Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NH Notebook Football Power Rankings - Week 10

We have a few changes in this week's rankings. Some might be surprised to see that 5 of my top 6 teams this week are Division I teams. Well like always, I provide reasoning for all of my picks. Playoff time is here, buckle up!

1) Pinkerton - Central did give them a pretty good game on Saturday, and the injury to Ryan Coombs definitely hurts. But there's still no question the Astros are the state's best team. The good news is defensive end Brett Liporto is back healthy after missing a couple games. He made some big plays late in the central game rushing the passer and making some hard hits. Regarding the success Pinkerton has had this season you have to also give credit to the offensive line. Davies, Smith and Latimore are great backs, but often times they have HUGE holes to run through. The backs do a nice job of blocking for each other, and you also have lineman like Jesse Trottier and William Consavage creating running room up front.

2) Exeter - BIG win for the Blue Hawks on Friday night, crushing a very good Nashua South team 45-7. South was the #3 ranked team going into that game, and had a 7-1 record. The win cements Exeter's status as the #2 ranked team in the state. They're now 8-1 on the season, with the only loss coming to Pinkerton. And in that game they played without one of their best players, junior speedster Colby Swane. While Exeter's offense would have benefited from having Swane in there, their real problem that game was stopping the Pinkerton running game, as Davies and Smith ran ALL OVER the Blue Hawks. Right now it looks like it will be Pinkerton vs. Exeter in the D-I title game. I expect it to be closer than the first meeting between the 2 teams, but unless Exeter is able to shore up their run defense it's hard to imagine the result being a whole lot different. On another note, there are rumors the Blue Hawks might be moving back down to D-II next season. I hope that doesn't happen. I realize that their seacoast rivals Winnacunnet and Spaulding are in D-II and they have to travel a little farther for D-I games and also that enrollment numbers put them in D-II. But looking at it strictly competition wise, D-I is where Exeter belongs. Yes, I know they went winless in D-I last year, but last year was the exception, NOT the norm. Look at the last 10 years. Every other year except for last year Exeter would have been a playoff team in D-I. That's where they belong.

3) Bishop Guertin - The Cardinals have a chance to complete an unbeaten regular season when they take on Keene (3-5) this weekend. Even though D-II is down this year, that would still be a tremendous accomplishment considering all the injuries (Brody Smith, Bob Fahey, Paul Spinney, Lucas Lansing, CJ Boykin, etc.) they've had, not to mention having to adjust to a new coach, a new system and having to replace a number of talented seniors (Mike Kelly, Steve Cuipa, Kyle Remillard, etc.). At this time last year there were 3 teams with a legit shot at winning the D-II title, with BG, Winnacunnet and Dover all having VERY strong teams. Keene also gave BG all they could handle 2 weeks in a row. There's a lot less drama this year, with Guertin being the HANDS DOWN favorite to win yet another title. The game to watch in the D-II playoffs will be the Dover/Spaulding semi-final. That should be a GREAT game (yes, I will be there!).

4) Nashua South - South drops 1 spot after their blowout loss to Exeter. They are still a very good football team, and most years they would be good enough to get a home playoff game. But this year Pinkerton and Exeter are just too good for that to happen.

5) Manchester Central - Ok, so here's my argument for Central being ranked ahead of Salem. Simply put, Central's playing better football right now. Look at the last 2 weeks. Central took Exeter down to the last few minutes before losing 28-14. This is the same Exeter team that DEMOLISHED both Salem and South in the last few weeks. And now this week Central gave Pinkerton a great game, trailing only by 1 score in the 4th quarter, and with 3 minutes left they still had a pretty good shot. That's MUCH better than South, Salem or Exeter were able to do against the mighty Astros. So Central played Pinkerton and Exeter much tougher than either South or Salem did. While I'm not willing to rank Central ahead of South , I have them only 1 spot apart. And I do feel confident saying that based on the last few weeks Central is playing better football than Salem and possibly South as well. South and Central square off this Friday night. That should be a good game, but unfortunately it doesn't mean anything for either team with regards to playoff positioning. South already knows they're the #3 seed, and Central has been eliminated from playoff contention.

