Here's how I voted in the final, end of season ESPN NH Friday Night Lights football poll.
7. St. Thomas
Briefly, here's why I voted that way...
1. Pinkerton - undefeated D-I champs. Beat Bedford 37-0 to capture the state title. Pretty easy choice for the #1 spot here. You have to give credit to the Astros for dominating the way they did all season. This was one of the best NHIAA teams over the past few years, without question.
2. Londonderry - when it was all said and done, the 3 best teams in the state turned out to all be from the same conference - Pinkerton, Londonderry and Salem. Why do say that? Because Pinkerton is obviously #1, they went undefeated in D-I. Then you have Londonderry, Salem and Bedford, who clearly belong in spots 2 through 4 on this poll. Londonderry and Bedford - let's see here. Both the Lancers and Bulldogs lost to 1 team all year - Pinkerton. But Londonderry put up a much tougher fight. Plus they beat Salem head to head so clearly Londonderry is your #2 ranked team in the state.
3. Salem - Then it comes down to Bedford or Salem for #3. Obviously it's tough to say since these teams didn't play each other and the only common opponent is Pinkerton. But Salem gave Pinkerton their toughest game all year. The Blue Devils only lost by 1 TD. It went down to the final 30 seconds of the game. Salem came up short of scoring in the last minute - on the 1 yard line! They had 2 chances with the ball in the red zone in the last five minutes to send it to OT. Plus that was AT Pinkerton. Nobody all year gave Pinkerton such a tough game. And the only other loss for Salem was the controversial last second loss to Londonderry (my #2 team). Every other game the Blue Devils won in a landslide. Bedford meanwhile won all of their other games (they are a solid pick for the #4 spot) but could not compete on Pinkerton's level in the title game. Yes, Bedford played Pinkerton without Michael Vailas. But to be fair, Pinkerton was also playing shorthanded, as senior captain and FB/LB Hansen and junior OL/DL Hayden Sturdevant were sitting out with injuries for Pinkerton. Hansen and Sturdevant are 2 of Pinkerton's best players, who both start on both sides of the ball. In my opinion, Salem is your #3 team and Bedford is #4.
4. Bedford - Despite the title game loss, another great season for the Bulldogs. This is a very deep program, lots of talented kids who are excited to play for them. The school was built less than 10 years ago, yet they already have been to 3 title games (each time in a higher division) and are already one of the premier programs in the state. A.D. Bill Whitmore made a good decision hiring Kurt Hines. These guys will be back in the mix, watch out.
5. Windham - And undefeated championship season in D-II, and winning every game by 10 points or more. I'd say that is deserving of a top 5 ranking.
6. Exeter - the Blue Hawks are a solid pick in the #6 spot. They had another strong season and gave Bedford a very tough game both times they played.
7. St. Thomas - St. Thomas had a good run. Windham was unstoppable all season, yet the Saints gave the Jaguars all they could handle in the title game.
8. Concord - a second straight playoff berth for Concord. They get the slight nod over Portsmouth, who they beat head to head.
9. Portsmouth - Portsmouth is right behind Concord who they lost to, and just ahead of Goffstown who they beat.
10. Goffstown - the Grizzlies are my #10 team, for reasons already stated in last week's column.