Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Title Game Previews & Predictions for Divisions I, II & III

Well this is it, folks. It's been a fun season, but after this weekend the 2011 New Hampshire high school football season is over (at least the games that have meaning are). Congratulations to Trinity, St. Thomas and Inter-Lakes-Moultonborough for winning championships this past weekend in Divisions IV, V and VI. Now this Saturday it's the title games in upper 3 divisions.

Ironically, the teams who are matched up in each of these 3 championship games have identical overall records. Pinkerton and Exeter are both 10-1, BG and Dover are both 8-3 and Bedford and Portsmouth are also both 8-3. Want more irony? In all 3 of these match ups, the team playing at home on Saturday is the team who played away when the teams met during the regular season. Pinkerton is hosting Exeter in the D-I title game, and in the regular season Exeter hosted Pinkerton. BG is hosting Dover in the D-II title game, but the regular season meeting was played at Dover. And finally, Portsmouth hosted Bedford during the regular season, and on Saturday when they meet for the D-II championship it will be played at Bedford. In those regular season meetings, it was the road team (Pinkerton, BG and Bedford) who won all 3 games. Not only that, but all 3 games were decided by 2 touchdowns or more. Does that mean none of Saturday's games are going to be close? No way, Jose!

There's one other similarity that the Pinkerton/Exeter, BG/Dover and Bedford/Portsmouth regular season games have in common - they were all covered by the NH Notebook! Not only was I at all 3 games, but I have seen the 6 teams playing on Saturday at least 3 times each. Social life, what's that?!

Without any further ado, here are my previews and predictions for each of the 3 title games being played on Saturday. Enjoy!

Division I Championship Game: #1 Pinkerton (10-1) vs. #2 Exeter (10-1)
Before we start previewing this game, let's first look back at how the first meeting between these 2 teams went...

As you can see in that video, it was complete domination by the Astros of Pinkerton Academy. They won that game by 5 touchdowns, 42-16. And it's hard to imagine the result being too much different this time around. Because while Exeter was missing speedy play maker Colby Swane in that first meeting, Pinkerton was also missing a key player of their own in defensive end Brett Liporto.

With that being said, the Exeter offense vs. the Pinkerton defense wasn't the difference in that game, it was the Pinkerton offense vs. the Exeter defense. The Blue Hawks simply had no answer for the Astros' running game. Emmitt Smith ran for 288 yards and 3 touchdowns on just 8 carries, while Kevin Davies ran for 121 yards and 3 TD's on just 9 carries. I've said it in previous articles already, but if Exeter wants to make it a game this time around they will have to do a better job of stopping the run. Some of the holes that 'Slippery Smith' and Davies had to run through in that game you could have fit a mack truck through, as Pinkerton simply dominated at the line of scrimmage. The Astros' offensive line is the best in the state and is led by Jesse Trottier (possibly the state's best lineman), William Consavage, Jake Bernaiche and David Hansen. The running backs all block for each other and tight end Cody Desmairas also does a nice job of blocking inside. Stopping the Pinkerton ground attack is easier said than done. These guys are healthy and it's the biggest game of the season, so you know they'll bring their 'A' game. If you try to clog up the middle on defense to stop Davies then Smith will bounce it to the outside and run it for a TD, and if you spread your defense out to try and keep Smith from gaining the edge then Davies will run right up the middle for a big gain. That's why these 2 backs compliment each other so well. And if you concentrate too much on them then the sophomore Manny Latimore will run all over you.

One area Exeter does match up well with Pinkerton is on special teams. 'Slippery Smith' and Latimore have the ability to return kicks for TD's anytime they get their hands on the football. each of them returned a 90 yard kickoff for a TD vs. Central a few weeks ago - in the same quarter! Because of this, one way to have a shot at beating Pinkerton is if you have a kicker who can kick it into the end zone routinely. That way you pin the Astros back and you're not allowing Smith and Latimore to return it. That's a weapon that the Blue Hawks do possess, as Logan Laurent is one of the state's top kickers.

Exeter has had a great season. They also have 2 of the better linemen around in Brad Tiernan and Adam Morin. Tyler Grant has merged as a Mr. Football candidate, although he gets plenty of help in the back field from Conor Carrier and Swane. And Tim Stackhouse is the team's leading tackler.

These are 2 ball control teams who rarely throw the football, we all know that. So needless to say, this game will be won in the trenches. I've gotta believe Coach Ball will be making some adjustments defensively from the last meeting. The game will be closer this time than it was back in October. But still, it's Pinkerton's year. They win their second straight title.

