Wednesday, October 10, 2012
NHIAA Football Mid-Season Outlook
Here's a break down of each of the 6 divisions as we gear up for the home stretch of the regular season as well as a look at the top Mr. Football candidates so far.
It's a 2 team race here, with Exeter and Pinkerton being heavy favorites to meet in the D-I championship game for the second straight season. Exeter won the title game last year, and they won the regular season match up between the 2 teams last month.
Both of those games were at Pinkerton, and if these teams do indeed meet again the the championship game next month it will be at Exeter (as long as the Blue Hawks keep winning). Exeter won 24-20 in the week 2 match up between the 2 teams, and it was hands down one of the best games of the year (that game and the Exeter/Winnacunnet game are the 2 best games so far this season). The Blue Hawks however were playing that game without Logan Laurent and Colby Swane. They have since both returned to action, so you have to like their chances as repeating as champs. Not bad for a team who (along with Salem) has the smallest enrollment in D-I. Not only that but it was just 2 years ago when Exeter went 0-8 in Division I play. You also have to give Exeter credit for the way they have kept their heads up, keep composed and continue to battle out there despite the death of JV player Cody Brackett. Tyler Grant has had a monster start to the season (on both sides of the football) and is the clear cut favorite for D-I Player of the Year so far.
Still, there's a long way to go and it's far too early to give the trophy to Coach Ball and company. If we do see a championship game rematch, you can bet Pinkerton head coach Brian O'Reilly and his staff will be studying the film of their week 2 game like it's the Da Vinci Code. They'll be looking to correct all of the mistakes and make any adjustments possible to make sure that this time it's the Astros who come out on top. Remember that last year Pinkerton blew Exeter out in the regular season but then the Blue Hawks went back to the drawing board, made some adjustments, got a great game plan together and executed it in the title game. The same thing could happen this season, except this time it will be Pinkerton trying to make the adjustments.
And then you have the battle for the #3 and #4 seeds in the playoffs between Central, South and Concord. Each team is 1-1 against each other, none of them have beaten Exeter or Pinkerton and they are unbeaten so far vs. North, Memorial, Salem and Londonderry. Needless to say we will have to go WAY down on the list of tie-breakers to figure out which team is seeded where if these 3 all end up with a 5-3 record. If South, Central or Concord slips up and loses a game to one of the teams below them then they will likely miss the playoffs. Then the other 2 teams will make the playoffs and the #3 seed will go to the team that won the head-to-head match up. I don't think that will happen though, I think all 3 teams end up 5-3. Then it's tie-breaker time!
A good battle is brewing here. It looks like Winnacunnet, Bedford, Keene and Bishop Guertin will be the 4 playoff teams. And guess what, all 4 of them have a pretty good shot at winning this thing! BG is still licking their wounds after losing by 2 TD's to Bedford, and they still have to play both Keene and Winnacunnet. But keep in mind that 2 of their best players (Pat Bilodeau and CJ Boykin) haven't played a down all season and both could be coming back any week now.
There is still a long way to go. Winnacunnet and Bedford are both on a roll right now, but there are some big games left to be played during the regular season that will give us a better idea of where these teams really stand. This weekend Bedford travels to Dover to take on the Green Wave and Keene plays host to Winnacunnet. Then during the last 2 weeks of the season BG plays against Keene and Winnacunnet. This is a very fun division to watch and the fun is just beginning!
Winnacunnet has to be the favorite. Exeter looked like an untouchable team heading into their game, but Winnacunnet beat them. Not only that, but the Warriors are unbeaten on the season and also beat Bedford. Until someone knocks them off, they're the favorites. They're getting great play in the trenches from their linemen (led by Christian Dyer, Jordan Cutting and Rendaldo Gordon) the linebackers are flying around hitting people (led by Sam Bonsaint and Nyles Connor) and have tough DB's like Clint Felch, Alec Boucher and Collin Witt. Ben Franzoso is having a Player of the Year caliber season so far at RB, and IngHao Veasna is really stepping up at QB. Franzoso didn't play last week vs. Spaulding due to a groin injury suffered in the Exeter game.
