Friday, November 12, 2010

Preview of Super Saturday (and Friday)


Folks, this is what it's all about. This is THE biggest weekend of the NH high school football season. A total of NINE playoff games will be played, with three of them being title games. You have the semi-final games in Division I, II and III ans you have the championship games in D-IV, and VI.

In this article I preview and predict the winners / final scores to all 9 of the playoff games being played this weekend. Consider this your one-stop-shop for gearing up to Super Saturday.


Division I
Yes, I have Central ranked as the #2 team in D-I and the #5 team in the state. Yet they are left out of the playoffs. But the two semi-final games which are on tap for Saturday afternoon should still be EXCELLENT football games. There were 5 teams worthy of making the playoffs this year in D-I.

Breaking down the matchups, first #1 seed Pinkerton hosting #4 seed Salem. The first meeting between the two squads was a very close, hard fought battle. Pinkerton prevailed 38-31 to begin their 6 game winning streak over NH teams which is still alive today. Salem had problems on kickoff coverage in that game. Come to think of it, who hasn't had problems keeping Emmitt Smith and Manny Latimore in check? Having those two speedsters returning kicks is a nice weapon to have.

Neither one of these teams likes to throw the ball. It will be a grind it out, ball control battle. In these cases I look for 3 different factors to be the difference.

1) Having an experienced, playoff tested QB
2) The team with the stronger, more consistent defense
3) The team that can make big plays on special teams

Salem has the edge on #1, with senior quarterback Matt Cannone being a 3 year starter and winner of the state title last year, where Pinkerton's Chris St. Onge is a sophomore, and first year starter. The other 2 factors however both favor the Astros. They have a MUCH better, more consistent defense. And I have to give Coach O'Reilly's team a slight edge on special teams, although both teams do have pretty good kickers. I don't see home field being much of an advantage for Pinkerton in this game.

Salem has the potential to beat Pinkerton. They have the potential to be the #1 team in the state. But they haven't shown it on a consistent enough basis this season. With they be firing on all cylinders on Saturday? Maybe. But maybe not. You just don't know. But you know what you're going to get from Pinkerton - a well prepared team that is strong and deep on both sides of the ball. Salem could pull the upset. Heck it might not even be considered an upset if they win. But Pinkerton is the pick here.

NH Notebook Prediction: Pinkerton 35 Salem 27


Next up, Nashua North vs. Nashua South. #2 seed vs. #3 seed in D-I, or if you look at the NH Notebook Power Rankings, it's #6 in the state vs. #7. Anyway you slice it these are 2 close, evenly matched teams. And obviously, home field advantage is thrown out the window since both teams have the same home field (Stellos Stadium in Nashua). South won the first meeting 38-21. Look for this game to be MUCH closer. Why? Because since that game North is unbeaten (I don't count the North/Merrimack game which was treated like a scrimmage by both teams) while South has lost twice since then.

Look for a shootout between these two teams. Early on in the season it looked like North had one of the state's best defenses (especially when they held Pinkerton to just 7 points in a 33-7 win).

They also held Londonderry to 7 points, and Central to only 14. But then they gave up a whopping 67 points to Salem. I know the Blue devils have a good offense, but if you give up 67 points to anybody you do NOT have a good defense. South meanwhile has a very good offense, led by QB Keith Farkas RB/WR Armond McRae, RB Derek Paradis and WR Nilsson Basora. The Purple Panthers have also had problems on defense, giving up 54 points to Londonderry (the same Londonderry team North only gave up 7 to). But their problems on defense have been against the pass, not so much against the run. Against Memorial, South gave up 268 yards passing.

That is why I give South a VERY slight edge in this game. Because North's strength on offense is the run, not the pass. South's strength on defense is against the run, not the pass (except of course if it is rainy and muddy on the field like the South loss to Londonderry).

But the weather is expected to be in the 50's and sunny. Both have these teams have PLENTY of speed, and playing on the Stellos Stadium turf always makes you go faster. Look for a VERY high scoring game.

I also give South a slight edge, because they are more battle tested. In their last 5 games they have had to play Central, Exeter, Londonderry, North and Salem (4 VERY tough games in there). While North has beaten 1 playoff team all year, and that was way back in September. Their last 4 games were against Concord, Memorial, Merrimack and Exeter. Not exactly the top tier teams.

