Thursday, July 23, 2009

Championship Saturday Preview

This Saturday afternoon is the conclusion of the New Hampshire High School football season (Except for Turkey Day games). The champions in Divisions III, IV and V were crowned last Sunday. And this Saturday, it will be Divisions I, II and VI which will hold their title bouts. All three games will begin at 1:00, except for the D-II final which kicks off at 1:30. Now, without any further ado, here's my breakdown of the three games being played on Championship Saturday.

Division I - Nashua North (2) @ Salem (1)
There has been so much talk about division realignment, you would think that there is no parity at all in NH High School football. But this game would beg to differ. The Nashua North Titans square off against the Salem Blue Devils Saturday afternoon at Grant Field in Salem for the D-I title. Not only did both of these teams miss last year's championship game, but neither squad even made the playoffs. Plus, this is the first year North has so much as made the playoffs in its program's history. This is a very encouraging occurrence for those of us who like competitive balance.

In the semi-finals, Salem and North defeated perennial powers Pinkerton and Central, respectively. The only game North lost all season was to Salem. But that was awhile ago, and the Titans played that game without two of their best players, Andre Williams and Kevin Rosenberg. Salem's only lost was just a couple week's ago to Central, who North just beat.

It's no secret that Salem's bread and butter is their running game. But last weekend against Pinkerton they also had success throwing the ball. If they can force North to respect the pass, it will open up running room for their star studded backfield.

As for North, they are also a run-oriented team, led by Williams and fellow junior Jamar Gathright. Unlike Salem, and unlike almost every other team in the state, they have two quarterbacks that they rotate in and out of the lineup. Dylan Brodeur and Brandon Karkhanis take turns running the Titan offense, and somehow it works. I would think that it would result in numerous offsides penalties, with the offensive line constantly having to adjust to a different signal caller in there. Plus the receivers have to adjust to the changes, wit the two QB's throwing the ball differently. But somehow it has worked for North. They have a system, and it has worked very well for them all season long.

Putting points on the board hasn't been there problem. Stopping their opponents from doing it has been. But since Rosenberg has returned from his injury they seem to be doing that better, too.

Up until the Central game, Salem had no problems. They were beating any team that stood in its path. They were 9-0, riding high and appeared to be almost a lock to win the D-I title. No one could stop their running game, and they had a good defense to boot. Then the Little Green knocked them down a couple nothes in their 45-7 win the last week of the regular season. Salem had all their starters in that game, and make no mistake they were trying to win. I was on the field, and at halftime I saw how ticked off Max Jacques was at the way his sqquad had performed as he ran off the field.

Was it just an aberration? Well some would say yes, since the Blue Devils won by 20 last week against Pinkerton. But the Astros were a team that had lost two in a row, was only .500 on the season, was playing without their second best RB and one of their top defenders (Mazzola), and their best offensive player played but wasn't 100% (Guinto). So considering that, Salem should have beaten Pinkerton by 20. We won't really know if the Central game was an aberration until after this game, when Salem plays a very good North team.

My prediction: Nashua North 28 Salem 21

Division II Winnacunnet (3) @ Bishop Guertin (1) BG has been the undisputed #1 team in the state virtually the entire season. They've played some very good teams, including Pinkerton, Exeter, Winnacunnet and Catholic Memorial. Not only are they undefeated, but they've won every game by at least four touchdowns. The question you have to ask is, does Winnacunnet even have a chance? And after they beat Exeter last week in Exeter, I would have to say yes, they do have a chance.

Saturday afternoon at 1:30 the Bishop Guertin Cardinals take on the Winnacunnet Warriors for the D-II championship at Stellos Stadium in Nashua. With a win Guertin can make it two titles in a row, and four titles in the last five years. Winnacunnet is no stranger to the playoffs either, though. Their last appearance was just two years ago, and this is their fourth playoff appearance in the last six years under Head Coach Ron Auffant.

In the Exeter game, Winnacunnet was tough, fearless, and they wanted that game more than the Blue Hawks did. And they moved the ball very effectively. Though he was also the starter last year, QB Steve Cronan has really emerged this season as one of the state's top signal callers. He is exceptional at running the option, he's fast, and he has a strong, accurate throwing arm. He has two talented receivers in Harry Knowles and Jesse Gould. I currently have Knowles ranked as the second best WR in the state. He's big, strong, fast and athletic. And in the Exeter game, Gould caught a ball and got about 30 yards after the catch, breaking five tackles in the process. And defensively, linebacker Max Fatello led the way with a forced fumble and fumble recovery on one play and an interception.

