Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Nearing the Home Stretch
It's no secret that I'm more of a basketball guy. But I have to admit, this has been a very entertaining, exciting football season so far and I'm not quite ready for it to end yet. Fortunately, we still have a good month of football left in front of us.
Here are my thoughts on what has happened so far, and a look ahead at what is to come as the 2010 New Hampshire high school football season enters its stretch run (includes coverage of all 6 divisions).
Games That Are Circled on My Calendar
I'm pumped for the next 2 weekends. There are 4 games that I have circled on my calendar as BIG games heading down the stretch, and I will be covering all 4 of them.
This Friday: Bishop Guertin @ Winnacunnet
Home field advantage, and possibly the #1 seed in D-II is on the line here. Before the season started I think most thought this would be a battle of 2 undefeated teams. But injuries have hit both teams hard, they've both lost some games and as a result this game has lost a little bit of its luster. This should still be a great battle between 2 teams who aren't particularly fond of each other.
This Saturday: Franklin @ Newport
This should be a very good D-VI contest. Both teams head into the game with identical 6-1 records. This is the most wide open division in the state, with 6 teams who all have a legit shot at the title (6 teams in D-VI, catchy huh?). They're Newport, Gilford, Inter-Lakes, Franklin, Newfound and Winnisquam. After this weekend I would have seen all 6 of them play in the last 3 weeks. 2 weeks ago I saw Gilford pound Newfound 40-7, last week I saw Winnisquam squeak past Inter-Lakes 7-0. And this week it's Franklin and Newport going at it. I can't wait! Just a couple weeks ago Newport was considered the clear cut favorite in this division before they lost to Winnisquam by 2 scores. Franklin meanwhile has a winning tradition, and possibly the most consistent program in the division. It was just 2 years ago when they beat Campbell in the first ever D-VI title game. This should be a great game!
Next Friday: St. Thomas @ Kearsarge
Last week, when this game was still 3 weeks away there was already people on here talking about it creating buzz. Will it live up to the hype? We won't know until next Friday night, but my money is on it being the game of the year in D-V. I've seen St. Thomas play already, and am very much looking forward to seeing Kearsarge as well. I'm expecting a hard fought, physical, low scoring contest. Stay tuned!
Next Saturday: Lebanon @ Trinity
The game of the year in D-V and the game of the year in D-IV...on back-to-back days...both games being matchups of undefeated teams...looks like Christmas has come early this year! This weekend is going to be fun, but there's no beating next weekend! Folks have been talking about St. Thomas/Kearsarge on here for weeks, and the same is true about Lebanon/Trinity. Look for a good old-fashioned, smash mouth, physical, run it up the gut game of football between the Raiders and Pioneers. Seeing guys like Cody Patch (pictured above), Andrew Lauderdale, Dylan Drew and Jeff Gratiano line up and hit each other for 4 quarters would alone be worth the price of admission. Let the best team win!
These are the 4 biggest games in the state over the next 2 weeks. And the New Hampshire Notebook is the ONLY media outlet that will have ALL 4 of them covered.
Down Year For Some Powerhouses
When most people think NH football, the programs that come to mind first are Plymouth, Exeter, Pinkerton and Bishop Guertin. Well Pinkerton is the #1 ranked team in the state according to my latest Power Rankings. But the other 3 teams (especially Plymouth and Exeter) are down this year compared to the way they had been dominating their divisions in recent years.
Plymouth won 57 games in a row, and title after title. But earlier this year Plymouth lost 2 games in a row and 3 of 4. All 3 of their losses have been by double digits, including a 39-6 loss to Trinity. 3 losses already and they still haven't played unbeaten Lebanon.
After years of battling BG for the top spot in D-II Exeter was forced to move up to D-I...and boy it couldn't have come at a worse time for the Blue Hawks. They graduated nearly every starter off last year's team, and as a result have a very young, inexperienced team this season. After losing just 1 regular season game all last year, Exeter is 1-6 right now. Is D-I really that much better than D-II? No way Jose. Exeter's just down this year.