NH Notebook Prediction: Nashua South 56 Nashua North 55 (In an overtime thriller)



Division II
Last year there was really no question about who was going to win this division. It was BG and everyone else. This year though, it is much more wide open.

First up it's #1 seed Bishop Guertin hosting #4 seed Keene.

Well, we just saw this game last weekend, with the Cardinals taking it 14-0 in a game that was important to both teams in terms of playoff positioning. Both teams had key players return in that game from serious injuries. DE/TE Kyle Karaska returned for BG, and RB/DB Chris Lacroix returned for Keene. It was the first game back for both players, and BG also had a few other key guys missing from the lineup. As a result it was a sloppy game with lots of penalties. This time everything is on the line - a spot in the title game. Both teams are healthier now too, so you can expect a well played, hard fought battle.

BG's defense is just playing so well right now, and Keene relies heavily on a sophomore QB and a junior wideout. I can't see Keene scoring more than 1, MAYBE two touchdowns. Keene is also tough defensively. Look for a low scoring game, similar to last week's. But not quite as sloppy.

Not the start time on this one as well, Saturday night at 7 PM.

NH Notebook Prediction: Bishop Guertin 23 Keene 12


Next up, #2 seed Winnacunnet hosts #3 seed Dover. What you will notice right away about this game is that even though Winnacunnet has home field and they're the higher seed, I actually have Dover ranked higher right now in the NH Notebook Power Rankings. Simply put, Dover is playing better than anyone in the state RIGHT NOW besides Pinkerton. The Green Wave are my #2 rated team in the state, while the Warriors are #5.

Does that mean I am picking Dover to win this game? Yes it does. Do I think it will be easy for them? Absolutely not.

Winnacunnet will come ready to play. They have shown that they're a different team with RB/LB Mike Trainor in the lineup. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Other than QB Steve Cronan, Trainor is the most valuable player on the Winnacunnet football team. He was out for 2 weeks, and the team lost both its games by multiple touchdowns. With Trainor in the lineup though this team is undefeated. He's healthy now, but the team will miss WR/KR Grant Hamel, who is out for the year with a broken leg.

Dover meanwhile is healthy and they've won 7 games in a row. Linebackers Kyle Wilson and Nick Corbett are possibly the 2 best defensive players in the state right now. And Joe McKee has emerged as a good running back to compliment Corey McKoul.

Winnacunnet's strength on offense is spreading the field and letting Cronan make plays, either with his arm or with his legs. Dover's strength on defense is their front 7 and stopping the run. So the advantage their goes to Winnacunnet.

The Warriors defense really struggled with Trainor out, but with him back they've given up just 18 points over the last 2 weeks. I see the Dover size and blocking up front opening up enough holes for McKoul and McKee (The 2 Micks) to get the Green Wave some points.

One problem Winnacunnet has had all year (and last year too) is holding onto the football. This game will be played in sunny weather, but with the way Dover hits people and is physical on defense don't be surprised to see more fumbles out of the Warriors.

These 2 seacoast rivals will leave everything they have out on the field. Should be a GREAT game.

NH Notebook Prediction: Dover 20 Winnacunnet 18



Division III
Does anyone see Souhegan losing? I sure don't. But while the other 3 playoff teams in D-III might not be quite on the Sabers level, they still have all had very solid seasons and deserve the coverage and recognition.

The first semi-final is #1 seed Souhegan hosting #4 seed Hollis-Brookline. Hollis is a very nice story. They're a team that didn't get any love from anybody in the preseason, but they have quietly put together a good year, and a respectable 5-3 record. They had a must-win game on Saturday vs. Goffstown in order to make the playoffs, and they pounded the Grizzlies 28-0 (the same Goffstown team that beat #2 seed Portsmouth just a few weeks ago)

The Cavaliers are led by senior fullback Brian Liamos, who is just 89 yards short of 2,000 rushing yards for his career. You also have junior tailback Colin Pellerin, who has rushed for 1,006 yards on the year, including a 223 yard game vs. #3 seeded Milford. He also had a kickoff return for a touchdown vs. Goffstown. Opening up holes for these two guys has been 3-year starters Robert Boiven and Zach Mignault and 2-year starter Glenn Morgan. A lot of these guys are only juniors for Hollis, so they're certainly a team to watch out for next season.

