Thursday, December 2, 2010

2010 Football Season Wrap-Up


The 2010 high school football season might be over, but here on the NH Notebook we continue to look back on the season that was and break it all down. Here's my season wrap up article. I take a look at each of the 6 divisions, complete with final thoughts, games of the year, players of the year and next year's favorites.

All 6 divisions, all in 1 article. From someone who has seen at least 3 games in all 6 divisions. Enjoy.

Disclaimer - I will only pick a player for Player of the Year if I have actually seen him play, just like I will only say that a particular game is the Game of the Year if I was actually at that game. How could someone possibly make a pick for POY if they've never even seen that player play? And how could someone make their picks for the Game of the Year if they weren't actually at that game? Makes ZERO sense. Now, onward with the article!


Division I

My Take
I have said so much about Pinkerton already, between the Power Rankings articles, game stories, etc. But they deserve it. The Astros had a terrific season. What I will remember most about this division though was how strong it was top to bottom. Central was a top 6 team in the state yet they didn't make the playoffs. Londonderry was only the 6th best team, yet they were certainly playing like a playoff team late in the year (like when they beat #3 seed Nashua South). Even the bottom 3 teams were good. Concord beat #4 seed Salem convincingly, Memorial played a number of the top teams tough including South and Exeter has to be one of the best last-place teams in NH football history.

Game of the Year
Pinkerton Scores Late TD to Beat Salem in D-I Semis...this was a great game, and definitely lived up to the hype. It was a well played game on both sides. In the end though, the fumble by Max Jacques which was recovered by Pinkerton made a big difference. It led to the game-winning touchdown run by Emmitt Smith to seal the Astros win. Sophomore QB Chris St. Onge made to big time throws to complete passes on 4th down and long situations. Unsung heroes Ryan Coombs and Andrew Curran both came up big for Pinkerton, and Luke Somers again had a huge game as the heart and soul of the team. For Salem QB Matt Cannone and Jacques both had great games, and ended their careers on a high note.

Player of the Year
Pinkerton's Luke Somers...I give him the slight edge over Salem's Max Jacques. Somers was the most valuable player for the best team in the state. He made an immense impact on the game, both offensively and defensively. Jacques might have bigger stats, but I look beyond just the stats. Somers brought leadership and toughness to the table. He was one of the best blockers and hardest hitters in NH. He could have rushed for a ton of yards. But Pinkerton needed him more as a blocking fullback to open up holes for Emmitt Smith and Kevin Davies. That's being unselfish and the ultimate team player. He was also one of the top linebackers in the state on defense. The one game where Somers was out of the lineup due to injury was the one game Pinkerton lost to a NH team all year. Not only did they lose but they lost 33-7 to Nashua North. Then when they had Somers back in the lineup, they defeated that same North team 14-7 for the title. Jacques was a great player. He had a great year. I really enjoyed watching him play because not only did he have incredible speed but he also had heart and toughness and refused to go down. Both players are worthy of this award. But Somers was a better two-way player, and he is also a champion.

Next Year's Favorite
Pinkerton...They graduate Somers, as well as other key seniors like Mike Mazzola, Pierce Stevens, Cameron Cote, Corey Beck and Joe DeBenedetto, but the majority of their starters and key guys will be back. St. Onge, Smith, Davies, Curran, Coombs, Latimore, Madden, Pacocha, Liporto will all be back. These guys will be VERY good. But they'll also have a target on their backs. Salem had a target on their backs this year and didn't handle it very well. How will the Astros do? Time will tell.


Division II

My Take
A great year in Division II. Heading into the season it was BG, Winnacunnet and everyone else. And while the Cardinals and Warriors both had very strong years and ultimately met for the title, they were by no means the only quality squads in D-II in 2010. Dover, Keene, Timberlane and Merrimack all had playoff worthy teams. With the team Merrimack had, most years they would make the D-II playoffs - they were a tough, hard hitting team with good size and physical play (guys like Kyle Karka and Jimmy Bigwood) and good speed and playmaking ability (guys like Brody Williams, Jackson King and Chase DiStasio). Yet the Tomahawks only finished 6th! That just shows how tough this division was. It was tough, but definitely not as good top-to-bottom as D-I. The bottom 3 teams in D-II (Alvirne, West and Spaulding) were simply no match for the other teams in the division and clearly weren't as strong as teams like Concord, Memorial and Exeter. That being said, while D-I might have had more offensive firepower and speed, D-II was definitely the more physical, hard hitting, tougher division. I would argue that 6 of the top 7 defenses in the state were D-II teams. The only D-I team in there would be Pinkerton, the other 6 would be BG, Dover, Winnacunnet, Timberlane, Keene and Merrimack. Lastly, you have to give a shout out to the amazing resiliency of Bishop Guertin. I've said it before but I'll say it again. They graduated 34 seniors last year, they had the best player in the state (Mike Kelly) suffer a season ending injury in week 2, and they had more injuries anyone else in NH - if that happened to any other team in the state they would be winless. So for that you have to give coach Tony Johnson, his staff and his players a ton of credit.

