Tuesday, November 9, 2010

NH Notebook Football Power Rankings - Week 11

They say defense wins championships. Well the top 3 teams in my rankings this week just happen to be the 3 best defensive teams in NH in my opinion.

Here's a look at the top 10 teams in the state as of RIGHT NOW. I just couldn't stop at 10 teams though, as there were a few others deserving of the recognition. So folks, here are the top 15 teams in NH.

1) Pinkerton
While all of the other teams in Divisions I and II just keep beating up on each other ever week, Pinkerton just keeps on winning. The Astros have lost just one game vs. a NH team all year, and that was 8 weeks ago (the one game they played without Luke Somers).

The difference between Pinkerton and the other top teams in the division is consistency. Pinkerton isn't going to run anybody off the field - most of their wins are by either one or two score, while the other top teams will blow teams out one week and then lose to the next Pinkerton just wins by a little each week. In a 3, 5 or 7 game series there's no doubt in my mind that the Astros would beat anybody else in D-I. But the setup we have here in NH is just a one game series. Salem, North and South are all capable of beating Pinkerton in a one game series. When those 3 teams are on their "A game" they can beat anybody. You just never know when they'll "bring it" and when they won't. One things for sure - the D-I playoffs will be VERY fun to watch!

2) Dover
Another team that just keeps on winning. The Green Wave have won 7 games in a row, the ONLY team in Division I, II or III that can say that. Their defense has allowed a whopping 21 total points in their last 6 games in the division - that's only 3.5 points per game! Linebackers Kyle Wilson and Nick Corbett are 2 of the best defensive players in the state. And offensively, Joe McKee has really emerged as a threat. He rushed for 168 yards Friday night in the win over Timberlane, and is a nice compliment to senior back Corey McKoul.

Despite the fact that Dover is higher in the Power Rankings, they will travel to Winnacunnet this Saturday to take on the #5 ranked Warriors in the D-II semi-finals. Should be a great game between the two seacoast rivals!

3) Bishop Guertin
Back on October 9, when I saw Dover go to Stellos Stadium and beat BG I had a sneaking suspicion that I was watching the two best teams in Division II (the recap of the game can be found right here by the way). 5 weeks later, that is how the two teams are ranked. Not only are they the 2 best teams in D-II right now, but they're 2 of the top 3 teams in the entire state.

You have to give Guertin credit, though. They have had more injuries this year than any other team in NH. If any other team had this many injuries (especially a year after they graduated 34 seniors) they would have MAYBE 1 win right now. Instead BG is 8-2 and holds the #1 seed in Division II. This week they play host to Keene in the semis. BG just beat Keene 14-0 this past Saturday night, and they did it despite playing one of their worst games of the year (especially offensively). The BG defense continues to dominate teams, and they now have defensive end Kyle Karaska back in the lineup which helps. Senior linebacker Kyle Remillard continues to play outstanding on both sides of the ball.

4) Manchester Central
I can't help but feel a little blue for the Little Green (I just love to play with words!). They're the #4 team in the state right now, and they are the 2nd best team in Division I. And yet somehow they are not even in the playoffs?! Central was #6 last week, and they move up 2 spots after beating Nashua South 23-8 on Friday night. In the last 2 weeks the Little Green have had 2 very impressive performances. They lost in the last minute to #1 ranked Pinkerton (and could have easily won if a certain call went their way) and then this week they beat South (who was ranked #3 at the time) by 2 touchdowns. And before the Pinkerton game Central won 4 games in a row, including a win over a very good Souhegan team. Simply put, Coach Ray's team is playing better, more consistent football RIGHT NOW than any team in the state other than Pinkerton, Dover and BG. It's a shame they are being left out of the playoffs.

But what hurt them is the 2 early season losses they had to North and Salem. Those games were both a looooong time ago. Central is a MUCH different team now - and in a good way. It was the same story for them last year as well. They started out last season VERY slow, and it looked like they wouldn't even make the playoffs. But they got better as the season went along, and by the end of the year the Little Green were as hot as anybody in the state.

5) Winnacunnet
Getting Mike Trainor back in the lineup has definitely helped the Warriors out. After losing back-to-back games with him out (dislocated shoulder) Trainor has returned and the team has won 2 in a row, with both wins coming against good teams (Keene and Merrimack). As a result they're a couple spots higher in the rankings. Trainor is healthy now, and Winnacunnet is undefeated with him in the lineup. Unfortunately though for the Warriors, another key player is now injured. Wideout / kick returner Grant Hamel is out for the season with a broken leg. When this team is at full strength they're as good as anyone, as they showed when they won 6 games in a row to start the season and were ranked #1 on here at one point.

They have a chance to run the table the rest of the way and win the D-II title. It won't be easy though, as Dover and BG are both playing VERY good football right now.

6) Nashua North
Yes, South beat them 38-21 just a few weeks ago. But since that time South has lost twice (both to non-playoff teams) while North hasn't lost since that game (I don't consider the Merrimmack game a loss because both teams treated it like an exhibition game with all starters being taken out after the 1st quarter). Hence, the slight edge I give to the Titans. The two squads square off this Saturday in what should be an excellent "Gate City Showdown."

7) Nashua South
See Nashua North.

8) Salem
Salem moves up 1 spot from #9 in my rankings after beating Londonderry on Friday night 55-32. It was a good win for the Blue Devils, as both squads were playing for their playoff lives. Still, I can't justify ranking them any higher than this, as the 7 teams ahead of them have just been more consistent football teams, especially lately. You just never know which Salem team will show up. The team that blows teams out and scores 50+ points, or the team that loses back-to-back games (including a loss to Concord) and gets blown out on their home field (week 1 vs. BG). On paper Salem is the best team in the state. But the games aren't played on paper.