BG isn't as down as Plymouth and Exeter are this year, but they did lose to a NH team for the first time in 2 years, and they also lost 2 of 3 games. They've been hit hard by injuries, especially to Mike Kelly, who after the Salem game was looking like the best player in the state. While the Cardinals are a far cry from the dominating force they were last year they actually still have a legit shot at the D-II championship.
Injuries to Key Players Have Some Teams Hurting (Literally!)
BG has injuries to Kelly, as well as Peter Fucci, Kyle Karaska and other key players as well. Winnacunnet has Mike Trainor and Bryce Paster on the shelf. Keene's Chris Lacroix is out with a dislocated patella. Nashua South has 2 key players currently injured in Nilsson Basora and Alan Odell. Portsmouth back Bill Lane is also banged up, and his injury certainly played a role in the Clippers loss to Goffstown this past weekend. Dover QB Tyler Zabkar missed the Keene game with a concussion. Timbelrane QB Nate Lawrence had to leave the Winnacunnet game early with an injury. And Pinkerton's only loss to a NH team this year came when Luke Somers, who is possibly their best player, was out of the lineup with a leg injury. Plymouth star Taylor Newberry has almost missed time due to injury.
Those are just a few. It has been a tough year for injuries. Best of luck to all of the players in returning to the field.
Brief Thoughts on Each of the 6 Divisions
Looks like a 2 team race right now between Salem and Pinkerton. The first time the two teams met it was a great battle between 2 very good football teams with the Astros coming out on top. No one would be surprised to see a rematch come November 20 in the title game.
What's impressive about Pinkerton is that they have risen up to #1 in the state status despite the fact that they don't have any major big name guys. They don't have any one leading back, instead they have 5 guys who all tote the rock (Manny Latimore, Kevin Davies, Emmitt Smith, Mike Mazzola and Luke Somers). The defense no longer has stud lineman Ben Proulx, but they do have a group of solid, hardworking players. Pinkerton is also a young team. Of the 5 backs, 2 are juniors and 1 is only a freshman. They have a sophomore quarterback, and many young players on the offensive line and defense. No big name guys, and they're very young. And yet the Astros are #1 right now. Of course it does help when you're the biggest school in the state. But you still have to give this team a lot of credit.
Salem meanwhile has a strong senior class, and plenty of big name star players. Their obstacle that they've had to overcome is on defense, where they have really had some problems this year. But over the last couple weeks they have definitely shown some signs of turning things around on "D". The Blue Devils have the most explosive offense in the state. If they can continue to improve on defense they should make a return trip to the championship game.
Going into the year it was all about BG and Winnacunnet. This is now a 4 team race though. Keene and Merrimack also have good teams, but seem to be a notch below Timberlane, BG, Dover and Winnacunnet. The Lacroix injury definitely hurts Keene's chances, as with him they could be right in the mix with those other 4 teams.
What's the most fun and exciting about the race in this division is that if you ask 10 people to rank the top 4 teams in D-II every person would probably have them ranked differently. Right now I have them ranked 1) Dover 2) BG 3) Timberlane 4) Winnacunnet. But who knows what order I'll have them in 2 weeks from now? That's what makes this so fun. You just never know what will happen from week to week. 2 big games to watch are BG/Winnacunnet this Friday in Hampton, and Timberlane @ Dover on November 5th.
Before the season most felt like Souhegan was the favorite with Goffstown and Bedford breathing down their neck. Then Souhegan pummeled Goffstown and Bedford got blown out by Milford while the Sabers rolled right along winning games. Meanwhile Portsmouth emerged as the division's second best team, even earning a ranking in my Week 7 Power Poll. But then last week the Clippers lost to Goffstown...and Souhegan continues to win games. And now it looks like Coach Beliveau's team are the clear cut favorite as we head down the stretch. Portsmouth and Goffstown are the only D-III teams to even remotely give Souhegan a game. Those 2 are likely the only teams that have a prayer of ending their hopes for a three-peat title in Division III. But The Sabers still have to play Bedford on November 5th, which could also be an interesting game.