Bedford also deserves a lot of credit. This is a team that moved up from Division III to D-II this year (there's a BIG difference between these two divisions). Not only that, but their best athlete (Mike Gardiner) moved to Texas over the winter and their only returning offensive lineman (D-I college recruit Will Mcinerny) injured both knees before the season and is done for the year. Still, even with all of that the Bulldogs are sitting pretty with a 5-1 record. Bedford beat BG 27-13 and their only loss is to #1 ranked Winnacunnet. QB James Caparell is a POY candidate, the o-line is getting better every week and David Cannone, Dylan York, Joe Thibeault, Brian Collins and the Vailas cousins (Nick and Mike) are all playing great football right now.
The bottom line is head coach Kurt Hines is doing a great job and he has a serious pipeline of talent coming up the ranks. Bedford's 8th grade football team is undefeated right now, they CRUSHED Exeter and they haven't had a point scored on them all season. That's scary news for the rest of the state! Coach Hines task is to make sure all of those talented 8th graders go to Bedford High instead of BG or Trinity. If they all stay at BHS, the Bulldogs will be a force for the foreseeable future.
Before the season started everyone was just talking about 3 teams - Souhegan, Goffstown and defending champs Portsmouth. Well guess what? Milford is right in that mix now. Milford had a tough year last season, but most of the starters are back, including Joe Albina, Harrison Urda and Connor Borne who are all playing solid football. Head coach Keith Jones is once again doing a nice job to get the most out of his kids. The Spartans have been blowing out the teams who are lower in the D-III standings, but the question is, how will they do against Souhegan, Goffstown and Portsmouth? Milford hasn't played any of those teams yet. They did have a solid win last Friday night over Division I Nashua North though. The Spartans' first chance to prove they're for real this Friday night when they take on their arch-rival and division favorite Souhegan.
The Sabers have to be the favorite right now. Goffstown got blown out 56-22 by Portsmouth. Portsmouth lost to Souhegan in week 2. The Clippers only lost that game 18-13, but since then they have suffered injuries to QB Nate McFarland and WR/DT Colin MacDonald, who were 2 of the team's best players in that Goffstown game. This is a team that was already playing without projected starters Travis MacDonald, Peter Hamblett and Jack Mackey. Don't be surprised if it's Portsmouth and Souhegan in the title game. If they do it would be 4th time in the last 5 years that these 2 teams met in the D-III final. Souhegan has won the last 3 championship games between the 2 programs, but last season Portsmouth won the title and Souhegan missed the playoffs.
If they do meet again you would have to say Souhegan is the favorite. They're playing some very good football right now, led by Jake Kennedy and Tyler Ford. Brandon Len is also having a standout season at WR and DB. Len's success on the field is even more impressive since he is a senior who hasn't played football since 8th grade after spending the past few years focusing on basketball (hoops is the sport Len will be playing in college).
As for Goffstown, the question is how they will rebound from the blowout loss to Portsmouth? Well, they got a 47-12 win last week, but that was against a struggling Merrimack Valley team. They're next big test is in 2 weeks vs. Milford and then they end the season with a Saturday night showdown with Souhegan. Offensively Goffstown wasn't that bad in the Portsmouth game, they just have to limit the turnovers, as QB Connor Benjamin threw 3 INT's. The real problem for the Grizzlies was the defense, and they will need to shore things up there to be a title contender.
Is there any stopping Plymouth? Probably not. It certainly looks like these guys are in a league of their own in D-IV. The Bobcats' toughest competition in the division is Windham and Trinity, but Plymouth has already blown out both of those teams. Plymouth is a great story, and they're not getting enough press. These guys only have about 4 or 5 starters back from last year. Not only did they graduate most of their starters, but they graduated Taylor Newberry, who was arguably the most valuable player in D-IV last year. They also graduated Nick Reisert and Cole Brooker. Those are 3 big time players right there! They're all gone now but guess what, Plymouth just keeps winning!