I could see them beating Pinkerton by a field goal and then winning the title game by 2 touchdowns. I could also see Salem losing on Saturday by 2 scores to the Astros. Which Blue Devil team will show up? Only time will tell.

9) Souhegan
Despite the fact that the Sabers just keep on winning, they are 2 spots lower this week. I've seen the Sabers play 3 times this year and while they are a very good team, they simply don't see the same kind of competition from week to week as the teams do in D-I and D-II. If Souhegan were to play any of the 8 teams ranked ahead of them RIGHT NOW, they would be less "battle tested" and less prepared for such a game due to their weaker schedule. Last year it didn't matter because they had so much talent. Even being a D-III team, you could amke the arguement that last year's Souhegan team was a top 5 team in the state because position-for position, across the board, offense and defense, the could simply match up with ANYBODY talent-wise. That being said, this year's team is still a very talented squad. You will likely see Mike Luks, Brendan McKenna, Eric Dwinell and Nick Kepka Calvetti and possibly others all playing at the next level when next fall rolls around. And while Portsmouth, Milford and Hollis are all good teams who deserve a lot of credit for having good seasons this year in D-III, it would be a HUGE shock if the Sabers fall short of a 3rd straight D-III crown next weekend.

Also, yes Souhegan did only beat Bedford by 1 score on Friday night. But I wouldn't put too much stock in that game, since the Sabers had already clinched the #1 seed in the D-III playoffs while the Bulldogs had already been eliminated from playoff contention. Portsmouth is still the only team in the division to give Souhegan a game. Don't be at all surprised to see those 2 teams meet once again for the title.

10) Lebanon
Chalk up another one, that's 10 wins and 0 losses now for the Raiders of Lebanon in Division IV. What a terrific story. Have I mentioned this team hasn't even made the playoffs in over 3 years? They followed up their win at previously unbeaten Trinity with a convincing 35-7 win over #4 seed Monadnock. It was yet another big game for star back Cody Patch. If Kyle McAuliffe got votes for Mr. Football last year playing in Division IV, Patch should get the same recognition this season as well. Now, a rematch with Trinity is on tap. Except this time the Pioneers won't have star FB/LB Ryan Carrier at all, and this time it will be in Lebanon (both of those factors definitely favor the Raiders).

11) Keene
Keene has lost 2 in a row, and 3 of their last 4, so I can't justify putting them any higher than this. But this is still a very good football team. And of those 3 losses, 2 of them came without starting tailback Chris Lacroix in the lineup. And the other loss came last Saturday night, when the Blackbirds only lost 14-0 playing on the road against BG, and with Lacroix playing in his first game in 4 weeks after suffering a dislocated patella. Lacroix is now back in the lineup, and should be 100% for the rematch vs. Guertin in the D-II semi-finals this Saturday (note the 7
PM start time of that one).

Keene is 6-0 this season when Lacroix is healthy (I don't count last week because it was his first action in a month and according to Coach Luopa he was just barely cleared to play in that game). So the Blackbirds are definitely a team you have to worry bout. They have a solid defense led by Taylor Russell, Matt Amman and Matt Cunningham. And with Lacroix, QB Lucas Luopa, and playmakers Jimmy Boulay and Ben Galanas they also have weapons offensively. BG is clearly the favorite over Keene this weekend. But the Blackbirds will give them a game, and they also have the potential to pull the upset.

12) Timberlane
Central is left out of the D-I playoffs despite being a team good enough to get in. The same can be said about Timberlane in D-II. Most years a 5-3 record is good enough to make the dance. Just in the last few weeks Keene has beaten #5 ranked Winnacunnet and they barely lost to #2 ranked Dover. What What really hurt their playoff chances though was not only the loss to Dover, but also the 31-13 loss they suffered at Keene a couple weeks ago. The Owls ended the season losing 2 of their last 3, with both losses coming to teams they were fighting for a playoff berth with. That's what hurt them.

That being said, this is a tough, hard nosed team. Junior lineman Michael Lynch suffered a scary injury to his back in the Dover game which really seemed to deflate the team. If he doesn't get hurt they could have definitely won that game. And the team's 2 most important players - twins Nick and Nate Lawrence were both pretty banged up in the loss to Keene.

This team when healthy could play with anybody. It just shows the depth of quality teams in D-II that their season is over.

13) Trinity
Trinity is a very good football team, as I saw firsthand once again this past Saturday afternoon when they beat a good Laconia team 24-14 (game recap right here). Their only loss on the season was by just 1 score to #10 ranked Lebanon, so they definitely aren't too far behind the Raiders. Look for Josh Hughes, Andrew Lauderdale, Rob Hoaglund, Jeff Gratiano and company to give Lebanon all they can handle this Saturday in what should be one of the more exciting D-IV title games in recent memory.

14) Portsmouth
The Clippers have flown under the radar this season, but they definitely deserve some credit. The combination of QB Quinn McCann and WR Aidan O'Leary has been putting up big numbers all year, and so was running back Bill Lane until he got injured. Portsmouth has scored 40+ points in 4 of their last 6 games, and 30 points or more in 5 of their last 6. They play host to Milford Friday night (note the time change) and the NH Notebook WILL be covering that game. There's a good it will be Portsmouth vs. Souhegan in the D-III final for the 3rd straight year.

15) Kearsarge
The Cougars are 10-0 on the season and are headed to the D-V title game vs. St. Thomas. QB/LB Doug Gregory is not only the best player in D-V but he's one of the best in the state period. This is a good football team that has had a great season.

Sorry Londonderry. You had a solid team, but I just can't give a ranking to a team with 6 losses.

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