Wednesday, September 21, 2011

NH Notebook Football Power Rankings - Week 4

No, I don't get a vote in the WGAM/WMUR/Union Leader Football Power Poll. Which is why last season I started one of my own and called it the 'NH Notebook Football Power Rankings.' Well the rankings are BACK, and I will update them with a new column each week from now until the end of the 2011 season.

Just like last year, the way the rankings work is simple. It's the top 10 teams in the NHIAA, regardless of division. And it's not how I predict the teams will end up being at the end of the season, or how what kind of 'resume' they have accumulated over the course of the season. I look specifically at how the teams are playing RIGHT NOW. So if 2 teams played each other RIGHT NOW on a NEUTRAL FIELD, the team ranked higher would be the FAVORITE. That is the best most way to rank the teams. I look at injuries, strength of schedule, what team is on a hot/cold streak, and yes, to a certain extent, point differential. And oh yeah, I use my own two eyes - of the 11 teams I currently have ranked, I've already seen 9 of them play in person. This way the rankings are as accurate as possible.

So without further ado, here are the NH Notebook Football Power Rankings for week 4 of the New Hampshire high school football season.

1) Pinkerton - Really, is there any debate about this one? Nope. This is the one spot in the rankings where their can be ZERO debate. Pinkerton is the best team in NH period. The only team that they will play this season with a shot at beating them is Brockton, and even in that game I would have to call the Astros a favorite. Exeter and Salem might give them a game, but it would be an absolute SHOCKER if either of them ends up beating Pinkerton. The Astros have size and strength up front and speed on the outside. They beat BG 16-0 in week 1 (at the time BG was the #2 team in the state) in a game where the Astros could have easily won 37-0. Then they beat South 56-14 (South was the #2 team in the state at the time) in a game where Emmitt Smith, Kevin Davies and Manny Latimore all ran for over 100 yards) and then they beat Nashua North 47-0 (a 2-0 team and 2-time defending runners up in D-I) in a game where Pinkerton was up 41-0 at halftime! Everybody talks about the "Big 3" running backs, but this truly is a TEAM. Quarterback Chris St. Onge just keeps getting better. Ryan Coombs is the most underrated player in NH. He continues to do it all for this team - he intercepts passes on defense, he catches passes on offense, he kicks field goals, he returns punts and he even leads the marching band at halftime (ok, that last one I made up but you get the picture). Jesse Trottier anchors the charge in the trenches as one of the top linemen around and Andrew Curran is as tough of a player pound-for-pound in the state. Ok, I'm going to stop because I don't want their heads to get too big by reading this! But they're a great team and are deserving of the recognition.

2) Exeter - I don't like cliches in writing. And one of the cliches I dislike the most is 'what a difference a year makes.' It's way too overused. So I will NOT use it to describe the remarkable turnaround that the Exeter football team has made from last season to this one. In 2010 the Blue Hawks went 0-8 in their first season in Division I. Now they're 3-0 and are beating their opponents by 30+ points per games. Last season was certainly one to forget for Bill Ball and company, so for them to go from that to the #2 spot in the rankings so quickly is a big accomplishment. Now to be fair, the 3 teams Exeter has beaten so far - Spaulding, Concord (with QB Graham McIntire out the whole 2nd half) and Londonderry (with no Sean O'Gorman the whole game). So in order to keep this ranking, the Blue Hawks will have to put wins up against some better competition. But so far you have got to like the way this team is playing. Everyone knows what their game plan is. They know they're going to run it with the straight-t offense time after time, and every now and then once the defense is really playing the run they'll throw a bomb over their heads for 40 yards and a score. And defensively they're tough and disciplined. In other words, this team is back to playing Blue Hawk football after a rough year last season. Colby Swane has been one of the state's biggest breakout players early on in the season, and Brad Tiernan and Adam Morin are as good of a lineman duo as there is in NH. They have 2 more games coming up that SHOULD be easy wins vs. Winnacunnet and Memorial, and then after that the schedule gets BRUTAL, with Pinkerton, Salem, Central and South in consecutive weeks. How Exeter does in those games will determine how good they are.

