Somersworth and Newport have shared the top of the Division IV power rankings since both schools, recently successful in Division III, moved down a division in 2020.
Newport won the 2020 COVID year title in a season that was strange enough already before you even point out that Somersworth made the championship game after playing ONE regular season game.
I think we can all agree that 2020 was a year we were all just trying to get through…
Newport was lined up to repeat in 2021, finishing the regular season undefeated, which included a 24-7 win over the Hilltoppers.
That was until fourth-seeded Fall Mountain, who had lost 35-0 to the Tigers on September 24th, shocked Newport and the entire division with a 21-6 semifinal upset.
Somersworth would beat Fall Mountain one week later and repeated a year ago after a two-game sweep of their rival Newport.
In 2023, the favorites remain the same, but the intrigue has been dialed up a notch.
“Somersworth and Newport are still the teams to beat, but the gap between them and the rest of the division seems to have narrowed,” said one opposing head coach.
Somersworth must replace four/fifths of their offensive line while Newport graduated their entire backfield and their best receiver.
Both teams have questions coming into the season, and the teams behind them have improved.
Today, in our eighth and final pre-season preview, we look at Division IV.
Our preview is brought to you by our great friend and partner, Kevin Shaw, at Roche Realty, the #1 realtor in the Lakes Region.
Look for our new Kevin Roche Realty commercial coming soon!
Division IV Predicted Order (* playoff team )
Bishop Brady *
The two-time defending champions have enough offensive firepower to win a third straight title.
The question is, how does a new-look offensive line come together in front of them?
“ We lost four of our five starters on the line, and that unit was a strength of our team last season,” said head coach Jeremy Lambert.
“ We really like the guys we have plugged into those spots. I’ve been encouraged here in the pre-season, but we have a lot of players stepping up into more significant roles this season.”
Eric Goodrich takes over at quarterback after patiently waiting for his opportunity behind three-year starter Jeff DeKorne. “ Eric is ready to go; he has worked with Jeff the last few seasons and waited for his opportunity,” said Lambert.
“ He’s more of a traditional pocket passer, and being a lefty, the defense will have to adjust.”
All-state running back Tayshwn Sheppard returns after rushing for 642 yards and five touchdowns a year ago. “ I don't think there is a better back in our division,” said Lambert. “ He had to split carries with (all-state back Calvin Lambert) the past two seasons, but it’s his time now.”
Joining Sheppard in a loaded backfield will be returning starters Kaden Bickford, Blayne Belanger, Seth Worrell, fullback Carter Morgan, and Thomas Rees.
“ We love the depth we have at that position,” said Lambert. “It will allow us to keep guys fresh for the fourth quarter.”
The offensive and defensive lines will be anchored by 6’4, 315 lb. Cam Dubois, along with Lukas Kelly, whom Lambert praised for making the team first decision to move from fullback to the offensive line.
The defense should once again be one of the best in the division and will be led by Rees at linebacker, Dubois and Kelly on the line, and Jack Welch at DE/TE.
“ We lost twelve seniors, but the players behind them are ready for their opportunity,” said Lambert. “ The goal is to end up right where we were last November.”
With thousand-yard rusher Tyler Gobin graduated, John Proper’s Newport Tigers are going to get creative with their running game, namely with where they line up potential player of the year Kyle Ashley.
“ We are going to move Kyle around on both sides of the ball,” said Proper. “ That’s how we can best take advantage of his abilities.”
Ashley started at quarterback a year ago, passing for 441 yards and rushing for 347, and will again see time behind center, but he will share the position with fellow returner Aaron Fellows.
“ Kyle has the size and the talent to be the best player in the division,” said Proper. “ When he is focused, he is a problem for the other team, and his focus and leadership have improved this season.”
Joining Ashley and Fellows in the backfield will be sophomore Kobie Curtis. A talented group of receivers and tight ends will be led by Christian Forsythe and much improved tight end Aiden Couitt.
“ Aiden has been impressive,” said Proper. “ He always had the size and ability, but he has put the work in to become a better receiver, and it’s paying off. He’s going to be a big factor for us.”
Three starters return on the offensive line: Logan Ash, Camden Pollari, and Cayden Decato.
The defense will be led by Ashley, a player so disruptive that in last November's championship game, Somersworth checked where he lined up on every play and ran the ball in the opposite direction.
