, due to repeating 8th grade. But he went through a hearing and won. So Timbas is eligible and the Spartans got their schedule. Here it is...

2014-15 Pembroke Boys Varsity Schedule
Friday 12/19 @ Keene H.S. - 6:30 p.m.
Monday 12/22 Home vs. Memorial H.S. - 6:30 p.m.
Friday 12/26 X-Mas Tourney @ NHTI - TBA
Saturday 12/27 X-mas Tourney @ NHTI - TBA
Tuesday 1/6 Home vs. Nashua North H.S. - 6:30 p.m.
Friday 1/9 @ Pinkerton Academy - 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday 1/13 Home vs. Spaulding H.S. - 6:30 p.m.
Friday 1/16 Home vs. Bedford - 6:30 p.m.
Friday 1/23 @ Trinity High School - 6:30 p.m.
Monday, 1/26 @ Bishop Guertin H.S. - 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, 1/28 Home vs. Concord H.S. - 6:30 p.m.
Friday 1/30 @ Exeter H.S. - 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday 2/10 @ Dover H.S. - 6:30 p.m.
Friday 2/13 Home vs. Nashua South H.S. - 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday 2/17 @ Salem H.S. - 6:30 p.m.
Friday 2/20 @ Winnacunnet H.S. - 6:30 p.m.
Friday 2/27 Home vs. Alvirne - 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday 3/3 Home vs. Central - 6:30 p.m.

As you can see, this is a 16 game schedule. All other schools play 18 games. In case you're wondering, the two schools who are noticeably absent from Pembroke's schedule are Londonderry and Merrimack. The New Hampshire Notebook contacted the A.D.'s of both schools for comment on why they didn't schedule Pembroke. We haven't received a response.

Pembroke has been a perennial power in D-II and they're expected to b a top 5 team in D-I this season.They have a strong returning core group of seniors including Timbas and Cameron Taylor (both 6'5") plus Max Curran and Rob Wilson (both 6'7") and 6'1" guard Connor Boucher. Timbas, Taylor, Curran and Boucher all played key roles on last year's championship team, while Wilson joins the squad after being forced to sit out last season following his transfer from Londonderry.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Kickoff Time Change for Saturday's Semi-Final Games

Division II: Hollis-Brookline (4) @ Windham (1) - 1:30 pm

All other games will begin at 1 pm on Saturday. In each division there's 1 game that is a tossup and 1 game where the home team is a heavy favorite. Pinkerton, Windham and Bow are all heavy favorites to win and advance to the state finals on November 22 at UNH. Meanwhile the games that should be all-out battles are Exeter @ Bedford in D-I, St. Thomas @ Kennett in D-II and Gilford @ Newport (both are 8-1).

The injury to Mike Vailas will play a large role in the Exeter vs. Bedford game. Vailas is a threat to score a TD anytime he has the ball on offense, whether running or throwing. He's one of the state's top defensive backs and return men on special teams. Luckily for the Bulldogs they are a very deep team. Look for QB Tyler Cibotti, RB/DB Colin Cashin, FB Sean Tierney and DB Austin D'Anjou to be some of the guys who look to help fill the void left by Vailas' injury. Vailas hopes to be ready to play lacrosse for Bedford this spring (he has committed to Bryant University for LAX). They'll be playing an Exeter team that is hitting on all cylinders right now. Outside of Pinkerton and Bedford, the Blue Hawks are playing better than anyone in the state right now. Since their loss to Goffstown back in week 3 they have gone 6-1 with the only loss being a narrow defeat to Bedford. The Bedford game was the first start for sophomore Kyle Ball at QB and since then the Exeter offense has been even more explosive.

"Ball at QB gives them an added dimension and makes them tougher to defend" Portsmouth head coach Brian Pafford mentioned following his squad's 35-6 loss to Exeter last weekend.

St. Thomas vs. Kennett is the only one of Saturday's semi-final match ups where the 2 teams did not meet during the regular season. Kennett is 9-0 and STA is 8-1. St. Thomas' only loss was a 35-28 last minute defeat to a 4-4 Laconia team. That, plus Kennett playing at home makes the Eagles the favorite - but not by much.

