This is clearly a HUGE week in the NH High school football season. Divisions III, IV and V are having their semi-final playoff games, and for Divisions I, II and VI it's the last week of their regular season with some big games being played.
Timberlane @ Alvirne - 7 PM
This is pretty simple to figure out. The winner of this game will be D-II's #4 seed, and for the loser their season ends here. Who they play next Saturday in their semi-final matchup is directly dependant on who wins the BG/Exeter game.
On the field you have to consider Timberlane the favorites in this one. Both of these teams recently got blown out by Winnacunnet. But Alvirne was at full strength when they played the Warriors, whereas Timberlane played them with starting QB and punter Nate Lawrence and top WR and place kicker Jared Diorio both on the sideline in crutches. Both players suited up for the Owls last week in their win over Spaulding. Alvirne meanwhile, after looking horrible with all of their players against Winnacunnet, then had their starting QB Jonathan Baldwin suffer a concussion the following week vs. Merrimack. Baldwin did not play last weekend against BG, and he's questionable for the game Friday vs. Timberlane. If he doesn't play, the Broncos have no shot in this game. I'm sure Coach Nimblett knows that, and if Baldwin is anywhere close to 100% I expect him to play.
Even if Baldwin does play, I'll be surprised if they beat a healthy Owls squad. Coach Fitzgerald knows that this could be the last high school game in the great career of Derek Furey. He's going to run Furey into the ground. I expect him to get at least 25-30 carries. How many yards Alvirne's defense can hold him to with thsoe carries will be a HUGE factor in who wins this game. If they hold him to only 65 yards or less it's a Bronco win. If Furey goes off for 200 yards or more the Owls will fly high. If it's somwhere in between we'll see.
Central @ Salem - 7 PM
This game features two squads in very different situations. Salem has already clinched the top seed in Division I, and homefield throughout the playoffs. They have nothing to play for in this game. And The Blue Devils could also see Central again next week in the semis. If I'm Coach Gati, I don't give Central anything. The only way Salem won't win the D-I title is if one of their key players gets injured. I wouldn't risk that happening in a meaningless game. I would play my starters very sparingly, if at all. And I would use very little of my playbook.
Central on the other hand, needs to win this game in order to make the playoffs. They can't hold anything back, all hands on deck, throw everything they have at Salem. A lot of the Little Green seniors have underachieved this season, but they know that this could be their last game. I expect them to play with the same sense of urgency they played with vs. Pinkerton. And you know Chandler and Cavanaugh are always going to give it their all.
Saturday is a big day. There are two more regular season games with playoff implications, and 6 playoff games. First I'll break down the big D-I and II games.
Nashua North @ Pinkerton - 2 PM
Ok, the playoff situation in D-I is still pretty cloudy. If North wins this game they clinch the #2 seed. Pinkerton then would have three losses and would be the #4 seed, as long as Central beats Salem. But if Central loses to Salem then Londonderry, Pinkerton and Central would all have three losses. They would also all be 1-1 in the tie-breaker.
But if Pinkerton wins this game, then Pinkerton is the #2 seed, North is #3 and Londonderry is #4...unless Central beats Salem, then there would be another three-way tie for the #2 seed, with North, Pinkerton and Central all with 2 losses and all 1-1 in the tie-breaker.
Confused yet? Bottom line, both North and Pinkerton WILL be in the playoffs, but depending on what happens here and in the Salem/Central Contest, they could be seeded anywhere from 2nd-4th.
On the field you have to like North to win, especially since Eric Guinto is expected to be out once again for the Astros. Pinkerton still has other capable backs, but they are clearly not the same team without Guinto. We saw that last year in the playoffs, and we saw that last Friday night against Central.
North is healthy, except for Kevin Rosenberg of course, and they're playing well right now. They have to be the favorites to win this one, especially with Simpson and Proulx also banged up. But don't count out Pinkerton. They've certainly played in more playoff-type games than the Titans have.
Exeter @ Bishop Guertin - 7 PM
Well it's finally here. This game has already been broken down plenty on this site and others. But here goes. The winner gets the top seed in D-I and will play either Timberlane or Alvirne next week. The loser is the #2 seed and will host Winnacunnet next Saturday.
The health of Carson Cross will greatly affect this game. He is the Exeter starting QB who has missed the last 3 games with Mono. Sophomore Jamie Tymann has done a good job filling in, but Cross is a better runner and passer. The Blue Hawks base offense is the Tight T, with three backs lined up behind the QB. The defense knows that there's a 95% chance that it will be a running play, but they don't know which one of the four players will be running it. With Cross in the lineup, he would carry the ball at least 3-4 times a game out of this formation, often times for big gains. In the three games Tymann started, he ran the ball a total of 1 time. So that shows you how when Cross is in the lineup you have to worry about 4 different guys who might run it, rather than just 3 with Tymann in there. Cross also attempted more passes than Tymann, so Cross keeps defenses more honest. Still, if Cross does play how rusty will he be after sitting out for the last month?
