Today we breakdown each of the first round playoff games being played this Saturday.
Justin McIsaac & I made our picks for each & every game from here until Durham and you can listen to that podcast here
With the playoff brackets up (thank you Eliot Bless) you can click between the regular season and the post-season stats, schedule and box scores up in the right-hand corner of the team pages and division standings.
Our preview today is sponsored by our friends & partners at Merrimack Valley Sports. The official sponsor of the coverage of Salem athletics!
(4) Pinkerton Academy at (1) Londonderry
I’ll repeat what I said to Pete Tarrier on our Saturday morning radio show and again to McIsaac on our Wednesday podcast; the Astros are the favorites in this one, not the top-seeded Lancers.
That doesn’t mean the Lancers won’t win, and in fact, I picked them to win, but they have to get over the hump against their arch-rival.
The last time Londonderry beat Pinkerton their starting quarterback Evan Cormier was pushing plastic trucks around a sandbox. So whether it is Ralphie vs. Scut Farkus, Rubble vs. Flinstone or Sideshow Bob vs. that rake it’s time for the script to flip.
Londonderry can exercise a lot of demons, and move one step closer to Durham, with a win on Saturday afternoon.
(3) Salem at (2) Winnacunnet
What stands out about the first meeting is that Salem was able to hold the Warriors rushing attack relatively in check. Winnacunnet rushed for 166 yards on 38 carries as QB Joe LaRosa put the ball up a season high 19 times.
Tough draw for Rob Pike & company to have to go on the road against a team they not only beat but finished a game ahead of but that’s the reward given to the four conference winners.
(4) Goffstown at (1) Bedford
A year ago as undefeated Winnacunnet was going up and down the field at UNH against a Pinkerton team many people (Pete & I included) had picked to win the game I turned to Londonderry coach Jimmy Lauzon (Pete’s color analyst for the game) and said ‘ I guess they really were a great team all along.”
So I’m getting that statement out of the way early this time, and I’m picking Derek Stank’s team to run the table in Division I.
I don’t think it will be easy, as it certainly wasn’t for Winnacunnet, who nearly lost to the Bulldogs in the first round a year ago.
I often mention my respect for the Goffstown program Justin Hufft has helped build and this year was no different.
The Grizzlies got off the mat and won six straight games after falling to 0-3. It just so happened they faced the other three playoff teams in their side of the bracket in the first three weeks of the season and if they had another shot at Merrimack or North I’d be very intrigued…but this one feels like a very steep mountain to climb in Bedford Saturday afternoon.
(3) Nashua North at (2) Merrimack
Pete Tarrier & Devin Poslusny will bring you all the highlights of this game on Saturday plus the post-game interview with the entire winning team.
This one might be the game of the day as the two western conference rivals battle again two weeks after the Tomahawks earned home field with a 32-24 victory.
A very good, very fast Merrimack defense led by Jared Dyer & Adam Thornton has to work to contain standout Titans running back Curtis Harris while Merrimack will spread the ball around to several playmakers including Ben Eichman & Tristan Wood.
(8) Hanover at (1) Plymouth
In the past three weeks, Hanover has gone from fighting for the top seed to sliding into the 8th and final spot in the playoffs.
Their task Saturday is as tall as it gets. They need to go to Plymouth and knock off the two-time defending champions on their home field (I won’t write in the North Country because Sam Natti of America’s Team the Lisbon Panthers accosted me,,, deservedly so….for claiming anything south of Franconia Notch is ‘The North Country’….I’ve been walking on eggshells around him ever since)..a week after losing to the Bobcats at home.
Hanover will need a big game out of Simon Roach and for their defense to cause Plymouth to turn the ball over. If Chris Sanborn’s Bobcats have had one Achilles Heel it’s that they can turn the ball over. Hanover needs to play aggressive and hope they can jump out on the champs early and put the pressure on them.
(5) Souhegan at (4) Bow
With four straight wins since head coach Robin Bowkett announced he would jump in a river if his team won, the Souhegan Sabers are as hot as any team in the division. Just ask Bow…
The Falcons had their sights set on the 3 seed, and a destination away from Plymouth, before their loss to Souhegan last weekend.
Whatever Bow needs to correct they better figure it out quickly. You can expect Bow to adjust but right now Souhegan is playing with momentum and confidence…and they are going to be a very tough out.
(7) John Stark at (2) St Thomas
Yes, I picked the Generals to upset the Saints in our podcast. My rationale is there are always high seeds getting clipped in the division (see #1 Windham losing to #8 Bow a year ago) and I feel like John Stark has the intangibles to pull this off.
St Thomas will spread John Stark out and lean on their QB Shawn DeKorne who has been terrific in back to back seasons. He has a very talented group of receivers to throw to and the Saints, under head coach Ryan Brown, are very smart about how they attack teams.
