Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NH Notebook Football Power Rankings - Week 11

This week the team Power Rankings were once again expanded to 14 teams. The fact is there is so little that separates the top 5 teams in D-III that I had to include all 5 of them.

You might be surprised to see that I have 2 teams ranked in my top 10 who aren't even playoff teams. However, like always, I back up all of my picks with well thought out reasoning. So here's how I have the top teams in the state ranked at this most crucial time of year - it's playoff time, baby!!

1) Pinkerton - They've been the #1 team in the state all year long. Don't expect that to change now that it's playoff time. The Astros beat the other 3 D-I playoff teams (Exeter, South and Salem) by a combined score of 147-44. Plus they're healthy, as they have gotten both Brett Liporto and Ryan Coombs back in the lineup over the last couple weeks. Pinkerton should win their second consecutive D-I state title, and if they don't it will be a HUGE shocker.

2) Exeter - The Blue Hawks 9-1 in the regular season, with the only loss coming to Pinkerton and all of their wins coming by 2 scores or more. In the D-I semis Exeter hosts Nashua South, a team they crushed 45-7 just a couple weeks ago in Nashua. Now with the game being played on their home field it's tough to imagine the outcome being much different.

3) Bishop Guertin - BG holds on to the #3 spot in the rankings. Even though they lost to a 4-5 Keene team 17-6 last weekend, the Cardinals had already locked up the #1 seed in the D-II playoffs so they didn't really have anything to play for. As a result, they sat some of their top players. They finish the season 7-1 in D-II, tied with Dover for the Division's best record. Guertin gets the #1 seed, by virtue of their 21-6 win at Dover earlier in the season. And this Saturday in the semi-finals they take on Timberlane, a team that goes into the playoffs on a 2 game losing streak. In those games the Owls were outscored 101-29.

4) Manchester Central - That's right folks, even though they're not in the playoffs Central is still the #4 ranked team in the state. Remember I base these rankings on how teams are playing RIGHT now. It's a shame they're not in the playoffs, because the Little Green is a team playing their best football RIGHT NOW. In last week's Power Rankings column I talked about how in the last couple weeks Central played Pinkerton tougher than any other NH team this year, and how they played Exeter tougher than anyone besides Pinkerton. I also said how I wouldn't be surprised if Central beat South last weekend. Well guess what, Central DID beat South last weekend, 40-35. And even though the game didn't mean a whole lot to South because they already had the #3 seed locked up they still had their starters in for virtually the entire way so it was an impressive win for the Little Green (and yet another impressive performance by junior QB Riley Cote).

5) Nashua South - South comes into the playoffs on a 2 game losing streak, as they lost 45-7 to Exeter a couple weeks ago and then last Friday night they lost to a Central team that missed the playoffs. But there's no way I'm putting the Purple Panthers any lower than this in the rankings. Why? Because Salem is no worse than the #6 ranked team, and South beat Salem 49-20 just 3 weeks ago. So South is ranked right where they should be at #5.

6) Salem - Obviously there's no way I can justify putting Salem any higher than this for reasons stated above. But I also can't put the Blue Devils any lower than this either. Consider Dover lost to Londonderry 3 weeks ago 19-7, then last week Salem beat Londonderry 30-13. Now it's tough to put too much stock in either game, since the Dover/Londonderry game was an inter-division game which didn't count in the standings and Salem already had their #4 seed set in stone when they took the field vs. Londonderry. But still, it's all we can really go on when comparing Dover and Salem, and the fact that there was a 29 point difference in how the 2 teams did vs. the Lancers has to count for something. For other common opponents, both Dover and Salem beat Keene, and they also both crushed Timberlane. So there's no question Salem and Dover is a close call. I've seen both of them play twice this season, and I give Salem a slight edge. The Blue Devils take on Pinkerton in the D-I semis for the second year in a row on Saturday. Last year they only lost to the Astros by 1 score. If it's that close this time around it will be a BIG surprise.

7) Dover - See Salem for explanation on why Salem is ranked ahead of Dover. See last week's column for my explanation for why I have Dover ranked ahead of Spaulding. Dover vs. Spaulding just so happens to be the game I will be covering this Saturday. Should be a great game, between two red hot football teams. Neither squad has lost a game in the division in over a month. Dover dismantled Manchester West and Timberlane by a combined score of 100-38 over the last 2 weeks, while Spaulding was dominating its opponents in similar fashion before losing to Concord last weekend in a game which had no meaning for them. The first time these teams met Dover won 19-0 but there's no question Spaulding is a MUCH different football team now than the one that played in that game way back in September. Spaulding is a great story with the season they've had so far. Dover has the playoff experience and home field advantage. You also have 2 seacoast rival schools going at it. What more could you want?

8) Spaulding - See Dover.

9) Trinity - I have to admit, I was very impressed with what I saw from Trinity last Saturday in their 43-7 (it was 43-0 when they took their starters out) blowout win over Monadnock in the Division IV semis. They completely shut down the Monadnock running game, holding 1,300 yard rusher Jesse Lieby to just 40 yards on 13 carries. Josh Hughes, Ryan Carrier and Adam Chambers form a strong back field and this team flat out dominated Monadnock in all 3 phases of the game. I expect the championship game vs. Plymouth to be closer, but then again the first time Trinity played Monadnock it was only a 16-7 game and then look what happened last weekend. This is a Pioneer team on a mission. They were the runners up last year to Lebanon, but they were missing Carrier last year in the playoffs. He's healthy now and these guys are determined to have a different result in the title game this time around.