Newport won the first meeting over Gilford 27-20. That was in week 3. The two teams have a combined record of 12-0 since that game. Newport/Gilford is a tossup. This Lakes Region showdown is going to be one of those small town games where everybody from both towns will be there and everybody knows everybody. It should make for a fun atmosphere. The first meeting between Bow and Campbell was a 35-7 win for Bow way back in week 1. That was the closest game Bow has had all year. They are 9-0, while Campbell is 7-2.

Keep checking the NH Notebook for updated recruiting rankings for the Class of 2015. Rankings for the Class of 2016 will be posted over the off-season.

For the record, I am in favor of keeping the 3 division format for NHIAA football. But they need to either have 2 conferences rather than 4 or a points rating system to ensure that the division's top 8 teams are the 8 teams who actually make the playoffs.

With only the semi-finals and title game left in each division, it still appears as though Mike Vailas, Eric Fairweather, T.J. Urbanik and Connor DiCesare are the favorites for NH Mr. Football.

You can bet BG, Hollis-Brookline and Campbell are sick of hearing people say they don't have a chance this weekend. Look for 1 of them to surprise those people and give their opponent a scare. Which one will it be? We'll find out on Saturday.

Last note for today - comments on posts are welcome but anonymous comments are not. Please sign your name if you would like it to be seen.

Signor Steps Down at Milford, Replaced by Parent

Steve Signor turned Milford girls basketball around. He took over a struggling program and coached them to back-to-back Division II Final Four appearances in 2013 and 2014. He has brought enthusiasm to the program and they now have a winning culture over there. But after 4 years at the helm Signor has stepped down and has been replaced by Rich Parent. Parent was an assistant coach under Dan Murray at Milford when the Spartans won back-to-back D-II titles in 2010-2011. More recently he has served as an assistant coach under Pete Rosinski at Pinkerton.

"I stepped down for two reasons" Coach Signor told the NH Notebook. "We just moved to Hopkinton over the summer and my twins are now freshmen (one boy and one girl). They both play basketball so I want to watch them for the next 4 years. I can now make most of their games, except when one has a far away game. Secondly, I started a new job this fall working at SNHU as a military advisor. It requires 2 days per week working in the evening to accommodate our military around the world, so practices for 2 nights would be tough to have. It is a great opportunity because I am former military and my kids will be able to attend SNHU or an affiliate of the college for free tuition. It was a hard decision but necessary because my kids are only young once."

Parent takes over a team that will once again be expected to compete for a D-II title in girls basketball. Milford returns its best player and starting point guard from last year's Final Four squad in Adelle Pitsas (younger sister of Dina Pitsas, a former 1,000 point scorer at Milford now playing for Springfield College). They also return their bigs Rebecca Cleary and Jessica Ryan. Pitsas, Cleary and Ryan are all seniors. Guards Devany Pitsas and Erin McGuire contributed off the bench last year as freshmen.

This is just the latest in a slew of girls basketball coaching changes since last year. Last year's D-I champs and possibly this year's favorite Londonderry's legendary head coach John Fagula retired and was replaced by longtime assistant Nick Theos. Last year's D-II runner-up and the team that will likely be the favorite this year Coe-Brown had their head coach David Hartnett step down and was replaced by assistant Joseph Vachon. Additionally, Maureen LaRoche stepped down at Memorial following back-to-back D-I tournament appearances to accept the head women's basketball coaching position at Fisher College. Also, former BG and NHTI girls coach Kevin Gibbs has taken over at Trinity for Marc Courchesne who stepped down following last season.

Signor is currently still president and head coach for the GS Rockettes AAU program, but says that could change as well.

Recruiting Update on Springfield & Ripley

Without question, the top local girls basketball recruits from NH for the Class of 2016 is Madison Springfield (Conant High) and for the Class of 2017 is Rebecca Ripley (New Hampton School). Both players are 5-foot-11 with versatile skill sets, the ability to score the basketball in a variety of ways as well as make their teammates better. According to their AAU coaches and parents, here's an update on the recruitment for both players.

