Friday, November 26, 2010

NH Notebook Football Power Rankings - 2010 Final Rankings!

Well folks, it's all over. It was a GREAT season, but it had to end sometime. Only 6 of these teams were in action this past weekend, so not much has changed with these rankings since last week. But here's one final look at these teams.

My rankings won't change based on the games on Thanksgiving, because those games don't count for anything. So this is the final Power Rankings article for the 2010 season. Enjoy.

Not a whole lot has changed since last week with the rankings. And many of these teams haven't played in 2 weeks (at least). So this article will be a quickie.

1) Pinkerton
It was a dream season for the Astros, ending with a 14-7 victory over Nashua North in the Division I title game. Not to mention an 8 game winning streak vs. NH teams to end the year. Not bad for such a young team.

I liked what Coach O'Reilly said about his team on WGAM on Saturday morning when they played a pre-taped interview from earlier in the week. He said that what he will remember most about this year's team is that they truly are a TEAM. They might not have the big name guys, the superstars. But they have no egos, just a group of hard working players who work well together, and more importantly, a group of good kids.

The Astros just had the right mix of players to make it work. That and some very good coaching by O'Reilly and his staff resulted in the D-I title. Luke Somers definitely deserves some votes for Mr. Football. I know that award typically just goes to whichever quarterback or running back was the best, but to me it should go to the player who was the most valuable to his team. And while Pinkerton was MUCH more than just one player, the one game all year where they didn't have Somers they lost 33-7. I don't want to know what would have happened if they didn't have him all year opening up holes for runners and making big tackles in the open field.

While this team does graduate Somers as well as Mike Mazzola and a few other valuable seniors, they also return a large number of key players. They will be the hands down favorite to repeat as champions in 2011.

2) Bishop Guertin
You definitely have to give credit to BG coach Tony Johnson, his staff and his players. They may have been preseason favorites to win Division II this year, but that goal was made MUCH more difficult when they lost Mike Kelly for the year early on. Not only did they lose Kelly (who was the best high school player in the state at the time he got injured) but they also had more of their players get hurt than anyone else in NH. I then had them as VERY slight underdogs in the title game vs, Winnacunnet, but Guertin made a comeback and ended up pulling out the win 14-13.

The BG football dynasty continues, as the Cardinals have won their 3rd straight title and 6th in the last 7 years. The fact that this team was able to overcome the loss of 34 seniors and 14+ injured players and still win it all means 2 things. First off, like I said you have to give them a ton of credit for having the type of program that can withstand all of those missing players. Secondly though, it means that this team belongs in Division I. Guertin is a football factory. They have 3rd stringers go in there who hit harder than a lot of team's starters. D-I is where they belong. Move Concord or Memorial down, please. Or just make it so you have 3 divisions instead of 6. It's long overdue.

Lastly, the Cardinals showed a lot of heart to do what they did this season, but you really have to give QB Steve Cuipa some credit. The kid battled all year to stay in the lineup and keep putting points on the board. According to Coach Johnson he was basically playing on 1 leg in the Keene playoff game but stayed in there and kept fighting and kept playing well. Hats off to Cuipa. This was one of the best senior classes in recent memory as far as quarterbacks go. Cuipa, Cronan, Cannone (the 3 C's), Luks, Farkas. All 5 are potential scholarship level players. And Karkhanis from North is also a very underrated player as well and is right in that mix.

3) Winnacunnet
Hey, being the #3 team in the state is nothing to sniff at. Coach Auffant has done some very nice things with this program in a short period of time. They have now made it to the D-II championship game in back-to-back years. Last year they really didn't have much of a chance to beat Guertin (nobody really did). But this year they definitely had a shot.

And injuries also hurt them as well - of their 3 losses on the year 2 came with Mike Trainor out and the other came with Grant Hamel injured. But the Warriors certainly won't get any sympathy from BG, who suffered far more injuries. Still, this was a very good season for Winnacunnet. They had a big win week 1 over Nashua North, the win over Dover was also HUGE (at the time the Green Wave were my #2 ranked team in NH) and they also drove 2+ hours to Keene and beat a good Blackbirds team easily 29-6.

