This weekend is another big one, folks. There will be 9 playoff game played across the state. Divisions I, II, and VI have their semi-final matchups, and Divisions III, IV, and V have their championship games. 8 of the 9 games will be played Saturday. And as of right now, all 8 of them will be played at 1 PM. Be sure to tune in for a special "Super Saturday Edition" of Friday Night Lights on WGAM 900/1250 AM and fnlnh.com from noon-4 PM for coverage of all 8 games.
Now, for a breakdown of all 12 games, beginning with the semi-final games in D-I, D-II, and D-VI.
Pinkerton (4) @ Salem (1)
A couple major things to keep an eye on here that will affect how this game turns out. One is the health of Pinkerton halfback Eric Guinto. Clearly, The Astros are a vastly different football team when Guinto is in the lineup. He missed the last two games with a concussion, and they lost both of them. The good news for Astros fans is that Guinto is expected to be back in the lineup for this weekend's game. The bad news is that Mike Mazzola will not. Mazzola was ejected from last Saturday's game vs. North and suspended for this game for unsportsmanlike conduct. Pinkerton will moss him on both sides of the football. And as for Guinto, he's back but whether he's 100% and ready to touch the ball 20 or more times on offense is a different story.
The question with Salem is which Blue Devils squad will show up. The team that went 9-0 to start the season, or the team that got smoked by Central last Friday night 45-7? I don't think Salem is as bad as they looked against the Little Green, but I don't think they're as good as they looked the first 9 weeks either. If the four D-I teams are at full strength, anything can happen.
If anything good came out of Pinkerton playing without Guinto the last couple weeks, it's that Pinkerton was forced to open things up offensively. QB Ryan Simpson through a lot of passes last week, and with Guinto back, the Astros could have more balance to their offense heading into the playoffs.
Salem got behind Central, and tried to open things up and let Cannone through last week, but every time he dropped back, he had a Little Green pass rusher in his face, causing either a sack or incompletion. The Blue Devil offensive line will have to do a better job this week against a good Pinkerton line.
I like Salem to win a close one.
Manchester Central (3) @ Nashua North (2)
This is just a semi-final game, but if you ask me these are the two best teams in D-I right now. They're also the two best teams in the state not named BG.
Central started the year 1-2, but they are a different football team now. Jared Chandler has improved a ton over the course of the season, his line is giving him more time, and Junior Brown, who missed the beginning of the season, has emerged as a go-to receiver with great speed. The line is also blocking better for halfback extraordinaire Mike Cavanaugh, who had a slow start but is now a candidate for the Mr. Football award. But most all, the Little Green have improved on the defensive side of the football.
North on the other hand, has been a good team all year long. Their only loss was to Salem a few weeks ago, in a game that star halfback Andre Williams missed. Williams is fine now, and so is defensive lineman Kevin Rosenberg.
This game could really go either way, and the winner will have a very good chance at winning D-I. I'll take North in a nail biter.
Alvirne (4) @ Bishop Guertin (1)
BG once again showed why they are the best team in the state with their 42-0 win over Exeter last Saturday night. Alvirne meanwhile, beat Timberlane 32-7 to get into the playoffs for the first time in 10 years. Even though the Owls were playing without Furey in that game, the Broncos were without their starting QB Jonathan Baldwin. And to win by that wide a margin is impressive. Still, BG beat Alvirne 48-0 2 weeks ago. It would be silly to expect a result this time that was much different.
Winnacunnet (3) @ Exeter (2)
This should be a fun one on the seacoast. It is always a great atmosphere, packed stands and a loud crowd anytime these two rivals square off, whether it's in football or basketball. They met in the first round of the playoffs last year in basketball, so it's only fitting that they do the same on the gridiron. Especially since with division realignment, this might be the last time they play each other in football for quite some time.
On the field, this should actually be a very good, competitive football game. I think Coach Ball still has a bad taste in his mouth from when his team was upset by Winnacunnet in the regular season a couple years ago. He wants his team to get back on the winning track after last week's embarassing 42-0 loss to BG. And while Exeter also has Guertin and Timberlane as rivals, for Winnacunnet, their only rival is Exeter. The Warriors get up to play the Blue Hawks more than any other game on the schedule. This might be a semi-final game, but for Winnacunnet, THIS is their championship game. They've already had a very good seaon by their standards, but to beat Exeter would be the ultimate win for them.
