Thursday, November 4, 2010

Playoffs?


That's right, Jim Mora - I'm talking about playoffs!

It's the last weekend of the season for Divisions I, II and III. Meanwhile, it's the semi-finals in D-IV, V and VI. A very exciting weekend of football is on tap.

In this article I have a proposal for the NHIAA regarding playoff scheduling. I also take a look at how each of the six divisions is shaping up right now. Consider this article your one-stop-shop for week 10 of the NH high school football season.

Playoff Scheduling Proposal
Here's a suggestion - you have two semi-final playoff games in each division on the same day...why not have them both at the same field? Why do should people have to choose which game to go to? Why not allow them to see both? Have one semi-final game at 1:00, and the other semi-final game at 4:30. Have them both at a neutral field, and have the venue be one that is big enough to hold such an event. So that's the semi-finals.

Then for the championship games you do this - we have 6 divisions, right? Well, why not make it so people can see ALL SIX of them? With the way the NHIAA schedules it right now the most you can see is two. Why not make it so all 6 title games are on the same field and have it be a neutral field? You could have the D-I, D-II and D-III title games all on the same field on the same day. You could have the D-III title game at 1:00, the D-II title game at 4:30, and the D-I title game at 8:00. You have the same setup for D-IV, D-V and D-VI. And you also have those games all at the same location as the other three title games. You have 3 of the games on a Saturday, and then the other 3 games would either be the next day on Sunday or the following Saturday.

Just think about the atmosphere at this would create. The kids would be playing on a bigger stage, in front of bigger crowds. Having both semi-final games in a particular division on the same field on the same day, and having 3 different title games on the same field on the same day and having these fields be large fields that can hold LOTS of people and being neutral sites makes all the sense in the world.


With all of that being said, here's a brief look at how each of the 6 divisions are shaping up right now...

Division I
Central and Salem both lost last week, and North hasn't beaten a playoff contending team since September. As a result it is looking more and more like Pinkerton and South are the class of this division, as both the Astros and Purple Panthers continue to beat good teams and continue to play good football. Anything can happen though. This has been a fun division to watch all year, with much more depth of quality teams than in the past. Pinkerton and South might be the favorites right now, but anything can happen. After all, Pinkerton nearly lost to Central last week, ad South did lose to Londonderry just a few weeks ago. Concord has beaten Salem, Londonderry has beaten South, memorial played both South and central VERY tough, and Exeter gave Pinkerton and Central all they could handle. Top to bottom this has been a good division, no gimmies on the schedule.

Remember folks, Pinkerton has lost just one game to a NH team all year. That was the one game they were without two-way senior standout Luke Somers, who was out with an injured leg. They lost 33-7 to North. So let's see here. With Somers they go 7-0 vs. NH teams, including wins over South, Salem and Central. Without Somers they go 0-1, and lose that game 33-7. To me a Mr. Football award, Player of the Year, etc. should always be the player who is most valuable to his team. The player who would be missed the most by his team if he were not there. Somers is the definition of that. He might not have the big numbers or flashy games that some others do. But with what he does defensively making big tackles and plays all over the field as well as offensively making crucial runs and consistently blocking well up front and being an all around team leader for Pinkerton, Somers SHOULD be considered for any postseason honor.


Division II
You couldn't ask for a better weekend in D-II. All 4 playoff spots are still up for grabs. There are 6 teams who all still have a shot at making the dance. And all 6 of those teams are playing each other this weekend. You have Timberlane @ Dover (that's where I'll be Friday night), Merrimack @ Winnacunnet and Keene @ Bishop Guertin (that's where I'll be Saturday night). You have to consider Dover, Winnacunnet and BG to be favorites in their games. Not only because those 3 teams are at home, but because they're playing better football right now as well. But all of these teams are fighting to get in the playoffs or fighting for playoff positioning. All 6 of these teams NEED a win. I expect 3 great games, and I wouldn't be surprised to see an upset.

To this point in the season, Dover's Kyle Wilson has been the best defensive player I have seen. I think in the past it has been strictly the skill position guys who get the love when it comes to Mr. Football and Player of the Year awards. But if there's a guy on any team who doesn't throw the ball, run it or catch it who deserves consideration for these awards it is Wilson.


Division III
The game of the week in D-III is on Saturday at Hollis-Brookline. Hollis plays host to Goffstown. The winner makes the playoffs, the loser is out. Souhegan, Portsmouth and Milford all have at least 5 wins and are locks for the playoffs. Souhegan has the top seed locked up (was it ever really in doubt?) while Portsmouth and Milford should both have easy wins over Pembroke and Pelham, respectively. That would make Portsmouth the #2 seed and Milford the #3 seed.