Game of the Year
Bishop Guertin over Keene in D-II Semis...This one's a fairly easy choice. I saw quite a bit of D-II football this year, but the best game I saw was the BG/Keene semi-final showdown. In my recap of the game I listed and described all of the big plays that took place...there was FOURTEEN of them. Give Keene credit, they hung and there, battled hard and were RIGHT THERE all game with team that ended up being ranked #2 in the state. Freshman Alex Parenteau had a big game, as did lineman Taylor Russell. Blackbirds sophomore QB Lucas Luopa played his heart out, as did all of the kids on both teams. BG just had more experience, more depth, they hit harder and they made the plays when they counted most. James Carver picked up a fumble and ran it in for the game-winning TD, and the Guertin defense had a HUGE stand on Keene's last possession to force a turnover. A great game by both teams.

Player of the Year
BG's Steve Cuipa...lots of possibilities for this award. The #2 guy would have to be Winnacunnet QB Steve Cronan. Other candidates are Timberlane's Nick Lawrence and Dover TE/LB Kyle Wilson. Cuipa and Cronan are 2 outstanding quarterbacks. They both had amazing seasons and they both left everything they had out on the field when their teams squared off for the championship. And despite the fact that Cronan Winnacunnet were slight favorites and led for the majority of the game, it was Cuipa and BG who came back and won it. Both players are deserving of the award. But Cuipa was just a little better.

Next Year's Favorite
BG...it's tough to go against them, especially since they've now won 3 titles in a row, and 6 in the last 7 years. They graduate a lot of talent, with guys like Cuipa, Kelly, Remillard, Folger, Pyzocha, Fucci, Bottari and Kemos. But they return more than enough talent to win it all again next year. Zach Mailloux, Alex Eaton, Kyle Karaska, Kevin Kiczuk, Jeremy Bayne, Blake Boudreau, Andrew Crane, Bob Fahey, Jimmy Carver, Andrew Carper and Brody Smith. They'll ALL be back. Look for Fahey to take over at QB, and for this team to win yet another title.


Division III

My Take
Souhegan was once again the best team in D-III. This was a top heavy division, no question about it. You had Souhegan and Portsmouth at the top, then big dropoff, and then you had Milford, Hollis, Bedford and Goffstown who were middle of the pack teams, and then you had another sizable drop-off to Con-Val, Pembroke and Pelham at the bottom. It was clear that Portsmouth and Souhegan were just on another level than the rest, though. Portsmouth was the #2 seed, and they beat #3 seed Milford in the playoffs 51-3. In the regular season the Clippers won 40-0. And yes I know both Spartans tailbacks got injured in the playoff game and barely played, but Portsmouth dominated that game right from the start even with Goudreau and Forte in there. It would be nice if this division was a little more balanced. When a team like Souhegan or Portsmouth plays someone like Pelham or Pembroke it is just a waste of time for both teams.

Game of the Year
Bedford Over Con-Val in Double Overtime...As good as the title game was, this was the best D-III game I saw all year. Con-Val went 1-7, and had a season to forget. But I'm sure their players will all remember this game for a LONG time. It was a classic. Big play after big play, intensity, a great crowd, a great atmosphere, excitement, drama, it had it all. The players all seemed to step up and play even better as the game wore on, which made for an incredible finish. The players of the game were linebacker Sam McCalain for Bedford and QB Jon Queen for Con-Val.

Souhegan With TD in Last Minute to Beat Portsmouth for D-III Title...This game was such a delight to take in, it's hard to believe it was only the 2nd best D-III game of the year. Portsmouth left it all out on the field, they had an excellent game plan, and they came THIS close to pulling off the upset. But Sabers QB Mike Luks orchestrated an unbelievable 4th quarter drive, ending with his own 3 yard TD run to win it with under a minute left. After the game I knew I just watched 2 of the top 10 teams in NH play (sorry Lebanon, but that's why they're ranked ahead of you). These two teams both played great football for all 48 minutes.