Fellows will lead the Tigers secondary, while Ash will anchor the defensive line.
“ I’ve been happy with the effort and attitude in the pre-season,” said Proper. “ We are taking it one game at a time and hoping to play our best football at the end of the season.”
The Bishop Brady Giants have always had playmakers, just not enough depth around them.
New head coach Rob Clauss, a longtime Nashua South assistant coach, hopes an increase in numbers will result in an increase in wins.
“ I didn’t take over a team that has struggled,” said Clauss, who has twenty-eight players in the program. “ This was a playoff team who had two of their three losses come against Somersworth and Newport.”
“ We have good football players, and the vibe in the pre-season has been very good.”
Todd Shepard returns at quarterback and has impressed his head coach with his ability to pick up the new offense. “ He has caught on quickly,” said Clauss. “ Todd is a good athlete and a smart kid. You have a lot of success with players like that.”
Track standout Josh Gentchos has blazing speed and will be joined by 6’5 receiver Brady Woodbury and Talon Perkins.
Clauss sees potential in an offensive and defensive line that will be anchored by Evan Dow, Jason Doyle, all-state performer Luke Jackson, and powerful freshman Ray Weatherbee, who is 5’11 and 275 lb. “ A lot of new pieces, but that group is working hard and coming together well,” said Clauss.
Ian Miller will lead the defense at linebacker, and all-state cornerback Talon Perkins in the secondary.
“ If we can stay relatively healthy and develop our depth, then we have a chance to be a pretty good football team,” said Clauss. “ I’m cautiously optimistic. It takes time to learn any new system, but I have been very impressed with the effort level and how quickly they are picking it up.”
Before Newport and Somersworth arrived, Division IV was dominated by the Winnisquam Bears, who won back-to-back titles in 2018 & 2019.
Dave Allar’s team returns a strong nucleus from a team that lost their last three games and missed the playoffs in 2022. “ We got off to a strong start by beating a good Bishop Brady team, but we couldn’t sustain it,” said Allar. “ The focus is to finish strong this season.”
Alex Nichols returns as a three-year starter at quarterback (older brother Phil led the team to back-to-back titles), and Allar sees a more focused senior leader.
“We had a conversation before the season, and he told me he understands this is it. This is his last go around in high school,” said Allar. “ He is becoming a better leader, and I think he’s set to have a very good season for us.”
Chris Biancardi was set to play a significant role last season, but a season-ending injury suffered in Week 2 against Newport took away an essential piece for the Bears. “ Having him back has helped,” said Allar.
Brady Colby will lead the backfield along with Nick Puffinburger. “Brady is a big, strong kid,” said Allar. “ He’s going to make a difference for us.”
The Bears should have depth at receiver/tight end, a group led by Frankie McComiskey, Avery Woods, and Ethan Carter.
Patrick Kenny, John Shea, and 6’7 Ben Otis will anchor the offensive and defensive lines. “ I see our play on the line being a real strength for us,” said Allar. “ We have a lot of confidence in that group.”
Nichols and Biancardi will lead the linebackers, while McComiskey will head the Bears secondary group.
“ We want to get back to the playoffs. That’s the focus and the goal,” said Allar. “ The kids have been working hard and are excited to go out and compete.”
Tim Snow’s Franklin Golden Tornadoes will lean on their three-year starter at quarterback as they look to improve on a 1-6 record last season.
“ The numbers are very low, so staying healthy is critical,” said Snow. “We only have twenty-one players on the roster, so everyone needs to be ready to contribute.”
Zeke McCoy returns for his third season behind center “ bigger, stronger, and smarter,” according to his head coach. “ He’s a heck of a player and has developed into a strong leader for us,” said Snow.
Harrison Kaplan will lead the wide receiver group, while Cameron Labrecque will line up at tight end.
Joining McCoy in the backfield will be running back Ryan Mango, who will run behind an offensive line led by three-year starter Chris Supry and brother Steven. “ Chris is fast and aggressive and has a lot of experience,” said Snow. “ Both brothers set a good tone for us in the trenches.”
George Sarkis is expected to contribute right away on both sides of the ball.
“ I’ve been happy with our progress in the pre-season,” said Snow. “For us, it’s about the younger players being able to contribute and putting our playmakers in a position to succeed.”