Thursday, September 27, 2012

Previewing 'Rivalry Weekend'

Let's see here. What do you call it when you have Nashua North vs. Nashua South, Pinkerton vs. Londonderry, Manchester Central vs. Manchester Memorial and Dover vs. Winnacunnet all playing against each other? Rivalry weekend! These are some of the BIGGEST rivalries in the state here, especially North/South - a city divided and Pinkerton/Londonderry - the Mack Plaque on the line.

Other local rivalries being renewed include Gilford vs. Newfound - the first ever homecoming game for Newfound and Timberlane vs. Salem. Then you also have Bishop Guertin vs. Bedford. It's not a rivalry yet because it's the first time they've ever played each other. But BG has been getting a lot of their talent from Bedford over the past few years - like Andy and Jimmy Vailas for example. And with both teams now in the same division and contending for a championship this could be the beginning of the state's next big rivalry.

And oh by the way there's also that game on Saturday between 4-0 Windham and 4-0 Plymouth in Division IV, which is one of the FOUR games we're covering this weekend on the NH Notebook - how's that for irony? Plymouth and Windham aren't rivals - like BG and Bedford they've never played each other, but they are hands down the 2 favorites in Division IV.

Here's a look at all these games, as well as Concord vs. Exeter and Portsmouth vs. Goffstown. It's 'Rivalry Weekend'...are you ready?


What games we're covering...

Goffstown @ Portsmouth on Friday night in D-III
I'll be making the whopping 2 and a half minute drive from my apartment in downtown Portsmouth to PHS for this one. It's a three team race in D-III (more irony for you) between Goffstown, Portsmouth and Souhegan. Portsmouth lost a nail-biter to Souhegan 18-13 in week 2, while Goffstown hasn't played either team yet. The Grizzlies also haven't played Alvirne or Milford yet, and those are the 2 candidates for the fourth and final playoff spot. Goffstown has only played Pembroke and Con-Val, along with 2 non-league games, with one being a close loss to Manchester Memorial. The bottom line is we will find out much more about where these 2 teams are at (as well as the D-III hierarchy) after this game. Last season Goffstown was the #1 seed in D-III but they had a lot of trouble with Portsmouth, as the Clippers easily won both meetings (including a win in the D-III semi-finals). The key match up to watch for in this game is the Portsmouth defensive line (led by Rick Holt and Kurtis Leonard) vs. the Goffstown offensive line. The Clippers d-line wreaked havoc in the teams 2 wins over the Grizzlies last season, as well as in their title game win over Bedford. But if the Goffstown o-line can hold their own in there, they can give QB Connor Benjamin the enough time to make plays. Benjamin has been putting up some monster numbers so far this season, both rushing and passing.

Windham @ Plymouth on Saturday in D-IV
This is definitely the biggest game of the weekend. It is always nice when a game in one of the lower divisions gets the spotlight. It reminds me of that wonderful weekend in 2010 when it was St. Thomas vs. Kearsarge on Friday night in D-V and then the very next night it was Lebanon vs. Trinity in D-IV. They were both late-season games involving undefeated teams. I had the pleasure of covering both games and they were both fantastic football games, with Kearsarge and Lebanon both coming out on top. 2 weeks later it was the same exact match ups in the championship games, with Kearsarge and Lebanon winning both of those as well. Even though this Saturday's title between Windham and Plymouth is earlier in the season it has the same feel as those other games do. That is because of the way both Plymouth and Windham of been dominating the division thus far, even in games against teams who were expected to compete for the title. 2 weeks ago Windham CRUSHED a 2-0 Hanover team, last week they CRUSHED a 3-0 St. Thomas team. In wee 1 they CRUSHED a Laconia team that was expected to be a contender before the knee injury to David Mahoney. Plymouth meanwhile had a convincing win last week over Hanover and the week before that they CRUSHED defending D-IV champs Trinity in a rematch of last year's title game. Plymouth is led by Brandon Goodale, John Thomas and Colin Sullivan. Windham is led by their senior trio of Danny Cannone, Joe Lorenz and Kevin Cooney. The winner of this game becomes the favorite to win the championship. The loser will go back, look at the film, make some adjustments and try to get revenge in the title game!

