As we do every year for the football championship games at UNH we turn the preview over to the people that know these teams better than anyone, the coaches that faced them during the season.
We talked to eight coaches and asked them to breakdown the match-ups using blind quotes.
We will be covering all three championship games on Sunday, bringing you all the highlights and the post-game interview with the entire winning team on the field at UNH.
You can listen to Justin McIsaac & I call the games LIVE on the MOSN Network and our website before you watch the highlights the following day.
Today’s scouting reports are brought to you by our friends and partners at Concord Orthopaedics with locations in Concord, Derry, Windham and New London.
Next week we will hand out our post-season awards for Player and Coach of the Year in each division with Jennifer Chick-Ruth, Justin McIsaac & I revealing our Top 3 in each category.
(2) Exeter vs. (1) Londonderry
Bill Ball’s Exeter Blue Hawks make their 5th championship game appearance in 10 seasons and waiting for them at UNH on Sunday night will be the only unbeaten team in the top three divisions.
We asked two coaches that faced Jimmy Lauzon’s Lancers during the season to breakdown the top seed in Division I.
“What makes them great is they have no weaknesses, they are just strong across the board,” said one head coach who faced Londonderry. “It’s starts with their quarterback Jake McEachern, who can beat you by running the ball or throwing to his two terrific wideouts (Cole Keegan & Alex Tsetsilas).”
“Then you add in (Jeff) Weidenfeld and you have essentially four big time players to game plan for. Is Weidenfeld the best back in the state? Maybe not, but he is among to the top 5.”
Another head coach talked about the balance of the Lancers. “They are athletic at every position, and that includes the offensive & defensive lines. They are a team that can beat you however you choose. When we played them we decided to focus on stopping the run and McEachern just threw over the top and beat us with their two all-state wide receivers.”
Coaches talked about the player who is Londonderry’s X-Factor.
“It’s Tyler Kayo. He is a battering ram. He is their blitz linebacker and one of their best tacklers, someone who will run through anyone. When Weidenfeld needs a break they give the ball to Kayo and he runs people over. He just does so much for them.”
A fellow coach agreed. “To me Kayo is the heart & soul of that defense, a defense that really has been overshadowed by their offense.”
“Their defense has been very good and when they stop you running the ball you try to beat them over the top. Well they have the best secondary in the state. Their two all-state wide receivers Tsetsilas and Keegan are their key secondary players.”
“It’s just very hard to attack them. They use Will Reyes to blitz you from the secondary; it’s just a lot of handle for your offense.”
The coaches also praised head coach Jimmy Lauzon.
“Jimmy has done a terrific job building that program to where it is today. He is very patient as a play caller. They will take what you give them and he has no problem changing his approach based on where they can attack you.”
What about Bill Ball’s Exeter Blue Hawks?
“ You know what you’re going to get from Exeter; they are going to try to control the clock, limit the amount of possessions Londonderry gets and win the field possession game.”
A fellow coach agreed. “ Exeter is going to be able to compete with Londonderry. (The Lancers) have worn teams down, you’ve seen teams hang with them for 3 quarters but not for a complete game. I think Exeter is the first team that will do that.”
“ The strength of their team is obviously running the football. Derek Edminston and Jaedon Cliche have been terrific this season. When they get in open space they have the speed to break the run and they also are both very good blocking backs.”
“ This is a fun match-up because you have this very good young coach (Jimmy Lauzon) with an excellent staff against really the Zhar of New Hampshire high school football in Bill Ball and his excellent staff of coaches. Exeter is going to have a very tough week of practice and they will be ready. They will use all 25 seconds on the play clock, they’ll go over to the sideline on offense on each play and they will be ok punting the ball away if it backs Londonderry up against their goal line.”
Coaches talked about quarterback Ryan Grijalva.
“ He’s been very, very good. He has good size for a quarterback and he can really throw the ball. Exeter wants to beat you with their off-tackle run and then have Grijalva take shots down the field.”
“ I would bet that in their practices Exeter spends most of their time on defense and special teams. The reason being that these kids have been running this offense since they were little. They know the offense inside & out.”
What does Londonderry need to be ready for on Sunday?
“ Really the pace and the poise of Exeter. They are a veteran group with a veteran coaching staff. I don’t see them getting out of their game plan if they go down a couple of scores early. To win I think Exeter has to get Londonderry to turn it over. Exeter is a team that rarely turns the ball over themselves.”
“ One factor to me is the schedules these two have played. Londonderry is very battle tested while Exeter only had one close game all season long in their loss to Nashua North. Does that make a difference? I’m not sure but Londonderry has been in more games that weren’t decided after three quarters.”
So who wins the last game of the 2019 football season?
“ Londonderry does, by two scores.”
“ Londonderry but I think it is closer than a lot of people think.”
“ I definitely could see Exeter winning, talent usually wins out and I’d give that edge to Londonderry, but Exeter has enough to beat them.”
“ Londonderry has to be the favorite but I think it will not be decided until the fourth quarter.”
My pick: Londonderry 35, Exeter 21
(6) Plymouth vs. (5) Hollis-Brookline
How unpredictable have the Division II playoffs been? Hollis-Brookline was the lower seed in both the quarterfinal and semifinal round but now don their home uniforms as the higher seed in the championship game.
We asked two playoff coaches to breakdown the team's meeting for the title. Starting with the red-hot Cavaliers.
“It all starts with their quarterback Sander Wimmer. In my 20 years of coaching, I haven’t seen many as good as he is. He can beat you with his arm but I think his strength is in his ability to escape the pocket and beat you with his legs,” said one coach who faced the Cavaliers.
