Four teams remain in contention for the Division I title; defending champion Londonderry, defending Division II champion Timberlane and powerhouse programs Pinkerton Academy and Bedford, who each have recent titles of their own.
Today we'll preview both games; next week, we will have three Division I head coaches break down the championship match-up.
Pete Tarrier and Ian Melewski will be in Plaistow on Friday night when the 6-seed Timberlane Owls take on the 10-seed Bedford Bulldogs for a spot in next week's championship at Exeter high school.
We'll have all the highlights, plus the post-game interview/celebration with the winning team!
Our preview is brought to you by Exeter Hospital’s Sports Medicine Team
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Pinkerton Academy at Londonderry
If Londonderry wins the game, it will be because: Their defense, maybe the best in the state, held the Astros running game in check for a second time. In the first meeting between the two teams, a 31-6 Lancers win, the Astros rushed for only 86 yards on 34 carries for only 2.5 yards per carry. The Lancers linebackers (Andrew Soucy, Trevor Weinmann, Nate Pedrick & Jack Drabik) have been elite, along with safety Dylan Wrisley and defensive tackles Ryan Pemberton and Michael Sampson.
If Pinkerton wins the game, it will be because: They took away the big plays and held the Londonderry running game in check. The Astros held Londonderry to 3.2 per carry in the first meeting, and this is a defense playing better by the week. Drew Heenan's two touchdown passes broke open that game and the issue was Pinkerton’s inability to generate any offense. To turn the tables, the Astros offense needs to produce, the defense needs to hold all-state receiver Andrew Kullman, Trevor Weinmann, and company in check.
My pick: Pinkerton has been impressive but I'm not picking against Lauzon's crew.
Bedford at Timberlane
If Timberlane wins the game, it will be because: Their late game execution prevails again. This game isn't going to be about Xs and Os; these are two excellent coaching staffs and two terrific teams. This game will be about who takes advantage when they get a turnover on the opponents' side of the field or who can make fourth-down stops in the red zone. The Owls went to the wire to beat Concord (20-14) and Exeter (29-28). That carries enormous weight because if this game is as close as we expect it to be, they will have confidence that they'll pull out a win late. This is a team that won the Division II championship a year ago and playing at home on Friday night. They'll have tremendous confidence that they can win this game late.
If Bedford wins the game, it will be because: An elite defense held the Timberlane offense in check, and the rushing attack led by Logan Sfeir, Colby Snow, and Leger Russell, controlled the game and the clock. The Owls may have the deepest receiving group in the division but the Bulldogs are the best defense Timberlane has seen all season. If they can hold them in check and win a 14-7, 21-14 type of game, the Bulldogs will move on to their first championship game since they won it in 2018.
My pick: Complete toss up game..I'll go with Timberlane because the game is in Plaistow but...this is as even as match-ups come.