The end of a great career for QB Steve Cronan, a 3 year starter. The Warriors were a senior laden team, and will graduate a large chunk of their starting lineups. If they can make it back to the title game next year then you REALLY will have to give Auffant his due.

4) Nashua North
North was the preseason #2 team in the state, and #2 team in D-I in the preseason as well. Considering all of the talent they had returning on both sides of the football these rankings were certainly justified. And while the Titans might not have achieved their ultimate goal of a championship, they definitely had a good season. With how competitive Division I was this year top to bottom, any team who makes it to the title game in this division deserves a lot of credit - even though North did finish with 5 losses on the year (although the Merrimack game was a joke so that loss really shouldn't count).

North had a couple kids (Javon Williams and Ryan Gauthier) who were playing football for the first time in 3 years, they had their best player (Andre Williams) get suspended for a couple games late in the season and they had a defense that allowed a whopping 67 points in a single game vs. Salem. Considering all of that I would say the fact that they made it to the title game is something to be proud of - especially advancing to that game by defeating Gate City rival Nashua South (who also had a very good team).

Like Coach Robie said on WGAM last Saturday morning, he has A LOT of seniors on this team so next year it will be a rebuilding year. Gathright, A. Williams, Karkhanis, Marinchik, Pacheco, Pena, Hunnewell. Those are probably their top 7 players right there...and they're all graduating. This was North's shot at a title - same could also be said for Salem (but they got their title last year). So North and Winnacunnet both lose in their respective title games for the 2nd straight year. As bittersweet of a feeling as there is in high school sports.

5) Dover
Heading into the playoffs Dover was my #2 ranked team, and other than Lebanon they were the best story in the state. They had arguably the best defense in NH - behind linebackers Kyle Wilson and Nick Corbett, and they were riding a 7 game winning streak - the longest of any team in D-I, II or III. This from a team that hadn't even seen the playoffs in 3 years. It was a great story.

The Green Wave then suffered a heartbreaking 30-27 overtime loss to Winnacunnet in the D-II semi-finals. A tough way for such a great run to end, especially for a team with a lot of seniors. It's the end of the road for a VERY strong class that includes Corbett, Wilson along with Corey Mackoul, Ian Sewards, Jarred Wilkins, Donnie Morse, Mike Laurion and Kenaan Al-Darraji. Definitely one of Dover's better classes in quite some time.

6) Manchester Central
Another excellent season for Coach ray ad his Little Green. Unfortunately for the first time in 5 years they failed to make the playoffs. At the end of the regular season though, they were playing better than any D-I team not named Pinkerton. Central BARELY lost to the Astros on October 29, and then the following week they handled Nashua South 23-8. It was clear that Central was the better team than South at the time, yet due to the tie-breakers South made the playoffs and Central didn't. The Purple Panthers then lost by 14 to North in the D-I semi-finals. I think Central would have given them a better game (and possibly won). The Little Green's 2 early season losses to North and Salem are what killed them, though. Central though is a team that (for 3 years in a row now) has started the season off slowly and then gotten better as it has gone on. Coach Ray's challenge now will be to get them off to a better start.

One player you have to definitely have to make special mention of is Khari "KK" Halliburton. Before this year he got some carries here and there, but Mike Cavanaugh was "the man" for Central for 3 straight years. With Cavanaugh gone, Halliburton went from getting 3 or 4 carries a game to 20-30 carries a game. Not only did he take on that increased workload and make it all year without any major injuries, but he produced big time as one of the state's leading rushers.

7) Souhegan
For the 3rd straight year Souhegan wins the Division III title (all 3 times beating Portsmouth in the finals). Also, for the 3rd straight year the Sabers finish as one of the top 8 teams in the entire state. This is a HUGE accomplishment considering they have less than 900 kids at their school while all of these other teams in the top 8 all have 1600+ enrollments.

It wasn't easy though. Portsmouth gave Souhegan all they could handle and then some, as Coach Beliveau's squad needed a touchdown with 52.1 seconds remaining in order to beat Portsmouth for the title 24-21. QB Mike Luks had a terrific performance, especially in the game's final drive when he led the team 84 yards down the field and scored the winning TD from 3 yards out.