The other coach we spoke to agreed. “The key with (Sander) Wimmer is keeping your eyes on him and not letting him beat you running the football. I don’t think his strength is necessarily in seeing the field, I think it is in his ability to get the ball to his playmakers where they can fight for the ball and make a play. They are very tough to beat man to man and I do not think you’ll see Plymouth try to cover them that way.”
“I think the mistake a lot of teams make against Hollis-Brookline is thinking you have to stop their passing game to beat them. Yes, they have a good passing game but it was their ability to run the football they gave us the most problems. Their main running back (Marc-Andre Thermitus) does not go down on the first hit and overall they are a big team. You have to tackle them low because they will run through tackles.”
One of the coaches we spoke to talked about the Hollis-Brookline receivers. “Blake Bergeson is their best receiver; he really hurt us when we faced them. Quinten Wimmer is very good as well, he fights for the ball and you have to put a bigger body on him to compete with his size & strength.”
“Their line is solid but most of all I came away very impressed with the job Chris Lones and his staff has done. They are very well-coached and they do a very good job executing that offense.”
“With the Hollis-Brookline defense you have to loosen them up by throwing the football,” noted one coach we spoke to. “Otherwise they are just going to put 8 players in the box.”
What about the 3-time defending champions?
“It’s cliché at this point but the first word I use to describe them is ‘disciplined’. They just are coached up very well and very aware of their assignments.”
“Plymouth takes away what you do best. They will try to turn Hollis-Brookline into a one-dimensional team and my guess is they take away the running game, play a zone defense that mixes up its looks and forces Sander Wimmer to beat them throwing it 40 times.”
A fellow coach agreed. “Plymouth doesn’t have the athletes to cover Hollis-Brookline man to man. They will mix up their looks and that secondary will be in the right spots. They are very well-coached.”
What are the keys to Chris Sanborn’s team winning?
“Eliminating Hollis-Brookline’s possessions. You do that with longer ball control drives, managing the clock. If say Hollis-Brookline usually gets 12 possessions a game, hold them to 8.”
Another coach talked about what you face when you play the Bobcats. “They don’t do anything great but they do everything well. They are not the best team we saw all year, Milford was, but they execute very well. I also think their quarterback (Cody) Bannon is very underrated. He can beat you throwing the football and they set up those big plays very well.”
So what is your prediction for Sunday afternoon?
“My head says Hollis-Brookline but my heart says Plymouth. I’m going with Plymouth again.”
“Plymouth. I think they run the ball on Hollis-Brookline all day and limit their possessions.”
My pick: Plymouth 21, Hollis-Brookline 17
(2) Trinity vs. (1) Lebanon
We asked two Division III coaches who faced both teams this season to breakdown Sunday’s first championship game.
First the top-seeded Raiders.
“Lebanon has so many weapons. Wade Rainey is a terrific back and Jon Willeman is the best quarterback in our division but it doesn’t end with those two. Phillip Mellish is a terrific blocker, a kid who just loves to hit people and Caleb Smith is really, really good. They lost a very good player when (WR) Jackson Stone went out with an injury but they have barely skipped a beat.”
“I think Trinity has overwhelmed teams with their speed for most of the season but Lebanon can match their athleticism.”
Another Division III coach agreed. “I love their skill position players. Mellish is maybe the most underrated back in our division and Caleb Smith was a problem for us. We struggled to match-up with him.”
What about Lebanon quarterback Jon Willeman?
Both coaches weighed in.
“Willeman is a very smart, very patient player. He takes his time in the pocket and even around pressure, never seems to lose his cool. When he runs the ball he allows his blockers to set up in front of him before he decides where he is going. There is just a poise to him that you don’t see very often.”
“I think Willeman is a fantastic player,” praised another coach we spoke to. “Wade Rainey is a terrific back and overall it is a team that complements each other very well. The Trinity linebackers are the strength of their team, they get to anyone with the ball. I have seen Trinity enough to know they can overwhelm you with their speed but I believe that advantage is negated by Lebanon, who is also very fast.”
“Where Willeman kills you is when he escapes the pocket and runs. That’s where he turns into one of the best runners we saw all year.”
How about the Trinity Pioneers?
“They have speed everywhere,” said one head coach we spoke to. “They will go with a full house backfield and sometimes run out of the I-formation. When they go full house and they have two backs blocking in front of the ball carrier, it makes them very difficult to stop.”
“Their tight end Jacob Brown is really good and has great size. If you overplay the run they will throw the ball to their tight ends. They are very successful when they get you in the defensive look they want.”
What about star running back John Thibeault?
“John is absolutely terrific. He was a good back when he was younger (at Newport) but he has gone to a different level. He’s bigger and he is very elusive. You often times know what they are running and he is so good that you still don’t stop them.”
A fellow coach agreed. “He’s very good. He’s a lot quicker in person that he even seems on film. They mostly zone block for him and that allows him to pick his hole in the line and hit it. He’s got very good instincts and look, when you have been the main back since you were a freshman in high school, you have a lot of experience to rely on.”
“Their linebackers are very quick to the ball and really effective. Botros Alisandro is a terrific cornerback, he can really cover any wide receiver in our division and that allows the linebackers the freedom to attack the ball carrier.”
Who do you think wins on Sunday?
“Lebanon. They have been the best team in our division all season.”
“If forced to pick I’ll go with Lebanon but I do think it will be very close and that Trinity can win.”
My pick: Lebanon 21, Trinity 17