Thursday, September 13, 2012

Early Season Football Ramblings

Here are some things that I have been jotting down in my NH Notebook lately. This column includes a preview of this weekend's big games, an early look at Mr. Football candidates as well as a look at some the state's top linemen. If you've ever seen me at a game (or at a McDonald's) writing in my notebook and wondered what I was writing, well here's your answer!

Mr. Football Watch

At the end of the season the NH Notebook will give out its first ever Mr. Football Award. Any player in the state, regardless of division is eligible to receive the award - it's essentially the NH Football Player of the Year. Here are the leading candidates through 2 weeks of the season.

Tyler Grant, RB/DB, Exeter - Grant is definitely the early favorite. Grant had 167 rushing yards and 3 TD's vs. Dover, and followed that up with 197 yards and 2 TD's last weekend vs. Pinkerton (both were wins for the Blue Hawks). Not only that, but he is also one of the top DB's in the state. Grant is the best player on the best team in the state.

Riley Cote, QB, Manchester Central - hands down the best passing QB in NH, Cote has picked up right where he left off last season with the 'air show' at Central. He threw for 230 yards and 4 TD's week 1 in a 32-0 win over Timberlane, and then last week in a win vs. Concord he threw for 171 yards and 3 TD's.

Lucas Luopa, QB, Keene - man, how about the game this kid had week 1 in a 62-27 win over Salem? 292 yards and 3 TD's passing, to go with 156 yards and 1 TD rushing, yikes! Then last week in a 38-6 win over Merrimack he completed 10 of 15 passes for 124 yards and two TD's while rushing for 54 yards and a score - not bad for a kid who was playing with a sprained ankle! Luopa (pictured above) is the HEAVY favorite for D-II Player of the Year and is also a strong candidate for the statewide POY.

Connor Benjamin, QB, Goffstown - Benjamin was phenomenal vs. Memorial in week 1, as he ran for 278 yards and 3 touchdowns on 16 carries, and completed 15 of 27 pass attempts for 229 yards and a TD. That's 507 yards of total offense, are you kidding me? Then last week in a win over Con-Val he ran for 142 yards and 3 TD's on seven carries. He also completed 9 of 13 passes for 130 yards and two TD's. He did all of that in just one half of action, as the Grizzlies built up a big lead early.

Manny Latimore, RB/DB, Pinkerton - for the past couple of years Latimore has shown his tremendous breakaway speed on kickoff returns and on running plays. And going into the season we all knew that he'd take on more of the load with the graduation of Kevin Davies and Emmitt Smith. And he has broken off some big plays, with a punt return for a TD vs. Bishop Guertin. Then last week he broke off a 66 yard TD run vs. Exeter. But what we didn't know going into the season was how good of a defender Latimore was - well guess what, we're seeing it now. Latimore crept up from the secondary to make a number of impressive tackles for no gain vs. Exeter, further showing how valuable and versatile he is.

Games We're Covering This Weekend

Manchester Central @ Exeter on Friday Night
Definitely the biggest game of the weekend. Speaking of Grant and Cote, they're teams go at it in this one and whoever plays better will have the inside track at Mr. Football (the playoffs is when it really matters the most though!)

Exeter doesn't get much time to rest or to celebrate after their HUGE win on Saturday over Pinkerton. Now they get a Central team that is anxious to prove that they're just as good (if not better) than Exeter and Pinkerton. Last season the Blue Hawks jumped out to a good lead early but Central didn't give up and got back in the game with Cote getting into a rhythm throwing the ball around.

Look for Exeter to run the ball and slowly and methodically grind out drives, move the chains, and keep that explosive Central offense off the field. Central meanwhile will look to spread the Blue Hawks defense out, take advantage of their speed and make it a shootout. Should be a great game, I can't wait!

Mascoma @ Bishop Brady on Friday Night
The biggest stories in Division VI football so far - Mascoma's 2-0 start, Newfound playing their first ever home game and the dominance of Campbell junior play maker Jesiah Wade. Well going into the season we knew that Wade was the real deal, and we also knew going in that Newfound now had a home field. But the real surprise here is Mascoma. Give Royals head coach Ray Kershaw credit, he has some good young talent.

Gilford and Franklin have both been 2 of the premier teams in the division over the past few years, but Mascoma beaten both of them. Not only that but they won those 2 games by a combined 39 points! Mike Sieffert and Spencer Pierce both rushed for over 100 yards in the win over Franklin. What's most impressive about Mascoma's start is that they don't have 1 senior on their roster!

Bishop Brady meanwhile is a formidable opponent as well. They crushed Raymond last week 60-12 and in week 1 they only lost by 1 point (36-35) to a Newfound team that also appears to be one of the division's top teams. Should be a great game, and our correspondent DC will be on the scene!

