Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Summertime Snapshot Series: D-V Football
With the football realignment things are quite a bit different this season in Division V. First off, the the two teams who met in last year's championship game are both gone, as St. Thomas and Windham both moved up to D-IV. Also leaving the division are Campbell and Bishop Brady, who both move down to D-VI.
Replacing those 4 teams in D-V are Pelham (moving down from D-III), Monadnock (moving down from D-IV) and Epping-Newmarket and Interlakes-Moultonborough (both moving up from D-VI).
Wow, that's a lot of teams moving around! So what does it all mean? Who's the favorite? Well, there's 2 favorites - Kearsarge and Somersworth. I see these two teams meeting in the title game. They were the other 2 playoff teams last season in D-V besides St. Thomas and Windham. Both Kearsarge and Somersworth are loaded with talent, and both have very strong senior classes. I will be very surprised if either team loses to anyone besides each other.
They play each other week 2 of the season, on a Friday night in Somersworth. The winner of that game becomes the favorite to win this division, and they also get the inside track on the #1 seed for the playoffs. Here's a closer look at the 2 favorites (I am only listing Kearsarge first in this article because they come first alphabetically, them and Somersworth are literally a tossup!).
The Cougars are trying to win their second state title in the last 3 years, and their first under head coach Zach Matthews. They have the pieces in place to make yet another title run. Kearsarge has a very strong core group of senior players who are are all tough kids who love to hit people and have been playing together for a long time. That core group includes Jordan Barthol, Oliver Gallo, Jacob Jones, Ben Gambino, Erick Hauck and Justin Lamphear.
Everybody knows Kearsarge is a power running team. They're going to run it up the gut on you and try to be tougher and more physical than their opponents in the trenches so over the course of the game they wear down the defense. They also try to play ball control, slowly but surely moving the chains and keeping their defense off the field.
They do primarily run it up the gut, but last year they had one of the fastest players in the state in Parker Hansen. Hansen gave their offense a different dimension, as they tried to get him the football out in space where he could use his speed and make big plays. He graduated though, so look for them to be more of a run it up the gut team than ever.
They have 3 backs returning who all have lots of experience running the football in big games and are all tough, hard nosed runners. You have Gallo, Jones and Hauck, who together form the deepest back field in the division. These guys have good speed but more importantly they're very tough and difficult to bring down.
Kearsarge doesn't throw the ball often, but they do return their starting QB from last year in Peter Allen (also a senior).
The defense is going to be very tough as well. They will miss lineman Andrew St. Louis, who was a very valuable player for them on both sides of the ball for the past couple years, as well as lineman Ben Greenbaum, but they return most of the defense. Barthol, Jones, Gambino and Gallo are some of the hardest hitters in the entire state, let alone D-V. They're good at stopping the run and they're also effective at rushing the passer.
The kicking and field position game is especially important in the lower divisions, since most teams don't have a kid who can consistently hit their PAT's or kick the ball deep enough on punts and kickoffs. So the teams that do have this have a decided advantage. Kearsarge does have a solid kicker in sophomore Justin Fernandez, who was one of the better kickers in D-V last year as a freshman.
Somersworth has been waiting for this season for a long time. Just like Kearsarge is stacked with talent in their senior class, so are the Hilltoppers. Somersworth's core group of seniors includes Drew Francouer, Josh Ream, Tyler Kretschmar, Darren Glore and Curtis Michaud. These guys have also been playing together for a long time and you know they are chomping at the bit to get back out there and make a run at the title. Coach Hodsdon's team has made it to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons but got bounced in the semi-finals both years. This is the best team they've had in quite some time. In the past couple years Somersworth has won state titles in boys basketball, hockey, soccer and baseball - now it's the football team's turn.
Francouer and Ream are the guys who really make this team go. If Somersworth wins the title, I'll probably be voting for them to be co-Players of the Year in D-V. They're both very good players and both bring so much for the table for this team that it would be tough to pick one over the other for POY. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, this team still has a lot of work to do first.
Francouer is the most dangerous QB in D-V this year, with the ability to hurt you with his arm or his legs. This will be his third year as the starting QB for the Hilltoppers, and he has tremendous speed and elusiveness for a QB as well as a strong arm. When he drops back there you really never know if he's going to run or pass, and that makes it very difficult on a defense. Francouer very rarely comes off the field, as he is also a DB on defense.
Ream, or 'box' as he is known to his teammates runs over people on offense and is a tackling machine on defense. He's a big, strong kid who is very difficult to bring down for opposing defenses. He's also a workhorse back who can handle carrying the ball 20 or even 30 times in a game and still keep ticking.
Francouer and Ream might get most of the headlines and score most of the touchdowns, but Kretschmar and Glore are the blue collar guys battling in the trenches and hitting people so that those touchdowns are possible. Glore is a terrific blocking tight end and also goes out for passes occasionally to keep defenses honest in addition to being a punishing, hard-hitting linebacker. Kretschmar meanwhile anchors both the offensive and defensive lines and is possibly the top lineman in the division.
Michaud and junior Nick Honaker are also valuable players on both sides of the football. This team has the pieces in place to make a run at the title, now it's just a matter of making it happen.
The other 2 playoff teams will likely be...
Stevens just barely missed the playoffs last year, and that was despite the fact that they played the entire season without their starting quarterback, as Logan Batchelder missed his entire junior season with a torn ACL. Now he's back in the lineup, plus the Cardinals return plenty of other talented players off last year's squad. That is the recipe for a playoff team if you ask me.
In 2010 Stevens had a very young team, including a deep and talented sophomore class. Leading that class was Batchelder, Billy Brooks and CJ Gosselin. Well guess what, all of those guys are seniors now, and head coach Paul Silva has plenty more talent coming back.
Batchelder had a big sophomore season under center before getting injured prior to the 2011 season. The Cardinals were spreading the field and letting him air it out to his talented receiver targets while also mixing in the run. Brooks was one of those receivers, as Brooks is a fast, explosive athlete who can get down field in a hurry and make some tough catches. He had to play QB last year with Batchelder injured but now gets to move back to his natural position.
Gosselin meanwhile leads the defense and also mixes it up on the o-line. He's a tough, physical player who does the dirty work in the trenches. Also watch out for Cullen Eaton on the line and Donald Pellerin in the secondary.
There is definitely a difference in level of competition between Division IV and D-V. So the fact that Monadnock was a playoff team last year in D-IV and now they are moving down to D-V makes them definite playoff contenders.
With that being said, they do graduate the 2 players who carried the team last year in lineman Nick Dragon and tailback Jessie Leiby. Dragon was not only one of the top lineman in D-IV last year but in the entire state, while Leiby was among the state's leaders in rushing yards. These two will definitely be missed by the Huskies.
While they will miss Dragon and Leiby (plus their other 8 seniors) they do however return 45 kids off last year's team, which is a staggering number for a D-V program. So it is safe to say they are definite playoff contenders, especially with returning all-state players like linebackers Nick Patterson and Derek Lotito.