Player of the Year
Souhegan's Mike Luks. I really do prefer to give this award to guys who excel not only on offense, but defense as well. Which is why Portsmouth's Quinn McCann is a VERY close 2nd for this award behind Luks. Because not only did McCann put up some gaudy numbers as QB for the Clippers, but he was also a tough, hard hitting defensive back for them as well. But Luks gets the nod because of what he did not only to Division III opponents, but also for what he did to Londonderry, a good D-I team. Luks had a great 2nd half in that game, even though he had one of the better defensive lineman in the state (Londonderry's Troy Mansfield) rushing after him all game. Then Luks went and led Souhegan to the comeback win over McCann's Portsmouth team in the title game (although McCann did play great in that game as well).

Next Year's Favorite
Souhegan...With how much better Souhegan and Portsmouth were this year than the rest of the division, it's hard to see someone else beating them next year (even though both teams do graduate much of their talent). Next year look for Robbie McCormick to take over at QB for the sabers, and for the Clippers it's expected to be Billy Hartmann. A couple of linemen to watch out for next year are Rick Holt for Portsmouth and Jake Kennedy for Souhegan (they're both only sophomores right now). Then both teams also return speedy playmakers like Bill Lane for Portsmouth and Chris Chininis for Souhegan. Both squads have excellent coaches as well in Beliveau and Murphy. I will be surprised if the same two teams aren't back in the championship again next year. Look for Bedford and Hollis to both be good next year as well.


Division IV

My Take
Last year many people said that this division was just as good if not better than Division III. This year the same things are being said. The people who say those things just might have a point. Lebanon (undefeated D-IV champs) and Trinity could compete with anyone in D-III. And Laconia, Monadnock, Kennett and Plymouth give the division 6 quality teams. That's just as many as D-III had. Trinity moved up a division and made it to the title game. Plymouth's nation-leading winning streak ended. But the best story was Lebanon, who went from no playoff appearances in 10 years to going undefeated and winning the title.

Game of the Year
Patch Leads Lebanon to Win Over trinity in Battle of Unbeatens...This game had a ton of build-up. And it lived up to every bit of it. Trinity actually looked like the better team in the 1st half. But in the 2nd half it was all Cody Patch, and it was all Lebanon. Patch ran for 235 yards on the game, and the Raiders took the game 14-6 at Gill Stadium in Manchester.

Player of the Year
Lebanon's Cody Patch. At the basketball showcase I put on a couple weeks ago someone handed me a highlight tape for Lebanon football 2010. After viewing that, and seeing the Lebanon/Trinity game in person there's no question Patch was the best player in D-IV. Not only did he have a combination of speed and power when running the ball, but he also had excellent vision, and really knows how to follow his blockers in order to gain extra yardage. Plus he was just as good on defense. I was also very impressed with the play of Trinity's Josh Hughes and Jeff Gratiano. Both players were extremely valuable to the Pioneers and both players were big on defense as well as offense. They would be next on my list, followed by Laconia's David Mahoney (only a sophomore!).

Next Year's Favorite
Trinity...Hughes, Lauderdale, Masuku, Chambers, Carrier, Theroux. They're all coming back. Lebanon will also be good, with "Zander" Morill and Dylan Drew leading the way. But Trinity returns more talent. They're the early favorite for next year.


Division V

My Take
Going into the year, it was St. Thomas and Kearsarge. All year long it was St. Thomas and Kearsarge. After week 3 when both teams were 3-0 people were already talking about the possibility of both teams being undefeated when they squared off in North Sutton during the last week of the season. That's exactly what happened. And the two squads played 2 classic games then and in the title game. Kearsarge won both, and Coach Hoffman was ale to go out on as high of a note as possible. Somersworth also played St. Thomas VERY tough during the regular season, and Stevens was also a formidable team. There was definitely a dropoff after the top 4 teams. Evidence of this is how #4 seed Somersworth blew out Campbell (the 5th best team in the division) late in the year.

Game of the Year
Kearsarge Over St. Thomas in Triple Overtime...Man, what a game this was. I mention 7 different "Games of the Year" in this article, but this one was the best of the best. I'm a young guy, but this was still the best high school game I've ever seen. Both teams played their hearts out, and both teams executed EXTREMELY well offensively in overtime. It was clear from watching this game that they were both very well coached teams. The Cougars dominated the first half, but the Saints stormed back into the game in the 2nd half to force overtime. Doug Gregory for Kearsarge and Jack MacNevin for St. Thomas both played amazing, on offense AND defense. It was a game for the ages, and I am glad I was there to witness it. Kearsarge got the win, but there truly was no lose on that special evening in North Sutton.