3) Salem - Right now Salem is worried about more than just football, as 7 of their players were injured in a car accident last Thursday on their way home from a team dinner. Coach Gati and his staff are worried about the health and well-being of their kids, and that's most important. On the field though, this is a Blue Devils team that has played very well so far and is deserving of a #3 ranking. Of course leading the way for Salem is senior running back Jerickson Fedrick, the best player in the NHIAA. Fedrick scored 6 touchdowns vs. Central and is a man among boys out there no matter who he's playing against. Should be interesting to see how he does this Saturday vs. that dominant Pinkerton defense. Fedrick has gotten help rushing the ball from Abner Rodriguez and Mike Downing. The play of their star studded back will be good enough to get them wins vs. most teams, but if they want to beat teams like Pinkerton, South and Exeter they will need the defense and offensive line to step up.

4) Nashua South - That's right, folks. The 4 best teams in the state are all Division I squads. Yes, South did lose 56-14 to Pinkerton in week 2. However that was only a 21-14 Astro lead at halftime, and then in the 2nd half South lost 3 of their 5 best players (RB/DB Derek Paradis, OL/DL Julier Rivera and QB Trevor Knight) for the rest of the game due to injury. Well, guess what. All 3 of those guys are healthy now, as all 3 of them played last weekend in the Purple Panthers 44-41 on Lowell High (MA). And even though South did give up a ton of yards in that win over Lowell, with how good the Lowell offense and more specifically their star quarterback R.J. Noel is, they would have put up that many points on just about any team in NH. When healthy this is a South team capable of beating just about anybody in the state. For the first half of the Pinkerton game it was 2 evenly matched teams out there, South has size and speed all over the field and they smashed a good Dover team in week 1 37-20 in Dover.

5) Keene - No question the best team in Division II as of right now. Keene barely lost to #3 ranked Salem, ans in that game they were actually up 13-0 early on before play maker Jimmy Boulay got injured and had to leave the game. Boulay's injury isn't considered serious, as x-rays on his knee were negative. Even without Boulay in the game against Alvirne, Keene still won 31-7. Blackbirds sophomore fullback/linebacker Alex Parenteau was also slowed with an injury early in the season but is healthy now. And even with some of his weapons being injured, junior QB Lucas Luopa just continues to throw lasers all over the field for touchdowns. Watch out for this team. They return a lot of talent from a team that gave last year's D-II champs Bishop Guertin all they could handle in the regular season and in the playoffs.

6) Bishop Guertin - It's a good thing BG is a football factory, because once again the injuries are piling up on them. QB Bob Fahey, Blake Boudreau, Nick Marino and CJ Boykin are all key plays who are injured for the Cardinals. Luckily there is still plenty of other good players to pick up the slack, like Tom Vailas, Zach Mailloux, Kevin Kiczuk, Nate Chartrand, Paul Spinney and Austin Saremi. So they do have plenty of depth, which is why you can't rank them any lower than this. But because of the injuries and how sloppy they looked in week 1 vs. Pinkerton I also can't justify putting them any higher than the #6 spot either.

7) Timberlane - Once again the Owls are a strong team under head coach Kevin Fitzgerald. Last year people wondered how they would do without all-state rusher Derek Furey. Well, Nick Lawrence did just fine, and he got help from twin brother QB Nate Lawrence and wideout Jarred Diorio and Dan Diodati on defense. Well, now those guys have all graduated. Yet Timberlane is still able to win games, as they now have a new crop of players who have shown they're ready to step in for those guys. Evan Bidgood us running the offense, a new pair of brothers are making plays on offense (Josh and Evan David), Anthony Gillis is also rushing the ball effectively and Mike Lynch is one of many tough, physical players the Owls have in the trenches. Everybody knows about the Timberlane wrestling program. They NEVER lose. Well, many of those wrestlers also play football. So while the Owls might not have the fastest, most athletic or biggest players in the state, what they do have every year is a group of kids who are pound-for-pound as physically tough as anybody, they'll battle you, they'll scrap and claw and make you work for every yard. And they'll NEVER give up. This season Timberlane lost 27-6 to a mostly healthy BG team in a game that was MUCH closer than the score indicates, they beat a good Bedford team by 2 touchdowns and they crushed Manchester West 48-18.