But enough about the Warriors. Exeter is THE rival for Winnacunnet. It was obvious they really got up for that game against the Blue Hawks. Heck, 45 minutes after the game ended, Auffant's team was still outside the stadium, packed in their bus, singing, chanting and celebrating. Point is this: Did Winnacunnet already play their championship game last week? In order to beat Exeter, did it take everything out of them? Do they have anything left for BG this weekend? They've already exceeded expectations. Are they going to Nashua on Saturday on a mission to win the title, or are they just happy to make it that far?

On the flip side of the coin, Winnacunnet has nothing to lose. Guertin is expected to win, and they're expected to win by a wide margin. Anything less will be considered a failure in the eyes of Head Coach Tony Johnson. All the pressure is on the Cardinals. Will they fold up on that pressure, or thrive? They've had a giant X on their backs all year long, and it hasn't fased them so far.

BG is a great football team. They're fast, athletic, and skilled. They blitz the gaps on defense, which makes it very tough to run the football. Only way to score points on them is to get it to the outside of the tackles and run, or to throw it downfield. That or effective screen passes.

Offensively, Cuipa, Kelley and Hall have been too fast, and too good for every team they've played so far this season. Like Cronan, Cuipa alos runs the option to perfection, and has eceptional speed at the QB position. Hall is a tough back who is fast, but can also run between the tackles. Kelley might be the state's fastest player, likes to run outside the tackles,and also catch passes downfield. He sat out last week in Guertin's 38-0 win over Alvirne in the semis with a sore ankle, but he's expected to be back in the lineup Saturday.

One of the keys in this game will be whether the Winnacunnet defense can prevent BG's big plays on offense. Guertin is not a slow, grind it out offense. They want to have drives that are quick, and only use 1-5 plays. They often have at least three plays a game of 40 yards or more. This is due to good blocking, fast playmakers, and good playcalling. If the Warriors can prevent these big plays they'll have a chance. That's a big IF, though.

It should also be interesting to see how BG plays Winnacunnet on defense. Do they double-cover Knowles? That would leave running room for Cronan, and would alo leave Gould open. Do they blitz the gaps up the middle to stuff the run and sack Cronan before he can even throw the ball? Or will Cronan use a two-step-drop and throw screen passes right away before the defense gets there? These are the kinds of things to look for when watching this game.

Something else to look for, that will undoubtedly affect this game, is penalties. For a team that is as dominating as Bishop Guertin is, they sure commit a lot of penalties. I've seen them play each of their last two ballgames, against Exeter and Alvirne, respectively, and BG is flat out, not a disciplined football team. They induced over seven yellow flags in both contests. They got away with it against the Blue Hawks and Broncos. But if they commit 7-10 penalties this week it will be a different story.

I'll be reporting on this game all afternoon on a Super Saturday edition of WGAM Friday Night Lights. Tune in from noon-4 on 900/1250 AM or to hear what I have to say about it.

My prediction: Bishop Guertin 35 Winnacunnet 14

Division VI - Winnisquam (2) @ Inter-Lakes (1)
I'll admit I don't know very much about these two teams, but good luck to them nonetheless. I'll say this, there seems to be a sizeable gap between D-V and D-VI. Campbell, a D-VI playoff team, was ran off the field by Trinity in the Queen City Jamboree, and by Pelham in the regular season. Inter-Lakes is the top seed in D-VI, and is unbeaten so far in their division. But they got hammered by Somersworth just a few weeks ago, and Somersworth didn't even make the playoffs in D-V.

Still, both Inter-Lakes and Winnisquam have fielded competitive football teams with very small enrollment numbers. For that you have to give them credit.

I will close this post with a quote. They're the immortal words of Leslie Nielsen, and it's my message to all players and coaches participating in Saturday's games. "I just want to tell you good luck. We're all counting on you." I might only be 23, but I still think Airplane! is the funniest movie of all time.

Enjoy the games everyone!


  1. Jeremy

    I am pretty sure Kevin Rosenberg did play in the North- Salem game earlier this year. I think he got ejected from the game in the 4th Quarter for fighting.

  2. Jeremy, BG's starters have given up a total of 2 TDs all season. I'm skeptical Winnacunnet can double that total in one, championship game. Also, BG averages over 43 points a game despite the starters having been taken out at the half or the third quarter in most every game. I do not foresee Winnacunnet holding BG to any less than 45. I predict a 48-10 win in the Cardinals's favor.

    Also, did anyone who receives the Nashua Telegraph read Gary Fitz's article about North's O-line? The poor guy referred to North as the Panthers in the concluding paragraph. Whoops.

