As we have every post-season since 2008 we turn our championship game previews over to the people who know these teams better than anyone; the coaches who faced them during the season.
We asked eight head coaches to breakdown Saturday’s championship games using blind quotes.
We will have coverage of both games on Saturday. All the highlights plus the post-game interview with the entire winning team.
Pete Tarrier & Ian Melewski will be covering the Division I championship while Jennifer Chick-Ruth and I will have all the coverage of the Division II championship.
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Goffstown vs. Nashua North game will be played at Bedford
The last two undefeated teams in Division I square off for the title on Saturday afternoon.
We asked four coaches who faced them during the season to break the teams down. Starting with the Goffstown Grizzlies.
“The thing that stands out about Goffstown right away is their size. That is a very strong and talented group, Matt Dalton is just a terrific player, and that size continues across the board. Their quarterback (Jarrett) Henault is 6’3 215 and he isn’t going down on the first contact. Their wide receivers like (Caden) Perry have the speed to get open and after they get in a rhythm with the ground game they will hit you for the 55 yard, 65 yard..touchdown.”
A fellow playoff coach agreed. “Henault is a problem when you go up against Goffstown. He can make all the throws and he runs hard. I’d have to believe he is one of the leaders in our division in yards after the first contact. They just bring a physical style to the game a lot of teams struggle to match.”
“They will pull their lineman and get their running back (Zach) Picard running downhill on you and it makes them very tough to defend. They are one of the biggest teams we have ever gone against since I’ve been coaching.”
What will be a key for Nashua North on Saturday?
“You have to win 1st and 2nd down against Goffstown. When we played them our defense held up pretty well. But then they are in 3rd and short and maybe 4th and a yard, they spread you out and then run Henault behind that big line. It creates a lot of stress on your defense and helps them control the clock.”
What about the Goffstown defense?
“Again it starts in the trenches, they are very strong up the middle, and that allows their linebackers to attack the ball. When we played them we were able to move the ball between the 30 (yards lines) pretty well but couldn’t execute in the red zone.”
“Nick (Hammond) and his staff do a really good job. They adjust well and they have good depth. They tackle well and are very sound defensively.”
What about the Nashua North Titans?
“The biggest difference for us, in what we saw on film and then saw in person, was their team speed. They were faster than they looked on film and they are very big as well.”
“What stands out about them offensively is that they have four or five players with breakaway speed. Curtis (Harris-Lopez) is the best offensive player in our division. He makes it looks easy and trust me it’s not. It’s not just him though. Jayden Espinal will kill you on the jet sweep and Lucas Cunningham was a match-up nightmare for us. What an athlete that kid is.”
Another coach talked about North’s experience under head coach Dante Laurendi. “They are a very experienced group and you can tell Dante trusts his players. They will be very aggressive, especially on defense. Yes, you can hit them for a big play because of it but they are also going to get you for a lot of minus yardage plays that take you out of what you want to do on that possession.”
Another coach talked about the Titans close call with Salem. “I thought going into that game that Salem was going to be a tough match-up for them. North will be aggressive on defense and Salem will use that against you. They pin you with a block and they are gone.”
Another coach talked about the Titans defense.
“They have a ton of talent on defense. Jack Peters was terrific against us, Liam Novak is very good and Lucas Cunningham gave us fits. I love how Max Ackerman and Spencer Whiting play. It’s just a very strong group.”
“Then you talk about Curtis (Harris-Lopez). When we played them we decided to run the option away from him, making him the weak side safety. Well, we run a play to the opposite side, just as we planned, and next thing you know he darts across the field and gets us for a 5-yard loss. Just flew across the field.”
“I said to my coaches, ‘Ok well we’re done running the option...’”
What will be the keys for both teams on Saturday?
“Goffstown can score with North but they are going to have to tackle them in space.”
Another coach we spoke to agreed. “Curtis has a different gear. When he turns that corner, he’s gone. Goffstown has to limit those long touchdown runs because when he gets a step, it's six points.”
So who do you think wins?
“Nashua North in a close one.”
“I’ll go with Nashua North taking over late.”