8) Manchester Central - Central is right where they should be. They're 1 spot ahead of Portsmouth, because they beat the Clippers in week 1 but just BARELY. And they beat Concord last week on the road but only by 2 touchdowns and Concord was playing without star QB Graham McIntire. And they lost by 3 touchdowns to #3 ranked Salem. So yeah, they're right where they should be. The good news for Central is that in the Concord game they got junior wideout Troy Pelletier back in the lineup, after he had missed the first 2 games of the season with an injury. The Little Green now have one of the state's best receiving corps with Pelletier, Junior Brown, Jared Chandler and Jordan McCarthy, and they have a QB in Riley Cote who has good pocket presence and a cannon for an arm. Look for this team to continue to put up a lot of points, especially through their air. However, it will be the play of the defense (which has looked suspect at times) that will determine whether this team can take that next step and really challenge one of the top 4 teams in this list for a playoff spot in D-I.

9) Portsmouth - Another team that is ranked right where they should be. They're one spot behind Central. And they get the nod over Goffstown because even though both Portsmouth and Goffstown beat Souhegan by 1 touchdown, Portsmouth could have easily won their game with the Sabers by 3 TD's, plus Portsmouth beat Souhegan on the road while Goffstown beat Souhegan at home (of course a road win is more impressive than a home win). Also, in non-league games Goffstown BARELY beat Merrimack while Portsmouth BARELY lost to Central. Well folks, Central is a MUCH better team than Merrimack is, so Portsmouth gets the nod over Goffstown. Now Goffstown could end up beating Portsmouth when they play each other in 3 weeks. But if they played each other RIGHT NOW on a neutral field, Portsmouth would be a slight favorite. Once again, the Clippers are a fun team to watch, led by QB Bill Hartmann, RB Bill Lane, play makers Jack Mackey, Kyle DiCesare, Anthony Kurylak and Colin MacDonald. Matt Feeney brings toughness and leadership, and Ricky Holt, Sean Miller and Kurtis Leonard all wreak havoc in the trenches. I liked what I saw from them in their win vs. Souhegan, the one thing they need to work on though is cutting down on turnovers.

10) Goffstown - Ok, so above I already went into great detail explaining why Portsmouth is ranked ahead of Goffstown. How about my rationale for putting Goffstown ahead of Dover? Well, obviously they're pretty pretty even with each other since they both only beat Merrimack by 1 score. However I give the nod to Goffstown because they beat 2 teams (Souhegan and Bedford) who are better than anyone Dover has beaten. Yes, the Green Wave walloped Winnacunnet (yes, the alliteration there was intended) 28-0 last week, but Winnacunnet is a VERY young team that only returns a couple starters from last year. I've seen both Goffstown and Dover in person, and while I do think they're both very evenly matched teams, when I saw Dover they really struggled offensively while Goffstown seams to have a little more balance. Here's the thing with the Grizzlies, though. They are still a young team, and not only are they a contender to win the D-III title this year, but a lot of their top skill guys are underclassmen. QB Connor Benjamin, running back Peter Shea and wideout Mike O'Donnell are only juniors, while the Garrison twins, Chris and Matt are only sophomores. These guys are good this year, but they could be scary good next season. First year head coach Justin Huft has the Grizzlies headed in the right direction, no question about it.

11) Dover - Ok, so normally I like to just stick to 10 teams when doing this column. But that's just not possible this week. Obviously, there is not much at all that separates teams 8-11. And like I said in my paragraph about Goffstown, the Grizzlies are only just BARELY better than Dover right now. So the Green Wave deserve to be ranked as well. Some might say Trinity belongs in here somewhere, but I just saw them play last Friday night vs. Laconia and while the Pioneers are a good team they BARELY won that game and both teams played too sloppy to be considered for this list. The 11 teams on this list are HANDS DOWN the top teams in the state as of RIGHT NOW. Dover's offense may have struggled in week 1 vs. South, but the Purple Panthers have a tough defense and the Green Wave offense has clearly gotten better after putting up 28 on a Winnacunnet team that even though they have graduated a lot of talent they are further along defensively than they are offensively. Dover has play makers, with guys like Colin Shaughnessy, Joe McKee, Kyle Seawards and Taylor Curry. It's just a matter of them clicking as a unit, and that will happen as the season continues. The defense is once again the strong part of the team for the Green Wave. Matt Dow, Matt Brown, Eric Wilson and Eric Waddington are all fierce defenders who have speed and love to hit people.

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