NH Notebook Prediction: Pinkerton 34 Exeter 17

Division II Championship Game: #1 Bishop Guertin (8-3) vs. #2 Dover (8-3)

First off, here's a look at what happened when these teams met in the regular season...

So BG went to Dover and won that game 21-6. BG got one of their TD's when Nick Marino made a pick-six and another one on a punt return by CJ Boykin. You take those plays away and it's anyone's game. Now Dover knows to not kick to ball to Boykin, and now Dover QB Tyler Zabkar is playing the best football of his career and is thus less likely to throw INT's inside his own 30 yard line.

This week I actually have Dover ranked 1 spot ahead of BG in the Power Rankings, despite the loss earlier in the year. I talked about how BG hasn't exactly been playing their best football of late - losing to Keene, nearly losing to Winnacunnet and only beating Timberlane by 3 in the semi-finals when Dover CRUSHED that same Timberlane team just a week earlier.

So those are all things Dover has going for them. What about Guertin? Well they are they have more playoff experience. Even though they have a lot of first-year starters, they stay practiced all year against the kids who won D-II last year. BG is the 3-time defending champs, they've been there and done that (although not with Travis Cote as head coach). And while Dover might have more size and muscle, BG has more speed and depth at the skill positions. BG may have taken Timberlane a little lightly last week after seeing how badly they got beaten by Dover and Spaulding. There's NO way they will take Dover lightly this week. They want to show that they're still the champs.

This game will go down to the wire, but Dover is the hotter team right now. They're a team on a mission.

NH Notebook Prediction: Dover 19 Bishop Guertin 17

Division III Championship Game: #2 Bedford (8-3) vs. #4 Portsmouth (8-3)

Yes, I was there for the regular season meeting between these 2 teams as well. No video though, but if you click here you can read the complete game recap.

As you can see from reading that story, that game was similar to the first BG vs. Dover game in that 2 BIG plays ended up being the difference. Bedford got a 92 yard kickoff return for a TD by Dylan York. The other BIG play came late in the 1st half when it looked like the Bulldogs might just run the ball and go into halftime but instead backup QB Nick Vailas threw a halfback pass to Brian Collins for a 66 yard score. Two plays that you definitely don't see everyday, but they were the difference, as Bedford ended up winning that game 24-12.

This time the game is in Bedford though instead of Portsmouth like the first one is, which favors the Bulldogs. Bedford also gets FB/LB David Cannone back in the lineup after missing the last couple weeks with a concussion (one not here - in a previous article I said that he was the nephew of former Salem QB and current Windham TE/DE Danny Cannone, but they're actually cousins).

What does Portsmouth have going for them? Well they come into this game riding high after easily beating Goffstown in the semis last week. Billy Lane had a big day running and catching the football in that game. They also have more playoff experience, as this will be the Clippers fourth straight appearance in the D-III title game (of course this will either be the first or second title game for most of their players though). Also, when these teams first met, the Clippers were still getting adjusted to playing without WR Kyle DiCesare, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the first Goffstown game. They have now had more time to get the offense back in sync. Hartmann was intercepted 3 times inside the 30 yard line in the first meeting between these 2 teams. I doubt that happens again.

These teams match up pretty well with each other. They both mix the run and the pass well on offense. QB's James Caparell for Bedford and Billy Harmtann for Portsmouth both have strong arms and plenty of weapons to throw to like Mike Gardiner, Collins, York and Matt Dillon for Bedford (not the actor), while Portsmouth has Anthony Kurylak, Lane, Jack Mackey, Colin McDonald and Matt Feeney. These guys spread the field and Lane and Jordan Garron are two good running backs. At the same time both teams have strong players near the line of scrimmage, like Will McInerny, Matt Poremba, Cannone, Joe Thibeault and Jack Terzian, while Portsmouth has a fierce front line including Ricky Holt, Kurtis Leonard and Sean Miller.

So these are 2 good, evenly matched football teams. Portsmouth with their experience will make it close, but Bedford is the team with more depth and more talent. They win the D-III title in just their fourth year as a varsity program, while Portsmouth is the division's runner up for the fourth straight year. This should be a great game though, I can't wait!

NH Notebook Prediction: Bedford 26 Portsmouth 20

The NH Notebook will have complete coverage of all 3 of these title games. I will be in Bedford for the D-III final, Pete Tarrier will be covering the BG vs. Dover showdown for us, and our northern NH corespondent travels south to cover the Pinkerton vs. Exeter game in D-I. Check out the site on Saturday for reports on all 3 games!

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