We expected the Division II playoffs to be nuts and it delivered, with three of the four lower seeds/road teams winning, but the chaos wasn’t only being unleashed in one division.
Fall Mountain went on the road and not only avenged a loss earlier in the season to (Justin McIsaac’s) Raymond Rams, they beat them 47-0. Hillsborough-Deering Hopkinton did the same thing in Division III to defending champion Monadnock, winning 54-14, and who saw Stevens over Campbell coming??
This weekend we’ll crown one champion in Division IV while six teams will punch their tickets to UNH next Sunday.
Matt Corsetti and ‘The Franchise’ Jennifer Chick-Ruth will be in Bow Saturday afternoon when the two hottest teams in Division II square off for a trip to the championship game.
We will have full coverage of Hollis-Brookline vs. Bow and the post-game interview with the entire winning team.
Later that day Austin Grass makes his triumphant return when he and I head to Laconia to bring you full coverage of the Division IV Championship game when defending champion Winnisquam takes on 3rd seed Fall Mountain.
Today’s semifinal preview is sponsored by our friends and partners at Great Bay Community College!
(3) Salem at (1) Londonderry
Salem has been knocking on the door for what seems like the last four or five years, hoping to earn a trip to UNH.
Can they run the football behind their excellent offensive line and three terrific running backs; Riley Mulvey, Brandon Wall, and Josh Maroun well enough to knock off the last unbeaten team in Division I?
The Lancers beat Pinkerton in their regular season match-up but last weekend’s 45-3 playoff trouncing was the stuff of Ralphie and Scut Farkas. They were pretty emphatic about taking care of The Undertakers (do I owe McIsaac money for calling them that?)
The strength of this Londonderry team is that they can beat you running the ball or throwing it, and on Saturday I think the Blue Devils see a steady diet of both. Not to mention the defense has been elite all season and forced 6 Astros turnovers last Saturday.
There is a chance this is the toughest win Londonderry earns on their way to the title, but I do think they earn their trip to Durham with a win over one of their biggest rivals.
My pick: Londonderry 28, Salem 14
(4) Merrimack at (2) Exeter
I’m not going to lie to you, when Nichole Marrero & I walked to the parking lot after covering the regular-season meeting between these two teams, at no point in the 10-minute walk did I say, “ Well, we are definitely going to see those teams battle again in the semifinals.”
The first meeting was pretty one-sided and although Merrimack was able to move the ball at times, they struggled in the red zone against the Blue Hawks defense.
Meanwhile, quarterback Ryan Grijalva had a terrific game throwing the football and it was a fake field goal that Exeter turned into a touchdown that seemed to open the flood gates.
One thing you can annually say about Kip Jackson coached teams is they never seem to underachieve, and this Merrimack team is no different.
Devin Wood led the state in receiving, both James Dowling & Kyle Crampton have played well at quarterback and there isn’t a team in New England that wouldn’t start TE/DE Jared Dyer.
Merrimack will keep it a lot closer this time around, but I still like Bill Ball’s team to meet Londonderry next Sunday night at UNH.
My pick: Exeter 35, Merrimack 14
(5) Hollis-Brookline at (1) Bow
To me, this is the most interesting game of the weekend and maybe the most entertaining as well. Good thing we are covering it...
Bow is going to line up and push you off of your spot. Of course, that is simplifying a very good system and what promises to be an excellent game plan (we found out in the first round that the Falcons weren’t showing Souhegan much in that close season finale game).
Chris Lones’ Cavaliers are going to have show Bow that they can stop their running game.
Steve Guerrette is the power back between the tackles while Tommy Rolla gives them speed to get around the edges. Hollis-Brookline jumped out to a 14-0 lead on Kennett before most people could get comfortable in their seats, and that turned the Eagles into a passing team in a hurry.
This week Hollis-Brookline will test a good Bow defense with the best passing attack in the state.
Quarterback Sander Wimmer has been absolutely terrific, a three-year starter in tune with what his head coach wants to run. Quinten Wimmer is a match-up nightmare with his chemistry with his QB/brother and ability to win 50/50 balls while Marc-Andrew Thermitus might be the most underrated running back in the division.
Blake Bergeson had 646 yards receiving this season. All those playmakers give Hollis-Brookline a lot of options and Bow a lot to game plan for.