Bottom line, without Cross I see Exeter having a lot of trouble moving the ball on the lightning quick BG defense. But for Exeter it's all about ball control. They want to put points on the board, but for them it will be more important to run the ball, keep the clock moving, keep the chains moving, slowly but surely, and to keep the Cardinals offense off the field. They want this to be a low scoring ball game.
BG on the other hand, wants to spread the field, mix the run and pass, build a quick lead and cruise from there. Exeter has good DB's and they're lines are tough and physical on both sides of the ball. And the Blue Hawks won't make silly penalty and turnover mistakes that their previous opponents did. This won't be a cakewalk for Guertin. They are more explosive however, on both sides of the ball, than Exeter is. They can flat out score more points. But will they?
Should be a great football game. Two of the top 3 teams in the state going at it. Listen to my call of the game on 1540 AM, or online at 1540wxex.com. Saturday night at 7.
Now, for the playoff games, all being played Saturday...
Con-Val (3) @ Portsmouth (2) - 7 PM
I think Milford is the third best team in D-III and not Con-Val, but Con-Val gets the spot because they beat a shorthanded Spartans squad early in the season, before Milford went on their winning streak. I will be very surprised if Portsmouth loses this game, especially since the Clippers are healthy again, with QB Nate Jones, WR Mike Montville, RB Billy Lane and Co. all playing well. They did have trouble stopping the run in the first half last week vs. Milford, so look for Con-Val to try and expose that weakness on Saturday. It's the only way they'll have a chance.
Milford (4)@ Souhegan (1) - 3 PM
We'll dub this one as, "The Rematch." Souhegan on't be able to make any excuses if they lose this time. Their team is healthy, and they already had their wake-up call last time they played Milford that brought them back down to earth.
Souhegan knows that Milford can't throw the football. The Spartans have three capable running backs for the Sabres to worry about. But Milford is one dimensional on offense. The last time these two teams met that's where this game was won, in the trenches. Milford's offensive line is big and stong, and they overpowered the defensive front of Souhegan. Even though Milford ran the ball everytime, the Sabres still couldn't stop it.
Milford wants to prove that their win earlier in the year wasn't a fluke, Souhegan wants to prove it was. Plus these schools are big rivals, all the kids know each other, and that should make it even more fun.
Hanover (3) @ Laconia (2) - 1 PM
Up until this past weekend, I think everyone assumed that in D-IV it would be Plymouth/Laconia once again in the title game. But after Laconia lost to a bad Monadnock team, that is no longer a given. The Sachems still have to be considered the favorite here, but don't be surprised if Sam Carney leads Hanover to the upset.
Kennett (4) @ Plymouth (1) - 2 PM
Laconia was considered the only team that had a chance to beat Plymouth in D-IV. But after their loss to Monadnock, will this be a cakewalk for the Bobcats? Let's remember that Laconia had already locked up the #2 seed, and had nothing to play for in the Monadnock game. I still think they could beat Plymouth if it comes to that. Especially if Bobcats RB Kyle McAuliffe doesn't play or is limited by his hand injury. Plymouth still has Colin Hay at RB, and I think even without McAuliffe, they will win this game and next weekend in the D-IV title game.
Bishop Brady (3) @ Pelham (2) - 5 PM
Now this should be a fun football game. Two good football teams. Both teams like to throw the football. And both are playing some good football going into the playoffs. Plus Bishop Brady has a tendancy of playing games thta go down to the wire. They have won 4 games in a row, two of which were won on the very last play of the game. Pelham meanwhile, has won 5 games in a row, and two of those wins were decided by just one score.
With teams who pass who like to pass the ball so much, I think this game could come down to turnovers and who can get more defensive pressure on the opposing quarterback. I think Pelham will win, but I think this will be a close one and Bishop Brady has a legit shot to win. Keep an eye on Pelham's receivers Josh Luciano and Kevin Cheam, and Eric Feehan of Bishop Brady.
Bow (4) @ Trinity (1) - 2 PM
We already saw this matchup last Saturday night. And even though Trinity had already clinched the top seed in D-V and therefore had nothing to play for, and Bow was still jockeying for playoff position and certianly had more to play for, the Pioneers won 59-0. It was 44-0 at halftime.
Now I don't expect the game this week to be that big of a blowout, I mean can it really get any worse than that? But I'd be a fool to think the Falcons had a shot in this one. But hey, give Bow credit. They've already had a better season than anyone expected, including their thrilling win in Pelham earlier in the year. This season at least, it seems like Trinity is just simply too good for Division V. They've played each of the other D-V teams, and no one came within 2 TD's of them. Will they move up to D-IV, or even D-III next year? Or is this season just one special year for Pioneer football? Or will the Pelham/Bishop Brady winner pull an upset next weekend in the title game? Only time will tell...
Well that's a wrap. Boy, I'm exhausted after writing all of that. I think I'll buy lunch for everyone who read the entire thing!