6) Salem - See Manchester Central.

7) Bedford - This is a red hot football team. The Bulldogs have won 6 games in a row, including a win over previously undefeated Hollis and a win on the road over Portsmouth by 2 scores. I've had the chance to see these guys play twice now in the last few weeks (and I'll see them again on Friday night vs. Souhegan). What I like is their balance - the talent on their team is spread out nicely among the various positions. It's not like they're carried by just 2 or 3 players, they have many really good players, and those players all bring different things to the table. They have good balance between the running game and the passing game, between the offense and the defense, between the d-line, linebackers and DB's, etc. Not only that, but they're playing their best football at the right time of year.

8) Hollis-Brookline - Hard to put Hollis any lower than this. Bedford is #7, but Hollis only lost to Bedford (on the road) by 1 touchdown. And other than that game the Cavaliers are undefeated. Hollis is a tough, physical football team, led by their running game and stingy defense. If there's an advantage they have over Bedford it's that the majority of their top players are seniors where Bedford has quite a few juniors and sophomores who start. Hollis' game on Saturday afternoon vs. Goffstown is a BIG one for playoff positioning in D-III.

9) Dover - I have Dover ranked ahead of Spaulding, but just BARELY. Looking at recent common opponents, Dover beat Alvirne by 34, while Spaulding beat Alvirne by 26. Dover beat Keene by 14, while Spaulding beat Keene by 9. And of course, Dover beat Spaulding a few weeks ago 19-0. Since that game though, Spaulding has reeled off 5 wins in a row while Dover suffered a 19-7 loss to Londonderry a couple weeks back. While that does tell me the gap between Dover and Spaulding has gotten smaller since they met back in September, I don't put a whole lot of stock in those inter-divisional games that don't count in the standings (like the Dover vs. Londonderry game). Also, the Lancers are a hot team right now, as they've been playing much better football since Sean O'Gorman returned to the lineup. What we know for sure is this. First, that Dover will be hosting Spaulding in the D-II semi-finals so we'll see who's really the better team then. And second, Spaulding is THE best story in NH high school football this season. For a team that hadn't won a divisional game in 3 years, then start the season off 0-4 and to turn things around and play the way they have these last 5 weeks has been PHENOMENAL. First year head coach Dennis Fonataine, his staff and those kids deserve a lot of credit.

10) Spaulding - Dee Dover.

11) Portsmouth - Tough last couple weeks for the Clippers, who lost in back-to-back weeks to Hollis and Bedford. Keep in mind however that they just BARELY lost on the road to Hollis. And if you take away the kickoff return TD and the half back pass at the end of the 1st half the Bedford game would have turned out MUCH differently. Portsmouth has been intercepted in the end zone 4 times in the last 2 weeks. The Clipper shave been beaten fair and square last 2 weeks, but they also have not gotten ANY breaks. If a play or 2 here or there go their way they're an undefeated team right now in D-III and they'd be ranked #7 right now, maybe even higher. But the fact is they did lose those games. And the fact is one of QB Billy Hartman's favorite receivers in Kyle DiCesare is out for the year with an ankle injury. So The Clippers are ranked where they belong.

12) Trinity - I'm looking forward to covering Saturday's D-IV semi-final game between Trinity and Monadnock. Trinity went a perfect 9-0 in the regular season but it wasn't easy. The other 3 D-IV playoff teams are Monadnock, Plymouth and Laconia, and Trinity didn't beat any of those teams by more than 9 points. They needed a furious 4th quarter comeback in order to beat Plymouth. Still, undefeated is undefeated. Plymouth, Laconia and Monadnock are all good football teams. It might not have been easy, but they found a way to beat each of those teams (as well as blow out the rest of the division's teams). With guys like Josh Hughes, Andrew Lauderdale, Adam Chambers, Ryan Carrier and Carmen Giampetruzzi, this team has plenty of talent. The D-V playoffs should be VERY interesting.

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