This game will definitely feature two teams with contrasting styles on offense. Hollis is a running team, while Souhegan prefers to spread the field, throw it around and let senior QB Mike Luks show off his cannon of an arm. Luks has plenty of weapons at his disposal too, including Brendan McKenna, Matt Schagrin, Chris Chininis, Chris Almeida and Nick Kepka Calvetti. They are as deep as anyone in the state at the receiver/slot position. In the first meeting between these two teams Souhegan won 36-15. Look for a similar result this time.

Souhegan hasn't lost a D-III game all year, and they only team to give them a game was Portsmouth. Hollis meanwhile makes the playoffs despite losing 2 of their last 3.

NH Notebook Prediction: Souhegan 42 Hollis-Brookline 18


Next up, #2 seed Portsmouth vs. #3 seed Milford. Note the game time for this one, which is Friday night at 7 pm. Another game where you have teams with contrasting styles on offense going at it. Milford is a run it up the gut kind of team. They have always been that way. Coach Keith Jones does a great job with the Spartans, and always has them competitive. But he doesn't like to throw the ball. Portsmouth meanwhile spreads the field, and uses their speed, athleticism and playmaking ability to their advantage.

Leading the Milford ground attack has been John Forte, who has had a big year for the Spartans. Max Goudreau has also emerged as the season has gone on, and gives Coach Jones' team not 1 but 2 tough, speedy guys you have to worry about.

Portsmouth's playmakers include QB Quinn McCann, RB Billy Lane and WR Aidan O'Leary. The Clippers are trying to make their 3rd straight D-III title game. This would be even more impressive since each time they would have a different starting QB (Mike Fransoso in 2008, Nate Jones in 2009, Quinn McCann in 2010).

You might think that Milford would have an edge since although they did lose to Portsmouth 40-0 earlier in the year, they are 4-1 since then with the only loss being to Souhegan (while Portsmouth recently lost to a Goffstown team that Milford beat). However Lane got injured in the Goffstown game, and he has barely played since. But Lane, who is perhaps the best athlete in D-III, has been cleared to play in tonight's game.

I'd give Milford the edge if tonight's weather conditions were going to be rainy and muddy, due to the contrasting styles of play the teams have. But that is not in the forecast. Look for Portsmouth to use their speed to the advantage in front of the home crowd and pick up a hard fought victory.

NH Notebook Prediction: Portsmouth 31 Milford 22



Division IV
It's #1 seed Lebanon (the best story in NH football this season) hosting #2 seed Trinity in the championship game.

I just saw this game happen 2 weeks ago, with Lebanon prevailing 14-6. In the first half Trinity had the edge, but in the 2nd half Lebanon was clearly the better football team. What changed? Pioneers FB/LB Ryan Carrier got injured. Carrier is VERY good at opening up holes for backs Josh Hughes, Rob Hoaglund and Adam Chambers to run through. He's also VERY good at stopping the run on defense. He is arguably the most valuable player Trinity has. When he got hurt and left the game it swung everything into Lebanon's favor. Raiders RB Cody Patch ran for 168 of his 230 yards in the 2nd half, and Lebanon took the game.

That game was at Trinity's home field, Gill Stadium. This time it will be an hour north in Lebanon. And while the Pioneers had Carrier for the 1st half in the first game, now they won't have him at all, as Carrier is out for the season. This definitely makes Lebanon the favorites, especially after the Raiders handled a good Monadnock team 35-7 last week in the semis.

Trinity meanwhile beat Laconia 24-14 in the other D-IV semi-final. I was also at that game, and I was impressed with Trinity's play. They certainly have many more quality players than just Carrier. Hughes, Chambers, Hoaglund, Andrew Lauderdale, Jeff Gratiano, Romeo Masuku, Jake Goldstein and Steve Duffley all had big games for Coach Leonard's team. They have lots of speed, size and skill. I am picking Lebanon to win, but Trinity will give them a very good fight.