The winner of the Goffstown/Hollis game though would get a semi-final date with Souhegan. Goffstown and Hollis are both very close in proximity to each other. Neither team made the playoffs last year, as both have them have really improved this season. Heck, it was just 2 years ago that the Cavaliers lost to Sanborn, a first year varsity program who was in D-IV at the time (it was Sanborn's first ever win). So if Hollis is able to make the playoffs this eyar they would be the best story in D-III.

So there's a lot going on with this game. You can bet it will be a VERY hard fought contest, with a lot on the line and two neighboring schools going at it. I would really like to see that game and it deserves a BIG crowd, but do to the poor scheduling by the NHIAA it is being played at the same time as 6 different playoff games across the state.

Key playmakers to watch for in this game are Goffstown WR/DB Brandon Shea and Hollis RB/DB Colin Pellerin (pictured above). Goffstown has to be considered a slight favorite because even though they're playing on the road they just beat likely #2 seed Portsmouth while Hollis got pounded by the Clippers 40-14 just 2 weeks ago.


Division IV
The D-IV semi-finals are (4) Monadnock @ (1) Lebanon and (3) Laconia @ (2) Trinity (that's where I'll be Saturday afternoon).

Trinity couldn't beat Lebanon on their own field, so why should Monadnock be able to, especially considering Trinity crushed Monadnock 40-17 just a couple weeks ago. Yes, I know that Lebanon only beat Monadnock, but that was a looooong time ago (way back in week 2 of the season) and Lebanon star back Cody Patch didn't even play offense that game. Look for the Raiders to advance to the title game. But the Huskies, and Blake Bolewski will give it all they have.

If there is a first round upset in this division it could be Laconia who pulls it off. The Sachems have won 5 in a row, with 3 of those wins coming against Monadnock, Plymouth and Kennett (3 good football teams) and all 3 of those wins were by double digits. Sophomore back David Mahoney is having a big year running the ball, and this team is always tough on defense. Trinity meanwhile lost to Lebanon on Saturday night, and a BIG factor in that loss was the injury to FB/LB Ryan Carrier. Carrier suffered a concussion, and his neck is till in a brace. If he can't play that opens to the door for an upset at Gill Stadium for the second straight week.

Still, Trinity is a very good football team. Carrier is important to them, but they have many other big time players who can step up including Jeff Gratiano, Josh Hughes, Rob Hoaglund and Andrew Lauderdale. Even without Carrier in the 2nd half, the Pioneers still gave Lebanon a good game.


Division V
In the semi-finals it's (4) Somersworth @ (1) Kearsarge and (3) Stevens @ (2) St. Thomas. Last Friday night it was 8-0 St. Thomas vs. 8-0 Kearsarge. It was the game of the year, with both teams playing outstanding, never say die football. Both teams also came away from that game healthy which is also key. Saints lineman Tom Baxter left the game for during the 2nd half for a few drives, but he returned later and should be fine for the playoffs.

I fully expect the Saints and Cougars to be right back at it it in the title game next Saturday afternoon. Somersworth and Stevens are both good teams. But I've seen all 4 of these teams play, and right now Kearsarge and St. Thomas are on another level.

Cougars QB/LB Doug Gregory is a heck of a player (glad I finally got to see him play last weekend). He's the best D-V player I have seen, and even though they're in lower divisions, Gregory and Patch both deserve consideration for the Mr. Football award. Of course the playoffs is where it really counts the most, so you won't see me voting for any words of any kind until AFTER all 6 division champs have been crowned! Of course the fact that we have 6 divisions is insane. But that's an article for another day not to mention one that other reporters have already written).


Division VI
This week I said that Lebanon was the best story in NH Football this season. If that's the case then Gilford is a close second. The Golden Eagles only have 30 kids on their roster. They are a perennial soccer powerhouse, and it is very difficult to be dominant in 2 sports in the same gender in the same season. Gilford also has just 30 kids on their team. The fact that they are the top ranked team in D-VI, with an 8-1 record is a GREAT story. They have scored 40 points or more in 5 straight games, and they're the clear cut-favorite right now in this division.

The key to beating them is to contain their running game on 1st and 2nd down so that you force them into 3rd and long situations where they have to pass it. They're an exceptional running team with speed back Brendan Murphy and power back Matt Dean, but they're not nearly as effective at throwing the ball. Stopping the Gilford rushing attack is definitely easier said than done.

Newfound will attempt to take them down in the semi-finals. The first time Gilford and Newfound played Gilford won it in a blowout 41-7. The game story for that game can be found right here.

Franklin and Newport just played 2 weeks ago, with Newport coming out on top 30-18. The game story for that game can be found right here.

Based on what happened recently between Newport and Franklin you have to expect another hard fought game, with Newport being the definite favorite since they won the first game by 2 touchdowns and this time they will once again be at home.

That would set up Newport vs. Gilford in the final. We just saw that matchup last weekend, with Gilford winning easily 40-20. This season in Division VI though has been anything but predictable!

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