Springfield has narrowed her list of schools to Marist, Dartmouth, Holy Cross and Rhode Island (in no particular order). She has been to a practice for each school this fall, and this winter she plans on seeing a game for each team before making her decision. Springfield grew up nearby current Marist player Katharine Fogarty. If she chooses Marist they would play together Springfield's freshman year (would be Fogarty's senior year). Springfield and her older sister Brooke (now playing for SNHU) have both played played for the NE Crusaders AAU program. Brooke played alongside Fogarty with the Crusaders. Their brothers (Mike Fogarty and Devin Springfield) both played baseball together locally. Meanwhile, Madison Springfield also played briefly alongside current Dartmouth player Katie Vareika with the Crusaders. Other schools who have offered Springfield are UMass and Providence.

Ripley meanwhile is on her way to being the most recruited local player in a long time. Ripley (originally from Ipswich, MA but now lives in Stratham, NH) hasn't started her sophomore season yet but already holds scholarship offers from a whopping eight Division I program. They are Seton Hall, Syracuse, Providence, UMass, Fordham, Clemson, Bryant and URI. Ripley played AAU this year for the Rivals Basketball Club.

Both Springfield and Ripley were selected to play in the NEPSAC all-star game last winter.

Monday, November 10, 2014

NHIAA Releases Updated Football Tournament Brackets

The NHIAA released a press release about an hour ago with the updated tournament brackets for the D-I, D-II and D-III football playoffs. It said the following:

"Due to the tie between Pinkerton Academy and Bedford High School for Division I additional time was needed to ensure that the Division I Tournament Bracket was accurate. The NHIAA utilize By-Law Article XX: Football, Sect. 6: Tournament Selection and Sect. 7: Tie Breaking Procedures when seeding for the tournament. The Division I Football tie between Pinkerton Academy and Bedford High School went out to step A; 4: Quality of wins against tournament teams in division including all teams involved in a tie for the last position."

As a result of the tie-breaker, Pinkerton is the #1 seed and will host BG, while Bedford is the #2 seed and will host Exeter on Saturday. All of the tournament brackets are now up on the NHIAA website.

Basically, Pinkerton is getting the #1 spot because they have "more wins against tournament teams in division including all teams involved in a tie for the last position." In other words, Nashua South missed the playoffs but since they finished in a tie with Alvirne and BG they are still considered a "tournament team". So those 3 wins are being counted in Pinkerton's favor, yet the 2 wins Bedford had over Memorial and Goffstown (who both had better records than BG, South and Alvirne) are not being taken into account.

Both Exeter and Pinkerton are 10-0. Neither has a common opponent. But when you look closer it actually appears as though Bedford played a tougher schedule. Bedford won 6 games over teams who finished with a winning record (Exeter, Portsmouth, Memorial, Goffstown, and Concord twice) while Pinkerton only won 3 games over teams who finished with a winning record (Londonderry twice and Salem once).

The current NHIAA tie-breaking procedure would work well IF the division's top 8 teams made the playoffs. But they did not.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Exeter Advances to D-I Semi-Finals, Beats Portsmouth 35-6

When Exeter got into the red zone they scored touchdowns. When Portsmouth got into the red zone they turned the ball over. As a result Exeter advances to the D-I semi-finals while Portsmouth is eliminated from the playoffs.

Portsmouth had 4 drives where they ran plays inside Exeter's 20 yard line. Three of them resulted in interception thrown by QB Connor DiCesare (2 picks by Chris Kelley and one by Ryan Ball) and the other possession resulted in a turnover on downs. 4 drives inside the 20 resulting in 0 points. Exeter won by 4 touchdowns. That's the difference.

"When we're back on the goal line on defense we get all fired up and play like it's our last game ever" said Kelley. "We wanted it more than them."

Friday, November 7, 2014

ESPN NH Friday Night Lights Football Poll - End of Regular Season

Here's how I voted in this week's ESPN NH Friday Night Lights football poll.

1. Pinkerton
2. Bedford
3. Londonderry
4. Salem
5. Windham
6. Exeter
7. Kennett
8. Concord
9. Portsmouth
10. Goffstown

Briefly why I voted that way...