Player of the Year
Kearsarge's Doug Gregory...this one's a no-brainer. Gregory carried the Cougars to an undefeated season and the title. He did an outstanding job at QB of not only running the option but also making some great throws down field. And defensively he was as good a linebacker as you'll find in NH. Other contenders? Well, St. Thomas doesn't have a clear cut best player. MacNevin, along with Tom Baxter and Jack Pearl could all make a case, and all had great years. But none of them are the clear cut best guy for the Saints, and none were as good as Gregory. Other D-V guys who impressed me when I saw them play in person were Zach Fitzherbet and Logan Batchelder from Stevens, Anthony Rinaldi and John Houston from Campbell and Somersworth's Josh Ream and DJ Colbert. All very good players. But again, none were in Gregory's league.

Next Year's Favorite
Kearsarge...hard to believe they could lose their main man (Gregory) to graduation and still be the favorite. But they have plenty of playmakers returning, including Jordan Barthol, Oliver Gallo, Andrew St. Louis, Ben Gambino and Jacob Jones. I definitely don't expect them to go undefeated again though. Look for Stevens to be the second best team, as they return a bunch of talented kids like Batchelder, Cam Blewitt, "CJ" Gosselin and "Billy" Brooks. St. Thomas might fade back to the middle of the pack a little bit next year, as they graduate nearly all of their starters.


Division VI

My Take
Boy was I wrong on my prediction for the title game! I predicted that Gilford would beat Newport for the 'ship' 37-22. But instead it was Newport who not only won, but they absolutely smoked Gilford 35-0. Who would have thought that a Gilford team that had scored 40+ points in about 8 straight games and had the dynamic backfield duo of Brendan Murphy and Matt Dean would get shutout on their home field? Not this guy. But you have to give Newport all the credit in the world. They crushed the Eagles, who seemed to be unbeatable going into that game.

Game of the Year
Winnisquam Shuts Out Inter-Lakes 7-0...I really liked the atmosphere at this game. For a Division VI game, this contest had a HUGE crowd. And why not? These are two rivals, they're close in proximity to each other, and it was a rematch of last year's championship game. Plus they both had identical 4-2 records heading in. The game did not disappoint, as it went down to the wire. The game's only score came on a 79 yard TD pass from Bears QB Nathan Foster to wideout Matt Descoteaux (who was also very good defensively as well as a DB). This game also featured an amazing 76 yard punt by Winnisquam's Kyle Pratt. It was the longest punt I saw all year, and possibly the longest punt of the season by anybody in the state. These are two big time rivals, but I also really liked the fact that there is a mutual respect there between them. This was evident at the end of the game when the Bears could have scored another touchdown in the final seconds but did not. They were on the Lakers 3 yard line with just 20 seconds left. They could have tried to punch it in, go up 2 scores and put an exclamation mark on the victory. But they were classy and took a knee.

Player of the Year
Newport's Harrison Wade...This pick might come as a surprise. But I am a firm believer that Player of the Year, MVP, All-State awards, etc. should go to players who come up big in the biggest games. If Gilford had won the title game then yes, either Murphy or Dean would be my pick. But they absolutely got smashed by Newport when all of the chips were on the table. And it was Wade who led the Tigers to the title, with 134 rushing yards and 3 TD's. In addition to being Newport's leading rushing, Wade is also one of their best and most valuable defensive players. He's a better 2-way player than Murphy, and he came up bigger on the biggest stage than Dean. Wade is the guy.

Next Year's Favorite
Gilford...Newport was the best team this year, but they graduate Wade and they also graduate star QB Josh Stout. Although they'll return talented players like Logan Merritt and Greg Beaulieu, Gilford clearly has more of their top guys coming back. Murphy is only a junior and Dean is only a sophomore. They were good this year, but next year you can expect the to both be even better. That's scary news for the rest of D-VI. And it's not all just about Murphy and Dean. You also have guys like Ronny Bean, Malcolm Benavides and Eli Stockwell who are also returning to the fold. They will have by far the most returning talent in the division. And you can bet al of those returning players will be working extra hard over the off-season to get that bad taste out of their mouths that is there from the loss in the title game. Newfound and Franklin, the other 2 playoff teams from this season will also have some pretty talented kids coming back. For Franklin you have QB Conner Smith (he'll be the best QB in the division next year) and the hard hitting Brian Pichowicz, while Newfound returns star halfback Shannon Tucker and athletic QB Jamal Brito (that will be an exciting duo).


My football coverage for 2010 isn't done yet! In the next few days will be breaking down the field for the 2010 Mr. Football Award. I will list the players who I feel are the top candidates for the honor and why. Stay tuned!

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