NH Notebook Prediction: Lebanon 26 Trinity 14



Division V
Another rematch of a game that I just saw 2 weeks ago. It's #1 seed Kearsarge (a perfect 10-0 on the season) hosting #2 seed St. Thomas (a near perfect 9-1 on the season, with the only loss being a 37-36 heartbreaker to Kearsarge 2 weeks ago).

The first meeting between these 2 teams was the best high school football game in NH to this point in the season, and for some folks that will be the best game they will ever see in their lives.
It was only 14-14 after regulation, but in the 3 OT periods a whopping 45 combined points were scored.

Not sure if the rematch on Saturday afternoon will live up to the instant classic we saw 2 weeks ago, but I do expect another great contest. In the first game Kearsarge dominated the first half, while St. Thomas dominated the 2nd half.

What will be different this time? Well first off, I don't see senior QB/LB Doug Gregory throwing 2 interceptions again. Kearsarge doesn't like to throw the ball very much anyways. But they were forced to air it out a little bit, because the Saints were doing a VERY nice job of stopping the Cougar's running game, especially in the 2nd half. But the St. Thomas defensive line of Tom Baxter, Jack Pearl, Brett Lago and Sam Truslow was solid all game. However Baxter suffered a knee injury in the team's 14-0 semi-final won over Stevens. He's expected to play, but whether he'll be at 100% is a question mark.

St. Thomas had some turnover problems in the first meeting, with a couple of fumbles and INT's. That's bee their Achilles' heel this season, and with how hard Kearsarge hits on defense don't surprised to see a couple more turnovers this time from the Saints.

I expect another close, hard fought game between these 2 teams. But I also expect Kearsarge to prevail (just barely) in Head Coach Dennis Hoffman's final game at the helm. St. Thomas might have more speed, but Kearsarge just has too many kids who are tough, hard nosed players who love to hit and make plays. Between Gregory, Sam Morgan (pictured above), Jake Mccabe, Jordan Barthol, Ben Gambino, Robert Ramirez and Andrew St. Louis they have playmakers and hard hitters all over the field.

NH Notebook Prediction: Kearsarge 24 St. Thomas 20



Division VI
There's no doubt about it, we have the 2 best teams in the division meeting up in the title game. Gilford and Newport erased any doubt by both walloping their opponents in the D-VI semis. Gilford clobbered Newfound Regional 41-0 (after beating Newfound 41-7 in the regular season) while Newport Middle beat up on Franklin 40-8 (after winning 30-18 in the regular season meeting between the 2 squads).

Gilford has won 8 games in a row. They've scored 40 points or more in 6 straight contests. And they beat Newport 40-20 just 2 weeks ago. Is there any reason to expect a different result this time? Nope.

Newport is a good team. I saw the top 6 teams in D-VI play this year, and Newport's Josh Stout is the best QB in the division. They also have a bunch of other really tough kids who hit hard including Harrison Wade, Devin Burnham and Logan Merritt.

But Gilford is just better. No team lately has had an answer for Brendan Murphy and Eric Dean running the football. The two compliment each other so well too. Murphy is the speed guy who can get outside the tackles and once he gets past the first line of defense good chances are he's going for 6. And Dean is the power runner, runs very effectively between the tackles and is very tough and hard to bring down. The scary thing for the rest of Division VI is that Murphy is only a junior and Dean is only a sophomore. Both of these guys will be back next season! Linemen Brendan Demo and Jake Harper do a great job of opening up holes for these guys, and Dean and Eli Stockwell lead a VERY tough, hard hitting defense for the Golden Eagles.

NH Notebook Prediction: Gilford 37 Newport 22 (Then Gilford goes undefeated in Division VI in 2011 too!).




The games that the NH Notebook will be covering this weekend are Milford @ Portsmouth on Friday night, Salem @ Pinkerton on Saturday afternoon and Keene @ Bishop Guertin on Saturday evening. Check back here for the recaps of all 3 games, and also listen to WGAM's Super Saturday edition of Friday Night Lights on Saturday from 12:00 - 4:00 on 900/1250 AM and also online at fnlnh.com.

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