Winnacunnet @ Dover on Saturday in D-II
2 teams who were both expected to be D-II contenders coming into the season, but right now they are headed in 2 different directions. Winnacunnet is riding high after their big 27-24 win over Exeter on Friday, whereas Dover is licking their wounds after the fell to BG 27-7 last Saturday night. They haven't played any common opponents so that makes it a little tougher to handicap, but there's no question that Winnacunnet is the team playing better football right now. On my Power Poll ballot this week I had Winnacunnet at #1 and Dover at #9. But these teams aren't worried about Power Polls. Winnacunnet has one goal and that is winning the D-II title. Dover meanwhile is in a fight to make the playoffs. The Green Wave are going to need some wins over teams like Bedford or Keene in order to get in, otherwise they'll be the #5 seed on the outside looking in. Still, they could be the 5th best team in D-II but still be one of the top 10 teams in the state. Although they will be the definite underdogs going into this game, a win on Saturday would be HUGE for Dover. And one factor that could work in their favor is if Warriors star running back Ben Franzoso isn't able to play. Franzoso, who rushed for 221 yards and 3 TD's in the win over Exeter, suffered a groin injury halfway through the game. It is up in the air right now whether he will play vs. Dover.

Bedford @ Bishop Guertin on Saturday night in D-II
Both teams who had early season losses (Bedford fell to #1 ranked Winnacunnet week 2 and BG fell to #3 ranked Pinkerton in week 1). But they are also both teams who are playing some very good football right now and are coming off big wins last week (Bedford going on the road to beat Keene in a thriller 25-24 and BG cruising past a very tough Dover team 27-7). More good news for Bedford is that even though a lot of the talent that has won BG 7 state titles in the last 8 years have been Bedford kids, those kids are now going to Bedford High instead of BG. Case in point is the Vailas family. Andy and Jimmy Vailas were standout players at BG and now they're playing their college ball at UNH. Now their little brother Mike is playing. Is Mike playing for BG like his big brothers did? Nope, he's playing for Bedford. And his older cousin Nick Vailas is also playing for Bedford rather than BG. So head coach Kurt Hines is now keeping the Bedford kids in Bedford. And that's a big reason why the Bulldogs numbers are so high (they have over 80 kids on the varsity roster). The next task for Coach Hines, QB James Caparell, WR Brian Collins and FB/LB David Cannone is to beat Guertin to solidify their status as a legit title contender this season in D-II. Right now you would have to say that Winnacunnet and BG are the favorites to make it to the D-II title game, but Bedford can change that with a win on Saturday night at Stellos Stadium.


Rivalry games...

Pinkerton @ Londonderry on Saturday in D-I
This rivalry might have lost some of its luster over the last few years, as Pinkerton has really dominated the recent head-to-head match ups between these 2 teams. Pinkerton beat North 42-7 last week and you can expect a similar result on Saturday when they take on the Lancers. Still, it's always a big deal when these 2 schools get together for Mack Plaque week. I still remember the first Pinkerton/Londonderry game I covered back in 2008. The atmosphere was incredible, and to this day, between all of the games I have covered over the past 6 years I had to drive around looking for a parking spot longer at that game than any other!

Nashua North vs. Nashua South on Saturday in D-I
There's still a long way to go, but it does look like Concord has the inside track at the #4 seed in the D-I playoffs. That would mean both Nashua North and Nashua South would be out of the playoffs. That would be a pretty big deal, because since Nashua High split up into 2 different schools about 8 years ago now, at least 1 of the 2 Nashua teams has made the D-I playoffs virtually every season since the split. Heck, in 2010 not only did both North and South make the playoffs but they played against each other in the semi-finals (North won then lost to Pinkerton in the title game). But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. There's still a long way to go. South could turn things around, and North still has yet to play Concord. And even though both North and South are a little down this year this is still a BIG time rivalry with city bragging rights on the line!

