I am not afraid to voice my opinions, so I also can't be afraid to eat my words. In my football power rankings column for this week I ranked Salem #4 and Exeter #5. Well, not only did Exeter beat Salem, but they crushed them, 32-6.
So yes, I was wrong. Exeter proved on Friday night that they are a much better football team. They played great defense, limiting an explosive Salem offense to just 6 points. They won the field position battle, as their kicker Logan Laurent kicked the ball into the end zone 4 times and they started 5 drives either on midfield or in Salem territory. And they played ball control offense, led by junior RB/DB standout Tyler Grant who had 122 total yards and a career-high 4 touchdowns.
Two weeks from now we will find out who the second best team in Division I is (behind Pinkerton of course) when the Blue Hawks travel to Stellos Stadium to take on Nashua South. This was a very good win tonight for Exeter though, beating up on a good Salem team. It's been a great turnaround for Coach Ball's team, going from 0-8 in the division last year to a 6-1 record so far this season.
Keep reading for more on this game. Also, check out the video highlights and player interviews by clicking the "play" button below.
The key to beating Salem is of course slowing down their ground attack of Jerickson Fedrick and Abner Rodriguez. This is much easier said than done. However, Exeter did a great job defensively on these guys, especially as the game went on. Salem scored on their first drive of the game, with Rodriguez making a 48 yard run followed by a 12 yard TD by Fedrick which cut the Exeter lead to 7-6. But from that point on the Blue Hawk defense shut down the Salem running game, almost completely. Fedrick and Rodriguez ran for 179 combined yards in the 1st half - in the 2nd half they ran for just 3 yards on 9 carries. Wow! Additionally, Fedrick fumbled the ball twice, and both times Exeter recovered it.
Meanwhile for Exeter, Tyler Grant continues to shine on both sides of the football. Grant for 165 yards earlier in the year vs. Manchester Memorial, and now vs. Salem he runs for 115 yards and 3 touchdowns, plus a 7 yard TD reception. He's a tough runner and battles hard for every yard (I didn't mean for that to rhyme, I promise). He also made plays on defense, with some key tackles and deflections on passes.
Other standouts for Exeter include Colby Swane (coming off a shoulder injury he made a terrific 32 yard run in 2nd quarter where he showed good vision and speed as well as a big 35 yard punt return), Brad Tiernan (anchored both the offensive and defensive lines by dominated line of scrimmage, opening up holes for running game on offense and making big tackles on defense), Tim Stackhouse (wreaked havoc from defensive line position), Conor Carrier (made some tough runs on offense and big hits on defense), Jake Pleadwell (an ace at blocking and tackling), Connor Byron (big lineman with speed and not afraid to hit people) and Jamie Tymann (QB who effectively managed the offense).
"Tyler had a great game tonight" said Exeter head coach Bill Ball. "He's a tough kid and works hard. We had a lot of kids who played well tonight though, it was a team effort."
The field position game was also a big reason for Exeter's success in this game. Salem attempted an onside kick on the game's opening kickoff. Exeter recovered it on their own 48 yard line. Salem meanwhile was routinely starting drives deep in their own end, thanks to Blue Hawks kicker Logan Laurent who not only kicked the ball deep on punts and kickoffs but he kept the ball away from Fedrick (a very dangerous return man). Then Exeter also played superb defense, forcing the Blue Devils to constantly punt from deep in their own end. Salem also fumbled the ball twice in their own end of the field. As a result Exeter was able to not only start their first drive at their own 48 yard line, but they had 5 possessions in this game where they started out in Salem territory, ouch!
So tonight in D-I Salem got blown out tonight by Exeter, Nashua South took care of businesses vs. Londonderry and Central lost to Memorial. This all means you would have to consider either Exeter or South to be the second best team in D-I (after Pinkerton who has already blown out both teams). As I mention at the top of the article, Exeter plays South in Nashua in two weeks. That will be a BIG game, with a home playoff game likely on the line. Then you would have to consider Salem a notch down below Exeter and South, with Central being a notch down below Salem because not only did the Little Green lose to Memorial tonight but they also lost 50-28 to Salem earlier in the year. Which means Salem will likely be the #4 seed (for the second straight year) and Central will be on the outside looking in on the playoffs (also for the second straight year).
In other news, I admit I was wrong to not include Trinity in this week's NH Notebook Football Power Rankings. I even went as far as saying I wouldn't be surprised if the Pioneers lost to Kennett tonight. Well not only did Trinity beat Kennett, but they crushed the Eagles, 45-14. Wow. Trinity has also beaten Division IV's other top teams - Plymouth, Laconia and Monadnock. They deserve at least the #10 spot, no question about it. My bad. I should have put them in there instead of Goffstown, who got throttled by Portsmouth tonight, 49-7.
On Saturday the NH Notebook will have 4 different games covered. I will be at a pair of D-III showdowns, with Bedford hosting Hollis-Brookline at 2 pm and Souhegan vs. rival Milford at 7 pm. Meanwhile our northern NH correspondent 'DC' will be at the Division VI tilt between Inter-Lakes-Moultonborough and Franklin game in the afternoon and Windham @ Kearsarge game at night in D-V. Check back to the NH Notebook on Sunday for full coverage of all 4 games!