It's definitely looking like a 2 horse race in D-IV, with Trinity and Lebanon. Trinity was supposed to be a top team. But before the season very few people had Lebanon up there so you have to give the Raiders plenty of credit. Jake Woodward was one of the top 10 senior basketball players in the state last year, but he got very little recognition by the media in the southern part of the state. On the football field it's the same story for Lebanon, where Cody Patch leads the team. Again, he could very well be one of the top 10 senior players in NH but he gets very little attention from the southern part of the state. Could it be that Lebanon High is the Rodney Dangerfield of NH high school sports? (Kids, ask your parents if you don't get it). One thing is for sure though, if they can beat Trinity next Saturday this team will get PLENTY of respect (unlike Rodney, R.I.P. by the way).
Other noteworthy things in D-IV...Kingswood continues to have a tough year. It would be interesting to see how they would have fared this year if star QB Tate Jozokos returned to the school instead of going prep...The biggest story in this division besides Lebanon has to be the downfall of Plymouth...Finally, Trinity and Lebanon are locks for the top 2 spots in the playoffs. But there is a 4 team race for the last 2 playoff spots. Laconia is 5-2, while Monadnock, Kennett and Plymouth are all tied at 4-3. I hate to say it, but that crazy new system that the NHIAA has put in place for the standings could definitely play a role in all of this.
Just like D-I and D-IV, D-V is also a 2 team race. The 2 teams are St. Thomas and Kearsarge, who play each other in North Sutton next Friday night. A couple weeks ago I thought this was a 4 team race, with Stevens and Somersworth being the other 2 teams. Stevens was playing some great football and I saw them throttle Bow on the road earlier in the year. I also Saw Somersworth come very close to beating St. Thomas. But then Stevens got hammered by St. Thomas 28-7, and Somersworth got squashed by Stevens 33-14. Meanwhile Kearsage continued to win ball games and thus you have a 2 team race that will come to a head next weekend. I still don't think you should count out Stevens or Somersworth, but it definitely does look like the Saints and Cougars are a cut above right now. Also don't forget about Campbell. I'm not saying they're title contenders, but if they beat Somersworth Friday night and beat Windham next week (like they should) they could be a playoff team after a rough start to the year in their first season in D-V after moving up from D-VI.
See above, where I talk about this Saturday's game between Newport and Franklin for my detailed insight on this division. 6 teams that all have a good chance to win it. The most wide open division in the state.
I would like to make special mention of Gilford. These guys only have about 25 players on the roster. Gilford is a soccer powerhouse, it has no football tradition. And yet the Eagles are sitting pretty atop the standings with a 6-1 record. They've won 5 in a row, and in their last 2 games they've outscored their opponents 87-7. They've done it with a strong running game and a tough, hard hitting defense. The team is led by backs Brendan Murphy and Matt Dean, linemen Brendan Demo and Jake Harper and Dean and Eli Stockwell on defense. With only 25 kids on the team, it's safe to say that coach Mark Brewer is making the most out of what he's got.
How about a little irony to end this article? In NH the southern teams get most of the hype, since all of the teams in D-I, D-II and D-III are from the south. The prevailing notion that many have is that the southern teams play better football than their northern counterparts. However, in D-VI you have 6 northern teams and 3 southern teams. The 3 southern teams (Epping-Newmarket, Raymond and Farmington) are the 3 teams at the bottom of the standings. Meanwhile the 6 northern teams (Winnisquam, Newfound, Gilford, Inter-Lakes, Newport and Franklin) are the ones who all have winning records and are the ones fighting out out for the title. If that's not irony I don't know what is!