If they hope to win, Winnacunnet will have to play smart. In the regular season meeting between these two teams, they had a number of bad penalties and turnovers in a 21-6 loss. If they can win the turnover battle, they can win this game. That is easier said than done however, when you're talking about a very disciplined Blue Hawk squad.
Exeter finally got starting QB Carson Cross back last week. OL/Dl Dylan Ryan also returned to the lineup after getting injured in the Dover game. He only played DL though vs. BG, but he hopes to play both sides of the ball like usual this Saturday. Look for the Blue Hawks to get back to their bread and butter: running the ball out of the Tight-T formation. Winnacunnet has had the most success this year when they put the ball in QB Steve Cronan's hands and let him make plays, either by throwing the bal downfield or running with it. His favorite receiver is senior Harry Knowles. The Warriors did have success throwing the ball in the first meeting. But Exeter was up by 3 TD's in the second half, so they could afford to play a prevent defense. The key for Winnacunnet will be not digging themselves into an early hole. If they can do that, and still have success throwing the ball it will be a ballgame.
I look for an angry Exeter team to show up. That BG game must have really ticked them off. I'm sure they want to show that they're better than that. Should be a heck of a game between these two teams. And you can listen to live play-by-play of this game, on 1540 AM WXEX or online at 1540wxex.com.
Campbell (4) @ Inter-Lakes (1)
Campbell played much better football as the season went on, after a very rough start. They head to the playoffs on a 7 game winning streak. Inter-Lakes has been dominant all year, going 9-0 in D-VI play. The Lakers are probably the least talked about team ever to go undefeated in their division. Surely part of the reason for that is because the one non-league game they played they lost 35-14 to Somersworth, a team that didn't even make the playoffs in D-V. I think all three of these D-VI playoff games should be good, competitive ball games. With the exception of the week 1 meeting between these two teams, the 4 D-VI playoff teams have played each other very tight this year.
Newfound Regional (3) @ Winnisquam Regional (2)
Winnisquam won the first meeting 20-0 back on October 3rd. Newfound is looking for revenge.
Now, here are my previews of the three championship games being played Saturday:
Portsmouth (2) @ Souhegan (1)
Both of these teams got here by virtue of absolute blowout wins in the semi-finals. Portsmouth scored the first 43 points in their game vs. Con-Val, while Souhegan showed the entire state that their previous loss to Milford was a fluke by defeating the Spartans this time around. So something has to give here. Now as we all know, the Sabres destroyed the Clippers in their first meeting. But both Nate Jones and Quinn McCann were out that game for Portsmouth. Incidentally, both players were on the High School All-Star Sports Show this past Monday night on WTSN AM 1270 that I'm the producer for. Both players said that because the were missing so many key players that game, they don't even count that game as a loss for them. As far as they're concerned they're undefeated. They're healthy now, and they're a confident bunch heading into this game with Souhegan.
Let's not forget though, Portsmouth was also healthy 2 weeks ago, and beat Milford by 1 touchdown...the same Milford team that Souhegan beat 37-0 last Saturday. I'm not sayin'...I'm just sayin.
The key in this game will be whether Portsmouth can limit its turnovers. If Portsmouth turns it over a lot, especially early, Souhegan could blow them out. Otherwise I think the Clippers will give them a game. You still have to like the Sabres though, either way. They're just too big, fast, and talented.
Laconia (2) @ Plymouth (1)
Laconia showed that their loss to Monadnock was a fluke, as they crushed Hanover in the semi-finals. And Plymouth's Kyle McAuliffe showed that his injured hand was nothing to worry about, as he had yet another big game for the Bobcats in their win over Kennett.
The first time these teams met, it was a 13-7 win for Plymouth. Close game, only 7-0 Plymouth at the half. Plymouth has the longest winning streak in NH football history, and the second longest winning streak in the country. If anyone can break it it's Laconia, though. Unless of course they schedule Souhegan next year...
Bishop Brady (3) @ Trinity (1)
Bishop Brady pulled an upset if you can call it that, and beat Pelham last weekend. They've been as good as anyone in D-V over the second half of the season. Trinity meanwhile, has been dominant all year. Their closest game was against Kearsarge, a team that didn't even make the playoffs. Go figure. The Pioneers beat Bishop Brady in the regular season by 3 touchdowns way back in week 2. Bishop Brady is better now, but Trinity is simply a step above the rest of D-V this year. Will they move up to D-III or IV next season? Stay tuned...