“Nashua North wins it in the fourth quarter.”
My pick: Nashua North
Plymouth at Souhegan
We asked Division II coaches to breakdown Saturday’s championship game between the two pre-season favorites in their conference.
Starting with Robin Bowkett’s Souhegan Sabers.
“The first thing you notice with Souhegan is their speed. They fly to the ball,” said a head coach who faced the Sabers. “Alex Karpawich is a stud for them; he is a problem for opposing teams.”
Another coach we spoke to agreed on the Sabers strength. “Everything they do they do quickly. They score quickly and they attack the ball with a lot of speed as well.”
“Riley Lawhorn is a terrific back and they use Mike Maroun as a lead blocker, and he’s very good. Then when their QB (Austin) Jain gets into a rhythm they become an elite team.”
Another coach we spoke to talked about all-state wide receiver Luke Manning. “He’s just a very skilled, very smart player and Robin finds creative ways to get him involved in the offense. A year ago they didn’t have the rushing attack to set up their passing game but (Riley) Lawhorn has been as good as any back in our division this year.”
What makes Souhegan so tough to beat?
“Their experience and their depth,” said a coach who faced the Sabers recently. “You watch the film on them and it’s the same guys every week. They have stayed healthy and that’s a huge factor in their success. Robin does a very good job. He is very creative offensively and defensively they run a base defense but they execute it well.”
A fellow playoff coach agreed. “They’re very fast sideline to sideline. You can get them on the big play and you will see Plymouth take shots downfield with (Cody) Bannon but they have a lot of experience on defense. They know their role and where they are supposed to be.”
How would you attack Souhegan if you were Plymouth?
“I think you’ll see Chris (Sanborn) and Tom (Lamb) send a lot of pressure at Austin Jain. He doesn’t like to be pressured. When his feet are set in the pocket he throws a really good ball but when he’s pressured he doesn’t get it out very well. Plymouth always has big physical defensive backs and you’ll see them try to throw off the timing of that offense.”
Next, we asked opposing coaches to breakdown the Plymouth Bobcats, who are making their 5th consecutive championship game appearance under head coach Chris Sanborn.
“It starts with their defense. They are very sound and disciplined in what they do. Cole Johnston can really disrupt your offense, he tough to block. Sean Griffiths gives them really good size and ability on the line. Across the board, they are very solid.”
“Plymouth was the most physical team we played all season. They also adjust quickly, when we faced them they were quick to recognize what we were doing and we, in turn, had to adjust. Coach Sanborn has seen it all at this point and he has smart players. They adjust because they know their roles and understand the system.”
Another coach talked about what you’ll see from the Bobcats defense. “Plymouth will move around pre-snap and that can confuse your lineman. It makes your blocking scheme tougher to execute.”
We asked a third coach how he expected Plymouth to do against the Souhegan spread attack? “They play cover-4 extremely well. When we played them they were able to take us out of some of the things we wanted to do.”
“Their outside linebackers get width, they will cover a lot of ground and take away inside and curl routes. You have to be patient against them, take the check down pass, and be happy with 6 yards instead of 15.”
A fellow playoff coach agreed. “Plymouth has always defended spread teams very well.”
What about the Plymouth offense?
“They have several good weapons; Cody Bannon, Cole Johnston, Joe D’Ambruoso, Ian Tryder, Trevan Sanborn…they can all hurt you. They run their system and they are never worried about stats it’s about getting positive yardage, controlling the clock, and converting when you need a first down.”
A fellow coach also talked about the Bobcats offense. “They beat us on the line and that’s the way I think they will approach Souhegan.”
“Souhegan is a faster team so I think you see Plymouth go with a heavy lineup and try to control the clock, take a lot of time between plays and just wear them down.”
So who wins it on Saturday?
“I think Souhegan will win it. Playing at home puts them over the top.”
“ If it is close late then I think Plymouth wins it. They have been here before and know how to close it out, whereas Souhegan hasn’t been in a close game all season.”
My pick: Well I’ve been waiting for this one all season……….my head tells me Souhegan but I think it will be really close, so I’m picking Plymouth in a game I expect to come down to the final play.