The key match-up in this one will be the Saints offensive line vs. the Generals defensive line.
Noah Bellemore is a difference maker for John Stark, a player who needs to be double teamed at times, and Jake Ridenour is excellent at getting into the backfield and blowing up plays. Aaron Bergeron is going to be asked to defend in space and offensively head coach Kevin McGinty will feed St Thomas a steady diet of running backs Jake Cole and Nate Tower.
For John Stark to pull a big upset they’ll need to take care of the ball and force St Thomas to be one dimensional on offense.
(6) Milford at (3) Alvirne
I see this game as a toss-up and could easily see either team ending up at UNH in two weeks.
Alvirne earned home-field by erasing a 35-20 deficit to Milford last weekend. Milford has the better rushing attack but Alvirne has the better quick-strike offense, with four receivers over 6’2.
Bronco linebacker Mike Daubach has to direct traffic against a Milford defense with three elite runners in Gavin Urda, Owen Zalenski, and Junior Ughu.
(8) Somersworth at (1) Monadnock
The Huskies are on a mission after a heartbreaking loss to Campbell in the title game a year ago. Their defense has been one of the best units in the state, regardless of division, and will likely overwhelm a young Somersworth team that has steadily improved week to week.
The long-term issue for Somersworth is that they made their program weaker going forward by letting parent influence dictate the removal of long time coach Dan Hodsdon.
Their bigger issues are past a game at Monadnock on Saturday.
(5) Lebanon at (4) Hillsborough-Deering-Hopkinton(will be played at Bill Ball Stadium in Exeter at 4:15pm)
Two very tough football teams square off in this one.
Both teams will pound the football behind their elite running back (Colby Quiet of the Red Hawks and Wade Rainey of the Raiders) and trust their defense can win the football game.
Chris Childs' team has won four in a row to end the season, which seemed to look like a product of their schedule until they knocked off Campbell last weekend. Jon Willeman threw for over 1,000 yards this season and in Rainey & Caleb Smith he has a pair of targets that can get Lebanon down the field quickly.
(7) Stevens at (2) Trinity(7pm kickoff at Gill Stadium)
Two teams trending in opposite directions as the Pioneers look poised for a run to Durham and Stevens dropped four games in a row to close the regular season.
Trinity can put up points behind John Thibault & Foster Stacey and they’ve benefited from a defense that has been very good this season.
(6) Laconia at (3) Campbell
This one very simply boils down to whether Laconia can run the football against Campbell.
The Sachems have two very good backs in Jake Steele & Kelby Brooker but they have not been able to run the ball on Campbell or Monadnock, the two best teams they have faced this season (Laconia did not play Trinity or Lebanon).
Campbell dominated the line of scrimmage in the regular season meeting and the Sachems responded by having QB Karter Greenwood throw a season-high 33 times.
If Steele and Brooker are able to move the football on the ground the Sachems can stay in this one but if Campbell is in the backfield all night long to meet the Sachem backs Campbell will move on to the semifinals next weekend.
(4) Raymond at (1) Winnisquam
The Bears wrapped up an undefeated regular season with a win over Franklin last Saturday in our Game of the Week.
I give those kids, on both sides, a ton of credit for playing as hard as they did in 35-degree weather with almost constant rain.
Pat Riberdy’s team is one win away from playing in the title game at Laconia on a turf field. That will be a big advantage for a team that features a quarterback in Phil Nichols who can throw the ball and scramble for first downs when the pocket breaks down.
A player like Brycen Wiles will benefit from playing on turf as opposed to the mud bowl they played in last weekend.
(3) Franklin at (2) Newfound
Newfound earned the 2 seed and home field with an 18-0 win two weeks ago over Franklin.
Franklin turned the ball over…in the words of Edward Rooney… NINE TIMES against Franklin. Most of those (6) coming on interceptions against QB Harrison Clark.
Don’t expect the Golden Tornadoes to put the ball in the air that many times this weekend. They’ll pound the football behind big running back Taryn Laramie between the tackles and Clark, Jakob Beaupre (a dangerous kick returner as he proved last week) on the outside.
The Franklin defensive line led by Laramie and Ben LaFrance will need to slow down Tieller Mitchell and a Bears offense that wants to control the clock and force Franklin to play from behind.
Listen LIVE to the New Hampshire High School Football Show with Pete Tarrier & Dave Haley every Saturday morning at 9 am.
You can listen by clicking the listen live link right on our homepage or on 99.9 FM & 1370 WFEA radio in the Manchester area Saturday mornings. Our guest on Saturday will be Alvirne head coach Tarek Rothe.
We will preview every playoff game around the state.