10) Souhegan - Ok, now time to sort out the craziness that is the top 5 teams in Division III. To put in perspective just how crazy this division is, the 2 hottest teams in the division are Souhegan and Goffstown. Well guess what, both of these teams not only lost but lost by 35 points or more to a team that is now ranked below them - go figure! Souhegan lost to Hollis 35-0 back on September 24 and Goffstown lost to Portsmouth 49-7 back on October 14. This division has been crazy, but it has also been the most fun division to follow from week to week this season. Souhegan gets the nod for the #10 spot, because they're the hottest team in the division RIGHT NOW. They've won 5 games in a row, including a 36-14 win at Bedford on Friday night. Going into last weekend Bedford had to be considered the hottest team in the division since they had won 6 games in a row, including wins over Portsmouth and Hollis. That's why Souhegan's win was so impressive. They went on the road and crushed a Bedford squad which last week was ranked #7 in the state. And Bedford DID have something to play for in that game - they had a shot at the #1 seed if they had won that game. Now to be fair to Bedford, they did play most of that game without one of their best players, FB/LB David Cannone, so we can't get too carried away. Still, it was an impressive win for the Sabers, who have just kept getting better each week. Make no mistake, the 4 playoff teams in D-III are glad they won't have to play these guys. They get the slight nod over Goffstown, because their 36-14 win on the road vs. a Cannone-less Bedford team is a slightly more impressive win than Goffstown's 39-28 win on a neutral field over a Hollis team who was playing without 2 of their best players (Ferenczhalmy and Boiven).

11) Goffstown - Goffstown gets the nod here because although they did lost 49-7 to Portsmouth, the fact is they are the only team in the division with 1 loss, and they're the only one of the "Big 5" teams in D-III to win 3 games over other teams in the top 5. The Grizzlies beat Hollis, Bedford and Souhegan. They have a tough defense, and an exciting play maker at QB in Connor Benjamin (pictured above), who passed and threw for over 200 yards in the win over Hollis on Saturday. They get their chance for revenge on Saturday in the semis when they host Portsmouth, the only team who has beaten them all year.

12) Bedford - Bedford gets the nod for the next spot in this D-III logjam. They lost to both Souhegan and Goffstown, so they're ranked below them. They also beat both Portsmouth and Hollis, so they're ranked ahead of those teams. In the span of just 1 week the Bulldogs went from being the division's hottest team and coming off a 24-12 win on the road vs. Portsmouth where they did virtually everything right to the following week where they got outplayed in all phases of the game by Souhegan. How can you explain such a big difference in performance by this team in back-to-back weeks? Well, some might say that these are just kids we're talking about so these kinds of things happen. Others might say it had more to do with the Cannone injury in last weekend's loss to Souhegan. Bedford's defense looked out of sync (Cannone being out surely had an impact on that) and QB James Caparell was routinely overthrowing open receivers. Caparell is a good QB, I think it was just one of those games, he'll be fine. Whether Cannone plays on Saturday remains to be seen. But the Bulldogs play host to Hollis in the semis, and the first time the 2 teams met Bedford won just BARELY and that was with Cannone healthy.

13) Portsmouth - Ok, so Hollis beat Portsmouth on October 22, so why do I have Portsmouth ranked ahead of them? Well, Hollis won that game just BARELY 14-7. Portsmouth went scoreless in not 1 but 4 trips to the red zone in that game, including twice in the last 3 minutes. Clippers QB Billy Hartmann also threw 4 INT's, these are all things that are unlikely to happen again. Also, one of the best players in that game for Hollis was senior RB/DB Nate Ferenczhalmy, who sat out last Saturday's game vs. Goffstown with an injury. According to Hollis head coach Milt Robinson, the status of Ferenczhalmy and star lineman Robert Boiven for this Saturday's semi-final game with Bedford is still up in the air. So injuries will definitely play a role in the Bedford vs. Hollis semi-final game. You have Cannone for Bedford and Boiven and Ferenczhalmy for Hollis. Who plays and who doesn't will have a big impact on that game, no question about it. Injuries are also a reason why you can expect the other D-III semi-final game to be closer than it was the first time the 2 teams met. Portsmouth wideout Kyle DiCesare was just starting to come into his own as a receiver when the Clippers beat Goffstown 49-7 earlier in the year. But he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in that game, and the Portsmouth passing game hasn't been the same since. Plus that first game was in Portsmouth and this one is in Goffstown. So there's no question that this game will be closer than the first meeting. Will it have a different winner this time around, or is Portsmouth headed to the D-III title game for the 4th straight year? That remains to be seen. All bets are off this Saturday in the D-III semis, should be some great games! And while I won't be at either of them since I will be covering the Dover vs. Spaulding game instead, I WILL be covering the D-III title game next weekend. It's playoff time, baby!!

14) Hollis-Brooline - See Portsmouth.

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