8) Nashua South
All things considered South ended up doing pretty much what was expected of them. When you take into account how stacked Division I that is definitely not something to sneeze at. The Purple Panthers returned some explosive offensive weapons in Q Keith Farkas, backs Armond McRae and Derek Paradis plus wideout Nilsson Basora. The defense was the issue all year though (just like it was last season). This was a team that was ranked as high as #2 in the state (after they won 3 in a row including a 38-21 win over North in week 6). But overall they were an inconsistent team. Still, being the #3 team in a Division this tough is impressive. This team will miss Farkas (as well as other seniors Basora, Brannen and Thistle). But they do return plenty of good players and Coach Knight's son Trevor will likely take over at QB. Don't be surprised if South is back in the playoffs again next year.

9) Salem
For most teams going 6-4 in the regular season, making the playoffs and pushing the state's #1 team to the brink of elimination in the semi-finals in the state's deepest division would be considered an outstanding season. For Salem it has to be considered a disappointment. The Blue Devils were the preseason #1 team according to...well, everybody. They were even ranked as the #8 team in all of New England. They won the Division I title last year and returned 6 guys (Cannone, Jacques, Fedrick, Dipalma, Ivas and Lorenz) who are arguably 6 of the top 20 players in the entire state. So the fact that they are only #9 on this list, they lost 5 games and didn't even make the championship game is disappointing. Let's not beat around the bush here, let's call it what it is. Were the expectations too high, or did they just not live up to them? I say a little but of both.

Still, this team had some good wins. They simply manhandled a good and underrated Timberlane team 40-0. They also manhandled a good Central team 45-19, they put up 67 points on North and they beat a Londonderry team that was playing some very good football at the end of the year 55-32 in a game where both teams needed a win to make the playoffs.

And Cannone and Jacques are 2 of the best high school players this state has had in recent memory. Both are great players, great people, good leaders and play the hard hard and with intelligence. Coach Gati couldn't ask for 2 better players to have on his squad. They (as well as Dipalma, Lorenz and Ivas) will be sorely missed next year).

This season Salem got everybody's best game. They had a target on their backs because of all the preseason hype. That won't be the case next year. This year they were expected to win it all. Next season it will be a surprise if they even make the playoffs.

10) Portsmouth
I got a chance to see Portsmouth each of the last 2 weeks, and I came away very impressed both times. I saw them crush Milford 51-3 in the Division III semi-finals (seemed more like a Division II team playing against Division V). Then this past Saturday I saw them come THIS close to knocking off Souhegan in the D-III title game.

The Clippers led that game at the half, and they also led with under a minute left in the 4th quarter. They played their hearts out. My hat goes off to Coach Murphy, his staff and his players. Some of those players are known more as basketball players (Riley McCarthy) or as baseball players (Aidan O'Leary), while Souhegan was a team of football players (for the most part). Portsmouth had 1st year starters (QB Quinn McCann and lineman Rick Holt), players who were only playing the 2nd game back from an injury that cost them a few games (Bill Lane) and one of their best players, senior captain Angus McDonald missed nearly the entire season with a leg injury. So the fact that Portsmouth played the way they did this season, and more specifically in that game vs. Souhegan on Saturday is impressive. If the Clippers could have held on for the win it would have been an incredible story. I really enjoyed covering this team.

11) Lebanon
They haven't played in nearly 3 weeks. Not much more I can say about them that I haven't already. But If I'm going to rank Portsmouth I have to rank Lebanon. The Raiders had a great season. In just 3 short years head coach Chris Childs (not the former Knicks point guard) has taken a program that was struggling big time to a team that went 11-0 and won the Division IV title. They played good, solid, hard hitting football. Led by Cody Patch, Alexander Morrill, Jon Roth, Dylan Drew, Chris Barker, Micah Morton, Logan DiFelice and Mark Davidson, this year's Raider team brought pride back to the program. The community really got behind this team, and it was hard not to root for them. I was able to see them play in their regular season win over Trinity. I was very impressed by not only the team and how hard they fought all game, but by the bus loads of people who made the drive down to Manchester for the game. The Lebanon fans are very positive, supportive and enthusiastic. Congrats to them on a season that won't soon be forgotten.

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