Manchester Central @ Manchester Memorial on Saturday in D-I
This one could definitely be a good battle in the Queen City. You have Central who seems destined for the #3 seed in D-I and a Memorial team that is likely already out of the playoff picture with losses to Concord and Nashua North. Central beat Concord by 2 touchdowns and Memorial lost to that same Concord team by 3 TD's. So Central should win this one in a blowout, right? Well, maybe not. Consider that Memorial beat Goffstown in week 1. Yes, the same Goffstown team that some voters (not me though) have voted in their top 10 teams in the state in the Power Poll. That same Goffstown team played Central very tough in the Queen City Jamboree. Also, Central only beat North 13-10 last week, and Memorial only lost to North 22-17. Not only that, but you never know with these city games what might happen. Central should definitely win this game, but it could get interesting.

Timberlane @ Salem on Saturday in non-league game
Over the last few years, during the Cannone/Jacques/Fedrick era at Salem, the Blue Devils have been pounding Timberlane every year. Even last season when Salem was the #4 seed in D-I and Timberlane was the #4 seed in D-II it was still a blowout victory for Coach Gati's squad. This year it's a tossup, and I might even call Timberlane a slight favorite. Look out for Timberlane's Josh David and Salem's Jason Martinez to play key roles in this one.

Gilford @ Newfound on Saturday in D-VI
Like I said at the top of the column, it's Newfound's first ever homecoming game. And they take on Lakes Region rival Gilford. Newfound is the heavy favorite to win this game. Why is that? Well, it's pretty simple. Newfound is 4-0 and Gilford is 0-4. Looking at common opponents, Gilford lost by 3 TD's to Winnisquam, whereas Newfound BEAT Winnisquam by 3 TD's. Also, Gilford got crushed by Farmington-Nute 37-14, whereas Newfound BEAT Farmington-Nute 24-18. So yeah, Newfound SHOULD beat Gilford easily. After Campbell beat up on Bishop Brady last week, it now looks like the only team in D-VI that has any chance at beating Campbell and their star player Jesiah Wade would be Newfound. In case you were wondering, Newfound travels to Litchfield the last week of the season to take on Campbell. Don't be surprised if both teams are 8-0 going into that game. Gilford meanwhile has definitely been down for the past couple years. It was only 2 years ago they were in the D-VI title game. But since then they have graduated some VERY talented players, including Brendan Demo, Ronny Bean and Brendan Murphy. They have also lost Matt Dean who followed in his older brother Eric's footsteps and transferred to the New Hampton School before last season. If Dean stuck around at Gilford he would be a senior right now, and instead of people talking about how Jesiah Wade is running away with D-VI Player of the Year (literally) they would be debating who is the better player between Wade and Dean. Just some food for thought!


Another big game...

Concord @ Exeter on Friday night in Division I
So did you hear Exeter lost to Winnacunnet last weekend? I say that jokingly because that has been what everyone around the state has been talking about for the past few days, well except for the referee fiasco in the NFL of course. That loss might actually be the best thing to happen to the Blue Hawks, though. Why's that? Well prior to the Winnacunnet game Exeter was on top of the world. They had just beaten Pinkerton on the road, then they got Logan Laurent and Colby Swane back from suspension and crushed Manchester Central 49-0. Going into the season, it was expected to be a 3 team race between Exeter, Pinkerton and Central. And just 3 weeks into the season Exeter had already proved they were hands down the best team in the division. When you consider that it is understandable that maybe these guys would get a little complacent and start to take things for granted. So the loss to Winnacunnet is just what Exeter needed to get re-focused. Now the Blue Hawks know they're not untouchable. Now they know that it won't be a cakewalk for them to win a second straight D-I title. And now that Coach Ball has his team re-focused, look for them to really go out there and crush teams. They will still have that bad taste left in the mouth from the Winnacunnet game when they take the field on Friday night to play against Concord. Concord is a good team, and this is definitely the best team they've had since their last playoff appearance in 2005. They really played well in the 2nd half of last week's 20-3 win over Nashua South. I liked what I saw defensively from Marc Gaudet and Seth Gosse. But in the 1st half Concord had way too many penalties and dropped passes. The Crimson will really have to bring their 'A' game to have any chance against Exeter. The Blue Hawks beat Central 49-0. Concord lost to Central 35-21. So yeah, Exeter is the decided favorite in this one. Even with the loss last weekend Exeter is still the favorite to win the D-I title. And even if they lose this game on Friday night, Concord is still in good position to get the #4 seed in the D-I playoffs.

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