Well folks, it all comes down to this - Championship Saturday. Are these 3 games being hyped up too much? Absolutely not. It gives extra sizzle to these championship games, since there is only 3 of them. There's only 3 divisions now instead of 6, so now being a state champion is truly a BIG deal.
There's only 6 teams left standing. 3 of them are undefeated. 2 of them only have 1 loss. The other team has 2 losses and that team just beat a previously undefeated team by 3 scores. All 6 of these teams are legit. They deserve to play on the big stage at UNH. Saturday is going to be a great day for NH football. All 3 if these games are tossups - there will be no upsets. Best of luck and let the best teams win.
Here's how I voted in this week's ESPN NH Friday Night Lights football poll.
7. St. Thomas
Briefly why I voted that way...
1. Pinkerton - the #1 team will be decided on Saturday when Pinkerton takes on Bedford at UNH at 6 pm. Both teams are 11-0. I have Pinkerton one notch ahead, as the slight favorite because they are the healthier team and they've had a greater margin of victory.
2. Bedford - see Pinkerton.
3. Exeter - Other than Bedford and Pinkerton, nobody was playing better come playoff time than the Blue Hawks. Thy gave Bedford all they could handle in the semis. Exeter is still one of the standards by which a NH high school football program is measured. They play the game hard, they play the right way. They're disciplined. You don't see them arguing with the refs are getting whistled for unsportsmanlike penalties. They're always in the hunt for a title and their teams are strong at all levels.
4. Londonderry - the Lancers are 1 spot ahead of Salem, because they barely beat the Blue Devils and other than that game they beat all of the same teams and lost to the same teams (Pinkerton).
5. Salem - this should have been a playoff team.
6. Windham - one spot ahead of St. Thomas, because Windham is undefeated and STA has 1 loss.
7. St. Thomas - very impressive win for STA over Kennett in the semis. They had to make a long bus ride up there to take on a previously undefeated team and beat them up on their own field. The Saints are a scary team right now. The loss to Laconia is a distant memory.
8. Concord - a solid team, they gave Bedford a tough game both times they played. Concord is one spot ahead of Portsmouth, a team they rolled past.
9. Portsmouth - Portsmouth gets the edge over Goffstown. They beat Goffstown head to head and had a better regular season record. The Clippers proved they can play with the big boys and belong in D-I.
10. Goffstown - with how good Exeter ended up being, it makes Goffstown's 28-14 win over the Blue hawks even more impressive. Hard to make a case for a D-III team to be on here after previously unbeaten Bow fell to a 2-loss Campbell team 26-7. And it's hard to justify Kennett being here after they got beat up by St. Thomas on their own field. Goffstown is worthy of a top 10 ranking.
A few thoughts on the 3 games being played Saturday...
D-I Bedford (11-0) vs. Pinkerton (11-0)
You can't hype this game up enough. Two undefeated teams meeting in the Division I title game, something that has never happened before. Both teams are undefeated, but Pinkerton has beaten their opponents by more points - does that make them the favorite? Or do we give the edge to Bedford for being the more battle tested team, the one who has been in more close games and had to overcome more adversity? Bedford was able to beat Exeter without Mr. Football candidate Michael Vailas, but can they beat Pinkerton without him?
"I think since we had to play a tougher game in the semis that helps us" said Bedford head coach Kurt Hines after the Exeter game.
The combination of Pinkerton's size up front (linemen like Hayden Sturdevant and Bryson Pacocha) with their speedy back TJ Urbanik has been too much for any team to handle. How will Bedford match up? Pinkerton usually likes to run to the edge (in the past with guys like Emmitt Smith and Manny Latimore and now with Urbanik), however that is definitely a strength of the Bedford defense with defensive ends Eric Glassman and Ryan Belz. It will be interesting to see how those match ups play out. And while we'll have to see how Bedford matches up with Pinkerton's size, we'll also have to see how Pinkerton is able to match up with Bedford's overall team speed.
Pinkerton QB Jack Hanaway resides in Bedford and will be playing against the kids he grew up with as teammates. Pinkerton has made the D-I title game for the 10th time in 11 years. Some people grumble about the Astros and say that it's not fair because their enrollment is over 3,500 which is far more than the other D-I schools. But if PA really had that big of an advantage they would be perennial powers in all sports. But instead it's only football and maybe a couple other sports where they dominate. So instead of complaining you just have to give props to Coach O'Reilly (in his 37th year) and his staff (he's had the same assistants for most of those 37 years).
Bedford meanwhile hopes to build a similar program. They have made the title game for the third time in the past 4 years, each time in a higher division. The number of kids they have playing in their program at all levels is through the roof, especially relative to their enrollment. The Bulldogs are looking for their first football title in school history.
D-II Windham (10-0) vs. St. Thomas (9-1)
Here's another tossup for you. Yes, St. Thomas lost to a 4-4 Laconia team but they took a long bus ride up to Kennett and crushed a previously unbeaten Eagles team in the semis so clearly that Laconia game is a distant memory. Special teams will be critical in this game. n each game where I've seen these teams play they have returned a kick and/or a punt for a TD. Both teams also have solid kickers, especially Windham's Anthony Gallo who has a video up on Hudl where he kicks a 45, 50 and a 54 yard FG successfully.
These are the 2 teams who were picked to be in this game in the preseason and they haven't disappointed. Two teams that could definitely compete in D-I, and 2 quarterbacks (Windham senior Brendan McInnis and St. Thomas junior Stephen Hedberg) who are right up there among the top QBs in the state, regardless of division.
This is a rematch of the 2011 Division V title game, which was won by St. Thomas to complete an undefeated season for the Saints in Eric Cumba's first season as head coach. Back then Windham was still a very new program, so just the fact that they made the finals that year was a great accomplishment.
You not only have 2 of the division's top QBs but you also have 2 of the division's best, hardest hitting defenders with Jesse Quintero from St. Thomas and Kurtis Jolicoeur of Windham. Both teams have a lot of weapons, they're both physical and are both very fast. This game is going to be an all-out battle.
Division III: Newport (9-1) vs. Campbell (8-2)
This game (like the other 2 on Saturday) is a tossup. But if you had to pick a favorite in this one it would actually be the lower seeded team, as Campbell is coming off a HUGE 26-7 win over previously unbeaten Bow. Bow had dominated D-III all year and some people were already crowning them champions. So the fact that Campbell not only beat them but beat them by 3 scores speaks volumes to how well they're playing right now.
The first time these teams played Campbell won in a nail-biter 21-20 back in September. You can expect another battle this time around.
This is a much bigger stage and more pressure than most of these kids are used to. Execution and discipline will be key. Holding onto the ball, not committing penalties and winning the field position battle will also be key. Not to mention the battle in the trenches.
The New Hampshire Notebook will be covering all 3 games on Saturday