Winner of this one will be the favorite at UNH in a lot of people’s minds, and I think it goes down to the last minute.
My pick: Bow 30, Hollis-Brookline 24 (OT)
(7) Alvirne at (6) Plymouth
Here we are again……a rematch of a terrific 2018 championship game and even as a 6 seed, Plymouth will be stretching on Zoulias Field around 12:45 on Saturday afternoon.
How did we get here?
Well first of all the Bobcats scored just as many touchdowns last weekend as Pelham, in a 14-12 win that we covered. They did hit their extra points and when the Pythons missed the PAT on their initial touchdown it put them behind the 8-ball for the rest of the game, forcing them to have to go for two points late in the fourth quarter.
It was by no means a perfect performance; Plymouth had a couple of big turnovers inside the Pelham 20 yard line as well as some poorly timed penalties, but when they had to, they executed. Cody Bannon became their best runner on the day and the defense was very good.
I didn’t think Alvirne would beat Milford because I didn’t think they could run the ball but the Broncos made some key adjustments the second time around and flipped the script 8 days after the Spartans beat them in overtime.
The Broncos love looking for 6’4 receiver Paul Manzi when they get into the red zone so look for Cody Bannon and the Bobcats secondary to put a bigger defender on him. Quarterback Kyle Gora has faced Plymouth in the playoffs before, and you expect him to play well again.
If this game was in Hudson I’d take Alvirne in a close game. It is not…so…….
My pick: Plymouth 28, Alvirne 21
(5) Hillsborough-Deering-Hopkinton at (1) Lebanon
The Red Hawks played maybe their best game of the season last weekend in knocking off the defending champions on their home field.
Colby Quiet had another terrific performance against Monadnock and it’s another step forward for Head Coach Jay Wood and his program. Now they get another shot at the top-seeded Raiders.
In the first meeting, Lebanon won the battle at the line of scrimmage and got a huge game out of all-state back Wade Rainey (158 yards and 3 touchdowns). For the Red Hawks to shock the division and advance to UNH they will need to flip the script. It starts with being more effective in the trenches.
Lebanon has been my pick to get to UNH since the preview in August,,, that hasn’t changed.
My pick: Lebanon 35, HD-Hopkinton 14
(6) Stevens at (2) Trinity
Playoff Paul Silva and the Cardinals did it again, knocking off Campbell on the road to advance to the semifinals via upset for the second straight season.
A year ago the team they knocked off was these same Trinity Pioneers, so you can bet that there will be no overlooking the 6-seed on Saturday.
Running back Keaghan McAllister was very good last week and Stevens got 60 yards rushing and 37 yards receiving out of Lucas Mudge. The Cardinals defense was the story though, holding the Cougars to 7 points.
McAllister had 13 tackles in the win while Quentin Bicknell had 11. They along with Tucker Derosier, Hunter Paradis, Phil Mason and Mudge all played key roles in the defensive effort.
To pull off a second straight upset they will need to contain John Thibault and a very good Trinity offense.
My pick: Trinity 21, Stevens 20
(3) Fall Mountain vs. (1) Winnisquam
The two best teams will be in Laconia Saturday night where temperatures are going to be in the teens. Does that favor one team or the other?
If it’s going to affect anyone it may be the two quarterbacks, who will have to throw a very hard football in some tough conditions.
The Bears rely on Phil Nichols throwing the football to Gunner Horman, Garrett Mango and Cooper French, but this is a multi-faceted offense that can beat you running the football as effectively as throwing it.
Orion Binney’s Fall Mountain team has been one of the best stories of the 2019 season. They’ll give the football to their lead running back Izaak Westover, who rushed for 817 yards on the season.
Quarterback Luke Gay only threw the football once or twice a game but he may be forced to more often if Winnisquam is leading late.
I think these teams are a lot closer than that 33-14 margin back on September 14th.
Fall Mountain is a different team, and a better team. The cold is going to affect both teams, what might be a bigger factor is where the game is being played.
Playing in Laconia is like a home game for Winnisquam, who won a title on this same field a year ago. Winnisquam high school is 10 miles away from Laconia while Fall Mountain will be traveling 87 miles.
I think that plays a factor.
My pick: Winnisquam 20, Fall Mountain 7
Quick note: As we do every season, next week's three championship game previews will be scouting reports from opposing coaches, using blind quotes.