  3. Keene scored 19 on BG, why can't Winnacunnet score 14?

  4. Keene had 6 points entering the 4th quarter. I do not expect Guertin's starters to come out for any reason other than rest. As a team who prides themselves on hardnosed defense, they would surely love more than anything to shut out Winnacunnet.

    They question is not whether they can or not, it's about how well they execute. Based upon the previous performance of their starters/seniors, I'm inclined to believe that are capable of enforcing their will upon Winnacunnet, and will not allow 14 points.

  5. much bigger score for bg. they will just keep pounding for points last game for the seniors. they wont come out. bg's getting like 52 points

  6. How can you call it ruling NH Football when they played a cupcake schedule?
    Yeah, they beat Pinkerton who had an off year. They beat CM who is probably the 50th best team in MA. They beat NH D-2 teams handily. Well, good for them. They beat everyone on their schedule. They are good. They are fast. The school is good.
    Bet, Everyone will always wonder...if they played D-1 week in and week out....would they still be undefeated?
    I really do not know. Nobody does.
    We all know a tough schedule takes its toll.
    Could they be the Boise State of NH football?
    If you want there to be no doubts, play a tougher schedule. Otherwise, there will always be doubts.

  7. Honestly I think if you substitute north and salem in for spaulding and keene then they would have played the pretty much toughest possible NH schedule

  8. No. Maybe 2nd behind Pinkerton, if they did that. But, no they did not do that. The P-Men played Brockton (#2-MASS) and BG (#1 NH). Plus the regular D-I NH schedule. Schedules like that lead to wear and tear, injuries etc..

    Query....How would BG do if they played Pinkerton, Brockton, N North, N South, Central and Salem in back to back weeks????

    We'll never know. I have an idea. (maybe 3-3...whicj is good). We know how Pinkerton did. BG's had 2 real games this year. They won them both. That's all we know. Congrats, but if you want to be considered elite, play the elite and win.

    Check out BC High's schedule this year. Not ranked in the Globe top 20. Brutal schedule. Won it all last top 20 this year.

  9. All good points 9:24. It's about time we got some real football fans on the site. X High is the team this year and who knows, they could lose to Prep on T Day. BTW, X only beat CM by two...I think CM got better. Yes, BG is very good but a D1 schedule would takes its toll and a MA Catholic Conference schedule would leave marks. Either way, in my opinion, BG is for real this year.

    What's this about Tony Johnson ruining NH HS football if BG drills Winny? I don't get it, don't people like good football around here? I've seen games in many states and NH, overall, is not real good. Why wouldn't you embrace a team that raises the level of play? I can understand why you wouldn't like them, or root for them, but they are good for NH HS football. Guess what, if they drill Winny (which they should) it means they are a better team this year. Big deal...Winny will probably be better next year.

  10. 9:33 exactly. since when is winning ruining football. no one in NH can beat them and you know it, get over it.
    and Jeremy undisciplined?? i honestly thought better of you than that. Review the game film and check how many of those penalties were legit. not that man, BG will not get calls. top teams never get calls. Everyone knows they won that championship against Exeter a few years ago and got gyped
    but you should know better than to call them undisciplined. Just because a team doesnt run the easy 2 yards a play offense your bluehawks do doesnt make them undisciplined.

  11. The only team that can beat BG is BG. It is a known fact. They get hyper intense at some points and commit penalties because as unbelievable as this sounds, they are human. I would not go as far as to say they are undisciplined, but they are willing to take risks because of their free-wheeling playing style.
    Just because you are not a Bill Ball robot, doesnt make them undisciplined. Their play could get cleaned up a little here and there, but so could any teams.

  12. I also do not understand how ToJo is ruining NH football. That makes no sense. He's put very good to excellent teams on the field for several years in a row.

    Could the dude be referring to BG not petitioning up? In not doing so, that doesn't ruin NH football. It potentially could have made D-I more competitive and fun. The 3 Nashua teams in the same Division. Always 3 of the top 5 or 6 in the state. Now that would be fun, but, it's not happening, yet.
    Maybe in a few years.
    Hey, the guy needs to do what the Administration wants to do. Why do people blame him? For all we know, he wants to move up. Seems like a hardworking, competitive guy to me.
    At least he's being "true to his school".
    BG has had an excellent year and we have all enjoyed it. Best of luck to them and Winnacunnet.

  13. BG had over seven penalties in each of their last two games. To me, that qualifies as undisciplined. And they're not my Blue Hawks. I announce their games on the radio for a Exeter radio station. In everything I write on here, however, I try my best to be objective.