Trinity @ Plymouth on Saturday Afternoon
A rematch of last year's title game in Division IV, and possibly a preview of this year's final as well. Both teams are 2-0 and both teams have blown out their opponents in those games. Trinity beat up on Kingswood and John Stark, while Plymouth crushed Lebanon and Kennett. Now this Saturday both teams get to pick on someone their own size.

Players to watch are Ryan Carrier and Carmen Giampetruzzi for Trinity, and Brandon Goodale and John Thomas for Plymouth. Look for a hard fought, defensive battle. Should be a great game, and it will be covered by our northern NH correspondent DC.

Other Big Games This Weekend

Dover @ Spaulding on Friday Night
Can I clone myself and be at 2 places at once? Because I would really like to see both Central/Exeter AND Dover/Spaulding on Friday night! Last year's D-II semi-final game between the Green Wave and Red Raiders was an absolute classic, one of the best games of the year and was one of my all-time favorite games to cover. It was a jam PACKED stadium, with a great atmosphere. Both teams fought toot and nail for all 48 minutes and the game, with it ending on a game-winning field goal to send Dover to the title game.

The fact that both teams are 0-2 going into this one does take some of the luster off this match up, but it is still a must-see game nonetheless. This is STILL Dover/Spaulding - one of the best rivalries in the state. And these are STILL 2 teams who are contenders to not only make the playoffs in D-II but title contenders as well. Yes Dover is 0-2, but like I wrote the other day in the Power Poll column, those 2 losses were to Exeter (best team in the state) and King Philip High (#11 team in entire state of Mass). Spaulding meanwhile lost a game that didn't count to a VERY good Nashua South team, and then last week they were up by 2 scores in the 4th quarter vs. Timberlane before barely losing. If you remember last season both of these teams got off to slow start but got better as the season went on and ended up being 2 of the division's top 3 teams when it was all said and done. This game could be just what both teams need to kick their season's into high gear. Buckle up folks, this could be a wild one!

Hanover @ Windham on Saturday Afternoon
We will definitely have a better idea of who the top teams in Division IV are after this weekend. Half the teams in the division are 0-2 and the other half are 2-0. Of the 5 teams that sit atop the standings at 2-0, 4 of them are playing against each other on Saturday, with Trinity vs. Plymouth and Windham vs. Hanover.

There's no surprise that Trinity and Plymouth are 2-0 as both teams were in the title game last year and have enough talent coming back this year to make it back there again. Windham and Hanover are the surprise teams. It's not that big of a shock that Windham is 2-0, but how much they're beating teams by is. The Jaguars have outscored their first 2 opponents (Laconia and Lebanon) by a combined score of 100-12, and the only 2 touchdowns that were scored on them were both scored in the 2nd half after Windham took their starters out. The jaguars are getting strong play from their lineman as well as their dynamic duo of QB Joe Lorenz and TE turned RB Danny Cannone. Lorenz has thrown 5 TD passes, and Cannone has rushed for 6 TD's.

Hanover meanwhile has their own dynamic duo, with QB Shawn Cavallaro and WR Cyrus Rothwell-Ferraris. Cavallaro is a dual threat on offense with the ability to run the ball or throw it (much like Connor Benjamin of Goffstown) and he is putting up some very impressive numbers. Rothwell-Ferraris is doing it all for the Marauders, runnign the ball, catching passes, punting and even throwing passes as well. Hanover has outscored their first 2 opponents (Laconia and John Stark) by a combined score of 56-0. That's right, neither Windham or Hanover's first string defense has been scored upon yet, something's gotta give!

Shout Out to the Linemen!

They might not get the headlines, but the big guys in the trenches are crucial to a team's success...

What's ironic is that the three linemen who project the best at the next level are all in Division III - Jake Kennedy of Souhegan and Will McInerney of Bedford (who both hold multiple scholarship offers and Portsmouth's Rick Holt. Holt is an absolute beast and also projects as a scholarship level player. McInerney is out for the season with a knee injury, but according to NH Football Report, the schools that offered him will honor their offers as long as he is healthy during a workout in the spring.

Tyler Grant from Exeter gets a lot of headlines because of what he has done rushing the football, but you have to give credit to his linemen, including Sam Klemarczyk, Brady Quinn, Jacob Boria and Collin Richardson.

Pinkerton has a couple of big guys of their own who have done a great job so far in Phil Harper and Jacob Whorf.

Winnacunnet meanwhile might have the biggest line in the state, led by Jordan Cutting, Christian Dyer and Renaldo Gordon.

Here's 3 more names of linemen that you should all know about. Here at the NH Notebook we cover not only the NHIAA but also kids from NH who attend prep schools. And 3 players who fall into that category are Brad Tiernan (former Exeter standout doing PG year at Cushing), Brennan Giles (from Brentwood, NH doing PG year at Phillips Exeter after playing high school ball at St. John's Prep) and Andrew Crane (playing for football powerhouse Lawrence Academy). All 3 of these guys are potential scholarship players at the next level.

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