You have to give credit to legendary head coach Chuck Lenahan. You also have to credit the kids on the team, which is led by the dynamic duo of Brandon Goodale and John Thomas. Both of these kids are rushing for 100+ yards, scoring TD's every game and are also standout players on defense. They're both fast, tough, physical players who are on a mission. Maybe Goodale and Thomas will share the division's Player of the Year award?
Plymouth is clearly the heavy favorite to win the title, but there is still a long way to go and you know that Trinity, Windham and St. Thomas are all gunning for them. Trinity and Windham both got blown out by Plymouth, but anything can happen come playoff time and both teams will study the film and try to make some adjustments if they get a rematch with the Bobcats.
Is St. Thomas even in the title contender discussion? After all, they got crushed by Windham a couple weeks ago. Well, Ryan Monette and the Saints have a chance to prove they're for real this Friday night when they take on Trinity.
Trinity is the defending champs, and they will be looking to make a statement on Friday night vs. STA that they are a legit title contender. It doesn't seem like they're as good as they were last year, but in their defense they graduated some VERY good players, including Andrew Lauderdale, Josh Hughes, Adam Chambers and Mike Leonard. That's some serious talent to have to replace, not to mention they have a new head coach this year in Steve Burns who replaced Gary Leonard.
As for Windham, they playing right with Plymouth early on in their game but then had some costly turnovers which swung the momentum over to the Bobcats. That gave Plymouth a comfortable lead, but in the 2nd half Windham actually gained more yardage. It seems like if anyone in this division is going to take down Plymouth it will be Windham. The Jaguars have good speed, toughness and discipline. They have lots of play makers, including QB Joe Lorenz along with Danny Cannone, Kevin Cooney, Joe Frake and Thomas Anderson.
We will know for sure who the Bobcat's top challenger is soon, as this Friday it;s Trinity vs. St. Thomas and then the last week of the regular season Trinity takes on Windham. STA has a tough stretch to end the season, with Trinity this week followed by Plymouth and then Hanover.
Beating the Bobcats in the playoffs will be very difficult to do, since Plymouth will have home field advantage and they're VERY tough at home.
It's a 4 team race here, but if Somersworth plays like they did last Friday night in a 27-0 win over Stevens then they will be the champs. Meanwhile if Stevens is not able to get their their star players healthy and keep them healthy (Logan Batchelder, Billy Brooks, CJ Gosselin) then that will make it a 3 team race with the Cardinals being left out of the discussion. The bottom line is the teams in the lower divisions (especially D-V and D-VI) aren't very deep. So if you take a team's 2 or 3 best players out of the equation and that REALLY hurts their chances. Gosselin (possibly the best defensive player in the division) should be fine, as he just got the wind knocked out of him last week. But Batchelder has a knee injury and Brooks has a hurt shoulder. If these guys can get healthy this team has a shot to win it all. But that's a big if!
Even though they were going against a wounded Cardinals team, Somersworth looked VERY good in that game Friday night. The line was blocking well, and Josh Ream made some great runs showing a combination of speed and power that could not be stopped. Dre Parker, Drew Francoeur, Tyler Kretschmar, Darren Glore, Kurtis Michaud, Nick Honaker and Kevin Clougherty all made big plays out there too.
Somersworth's only loss came 2 weeks ago to Monadnock. If I had to pick a favorite right now it would be Monadnock. The Huskies beat Somersworth in a great game (possible title game preview). And Monadnock's only loss came way back in week 1 vs. Stevens in a game where Monadnock somehow lost even though they out-gained Stevens in total yards 3 to 1.
Meanwhile the team flying under the radar is the Kearsarge Cougars. Since they lost to Somersworth 23-14 in week 2 they have gone 4-0 and have scored 42+ points in each of those 4 games. Now those wins have come against the teams on the bottom of the D-V standings, but still the margin of victory has been impressive of late for the Cougars. They have a strong senior class of tough kids led by Jacob Jones, Oliver Gallo, Erick Hauck and Jordan Barthol.
Games to watch over the next few weeks are Kearsarge vs. Monadnock and Kearsarge vs. Stevens. Those games will give us an idea of what the hierarchy is like in this division. These 4 teams are all so close (when healthy) that home field advantage will be very crucial!