    And folks, there are 6 teams playing on Saturday. I know BG seems to be the hot topic around the state, but how about some chatter about the other teams, too.

  14. this is way bigger than exeter in the playoffs for winny
    they are ready and they will come out with a win
    BG can be beat

  15. Regarding dominant teams, history lession.
    1986 Pinkerton beat Keen 52-0 in finals
    Arguably the best NH team ever - Mihalko (Notre Dame) and Segretti (Holy Cross) in same backfield...sick.

    2004 Central beat Pinkerton 48-17 in finals
    Arguably the best NH team in the 2000's...

    2009 - If BG wants to be considered in the same category, they must defeat Winny by 40 +/- on Saturday.

  16. No, if they want to be considered they'd have to beat a DIVISION I team by 40-plus on Saturday. Apples to Apples.

  17. Point taken but they are really, really good and an argument can be made that D1 is not better than D2 which was proven in cross over games. But, good point!

  18. Does Salem play a Turkey Day Game ?

  19. Honestly I think if you substitute north and salem in for spaulding and keene then they would have played the pretty much toughest possible NH schedule.

    You need South, Londonderry and Central in there as well!

  20. Now just a thought!
    BG Played a few games against D1 teams.
    Pre-Season (yeah it is pre-season but you don't think D1 tried to beat BG)
    They ran all over Memorial
    They beat up on South
    And they handled Salem without much difficulty at all (Salem did move the ball better than the other two teams but they didn't get into the endzone until the starters were all taken out)
    In the jamboree, they beat Central 35 - 0 in about 1/2 football game
    and then killed Pinkerton 35-7 in the regular season.

    Seems to me that BG has shown their stuff against D1 teams.

    And I think that ToJo has more class than to really beat up on their opponent in a championship game. If they get a big lead, he will play his other lines. And I think that Winny is a much improved team since they lost to BG 35-6 earlier in the season. So I don't really expect a complete blowout.

  21. Why not Salem-BG @ Stellos on Turkey Day before or after the Civil Bore Bowl. ?

    Salem is likely to take Nash North so you could essentially have a D1/D2 Bowl worth something to NH Football fans.

  22. What makes you so sure Salem will take Nashua North?

  23. Salem is a better team overall, North played some good games this year but defensively they are too pourous to stop Salem from getting the edge in 4 quarters. Not to mention Grant field likely to be a mudpit which will play into Salems Favor.

    be great for the North program to get the win Saturday. just dont see it.

    Love to See Salem Vs BG as a post match-up, Would holefully quell some of the Div1 Div2 nonsense.

    BG would win by 3 Touchdowns and shut down the dynamic duo backfield.

  24. North vs. South is pathetic.
    BG move up to D1 and push yourself back into the T Day discussion in Nashua. Or, find a suitable MA opponent. Please.

  25. what's up with this board...BG this and BG that...Everyone is going to get a chance to look at Bg go through a D-1 schedule in about 10 months. Is there anyone here who thinks they are going to go undefeated. I don't. BG will never play South or North on Turkey day. Nashua has already made it clear, this day is for Nashua residents not Mass residents. If BG wants to schedule a game with Trinity just up the road, go for it...Trinity fans already think they're the bomb...I'm still looking for that list of Mass BG many starters are from mass...I know some have said it doesn't matter were you recruit from everything is equal... Well...If I look at the big fish lately in NH football...The teams seem to be from the Nashua area....

  26. 6:15 - that's a great incoherant ramble. Congrats!

    BG starters from MA, out of 22 I believe there are 8. And, of the 8, they all live within 10 miles of the school. Again, why does this matter? Why would they play Trinity? They played for 8 years in the "Bishops Bowl" and BG destroyed them every game.

    Also, if you play a Turkey day game and no one cares, was it ever actually played? North vs. South is pathetic...just like a previous blogger said.

    Public vs. Catholic is fun...just ask anyone involved before 2004.
    "It's alright, it's OK, you will work for us someday..." chanted when BG was being beat by Nashua High (again) now that's funny!

  27. If BG wins tomorrow and nobody cares but BG people, will it really matter?

  28. Yes, it will matter to you because you can't stand BG..that's what makes competition great.

  29. Is this part of the BG education?

  30. Wow, it all starts at the top for BG.

  31. hey guys just want to let you know i think the salem north game will display the most talent in the state. enough about the bg. if you go to the salem north game you will see future big time players. Williams and Broduer are both college guys and andrew will be a big time player where Jacques Cannone and fedrick are getting some big time looks already so check it out

  32. Turkey games can accomplish nothing but put a downer at the end of the season for a good team, or be good if a bad team wins. other than that even the players dont care. I personally would rather stay home stuffing my face. but hey im just another BG mass kid what do i know

  33. there is more balanced talent at the salem north game for sure. But BG has more than either of those two teams. Kana is going D1. Kell is the best defender in the state. Phillips will play in college. As well as around 10 or so others. Not to mention the multi sport players like Bayne would are instead going bigtime in another sport. (Bayne and Hall D1 Lax)

  34. No need to even acknowledge the kid who said Winnacunet will win haha. i love it
    seriously though give Winny plenty of credit. They are a good team with a GREAT qb. but they just cant match up. They will hang in there because they are a tough physical group but it will prob be around the same 35-7 score
    dont think BG wont come out fired up for a state championship game thats just rediculous

  35. Jeremy, looks like you need to make a separate blog for BG this year because thats all anyone will talk about.
    Theyr sick everyone, and thats why you hate them. enough already. Now lets discuss the competitive games please.
    Hate to say it but it looks like basketball will be like this too

  36. They are sick, alright. Very delusional.

  37. BG, Milford and Merrimack. Guess that's where all the opinionated sports fans are. Funny thing is, I'm about 50 minutes from those places.

  38. I hope Winny wins, good luck to them. Everyone hates BG for a reason. Trust me I could go into more deatail but I wont because Im pretty sure people stop reading the posts when they get really long.

  39. I wonder who the Exeter kids are cheering for in this game, because Winnacunet is their rival but im pretty sure everyone wants them to win.

  40. "Everyone hates BG for a reason."

    Same reason people hate the Yankees; they're on top.

  41. Jeremy -
    Any chance you can start a string for everyone who "Hates BG" and everyone how "Loves BG"? I'd like to see people get back to talking sports. And BTW, it's always been this way - this is nothing new. The internet just gives people another venue to vent.

  42. bg should put more effort into thier baseball program next as they are trying to make baseball players out of football players

  43. People disliked BG even when they were struggling to stay out of the basement. It has to do with a lack of class/sportsmanship. Exeter's has had a much, much better record than BG over the last 15 years and no one (except BG people) dislikes them.

  44. can anyone give an example of BG's lack of class and sportsmanship other than crowd chants and coaches swearing? or is it just made up like all the recruiting rumors?

  45. BG will never be liked regardless of how they act, play, win, lose, etc. It's been this way since the school started. It is a private school playing public schools. Because of this, BG carry a chip on their shoulder assuming that "Its us against the world" attitude. There is no "home town" support, like Exeter, etc. enjoy.

    BG, just respectful and go about your business. For you, HS is only the beginning, not the end.

  46. 10:51 is a prime example of why people dislike BG so much. There is a feeling at BG that they are part of something special and that they are destined for a better life because of the school they are at. That is hardly the case, many successful people leave other high schools every year.
    Most of Bg will be paying for college next year just like the rest of the nation and will be sitting in the same classrooms as those from Merrimack and Nashua. Only difference will be is the 40,000 dollars that BG parents spent for high school will still be available for college tuition from the ones who stayed in public school.

  47. I checked out that poll that had BG 20th in the Northeast. They also had Trinity at #2 in the Great State of Cow Hampshire and 61st in the Northeast. Probably not a great index. System nees some more programming on it's RPI. lol

    I find it hilarious and my kid goes to Trinity.
    Remember, figures don't lie, but liars can figure and garbage in, garbage out.

  48. 31-0000000000000000000000000000000000000000

    Would've been 31-14 if Harry Knowles knew how to catch a football. Give Winny credit though, they came out hard.

  49. Congrats to all the Champs and Runners-Up. Great season.

    Jeremy....get going on who s/b nominated for Mr. Football. S/B some good discussion on that. Jacques, Jellison, Montville, Jones, Hall, Lyons, Kelley, Bozek, Cuipa, Cannone, Farkas,Cavanaugh, McAullife et al. Some really great seasons. Plenty of deserving kids.

  50. 2:43, I tried to explain the situation. I did not say the school, the kids or the alums were any better only that its always been this way and don't sweat into what you want.

    Apparently you can read, just not very well.

  51. To the guy up a bit, Cannone and Jacques are not going to get, nor have they gotten "big time looks." No D1 school in the country wants a 5'5.5" 160 lbs RB that doesn't run a 4.3-4.4, and Cannone? Please, it takes more than that to be a D1 QB.