This is definitely a crazy division! Campbell was everyone's preseason favorite to win it all, with preseason POY Jesiah Wade. And after starting off 4-0 and beating Bishop Brady 49-7 they looked almost unstoppable. But then the Cougars lost to Franklin, whose only loss was in week 1 to Mascoma, who lost to Brady. See, I told you this division was crazy!
Meanwhile Newfound is the only unbeaten team and is sitting atop the standings, with leading rusher Tyler Maviki. However Newfound has played the easiest schedule in the division so far. The 5 teams at the top of the standings right now in D-VI are Newfound, Campbell, Franklin, Mascoma and Winnisquam. The only team in that group that Newfound has played so far is Winnisquam. Meanwhile the Bears only beat 1-5 Farmington-Nute by 1 score, and they only beat 3-3 Brady by 1 point. Things get tougher for Newfound the rest of the way, as they finish their regular season with Mascoma, Franklin and Campbell. That last game should be a very fun match up, especially with Wade and Maviki as the back field match up.
And don't sleep on Newport! They started off 0-3 but could sneak into the playoffs. Coach Carle's team graduated 4 all-state lineman off last year's playoff team and as a result they started slow. But the they beat Mascoma and they beat Brady, both teams ahead of them in the standings. Newfound, Franklin and Campbell are definitely the 3 favorites, but the 4th playoff spot is up for grabs. Newfound isn't the only team with a tough remaining schedule. Winnisquam has to play Franklin, Brady and Mascoma. That Winnisquam vs. Mascoma game last week of the regular season could end up deciding the 4th playoff spot.
With as many as 7 teams who still have a shot to win it, this is easily the most wide open division in the state.
Mr. Football Watch
Ben Franzoso, RB, Winnacunnet, Senior - currently nursing a hamstring injury, but he's been a beast when healthy. 217 yards and 3 TD's vs. Exeter and 139 yards and 2 TD's vs. Bedford.
Tyler Grant, RB/DB, Exeter, Senior - week 2 it was a match up of the 2 best teams in the state at the time. Grant was hands down the best player on the field, having a huge game running the ball in win over Pinkerton. Then the next week vs. Central he not only scored 2 TD's on offense but also intercepted 2 passes on defense - and did all of that in one half of football.
James Caparell - the MVP for the #4 team in the state. Had 300+ passing yards vs Keene, and accounted for 3 TD's in big win over BG.
Riley Cote, QB, Manchester Central, Senior - Cote is definitely in the discussion for state's top QB's. He's putting up some staggering passing yardage and TD totals while leading a high powered offense.
Manny Latimore, RB/DB/KR, Pinkerton, Junior - dangerous runner and return man who can go for 6 at any time. Latimore has also emerged this season as a valuable player on defense. He simply does it all for the Astros, the state's #3 team.
Connor Benjamin, QB, Goffstown, Senior - has had games this year where he accounted for 5 TD's, he's had games where he's had over 500 yards of total offense. Benjamin is putting up staggering numbers, leading a playoff destined Goffstown team.
Lucas Luopa, QB, Keene, Senior - he's as valuable to his team as any player in NH and he's on the #5 ranked team in the state. Is a little banged up right now, but still has been putting up crazy numbers, as one of the division leaders in both passing and rushing.
Trevor Knight, QB, Nashua South, Junior - his big game and big 71 yard TD run to beat Central last week makes him a candidate.
Brandon Goodale, RB/DB, Plymouth, Senior - Plymouth is simply wreaking everyone in D-IV, and Goodale is their best player. Goodale has gone over 150 yards and had at least 1 TD virtually every game and also plays defense.
Ryan Monette, RB/DB/KR, St. Thomas, Senior - he doesn't have the same supporting cast as last year when the Saints were stacked at every position and went undefeated. But still, this kid is putting up crazy numbers. He's rushing, receiving, returning punts and kicks and also playing tough 'D'.
Tyler Ford, QB/DB/P, Souhegan - will play WR in college but on this team they need him to play QB. He has been making big plays with his arm and legs all year long, leading the Sabers to a perfect record in D-III play.