NASHUA, N.H. — As if the challenge isn't already immense, the fact Bishop Guertin drubbed Catholic Memorial a year ago makes beating the Bay State squad a second time doubly difficult.
“They are going to be out for revenge,” BG senior quarterback Steve Cuipa said without the slightest hint of a smile during Tuesday's rain-soaked practice behind the high school.
Riding a state-best 20-game win streak and ranked No. 3 in New Hampshire, the Cardinals certainly don't expect Friday's 7 p.m. rematch in West Roxbury to resemble last October's laugher. BG blasted Catholic Memorial, 52-13, at Nashua's Stellos Stadium.
The Knights, currently ranked eighth in the ESPNBoston.com Mass. Top 25, haven't forgotten. Their 121 yards of total offense were dwarfed by BG's 450.
“The results last year weren't very pleasing to our side,” CM head coach Alex Campea said by phone. “There's no mincing words. They took it to us pretty good on offense, defense and special teams. If that's a motivating factor, that's a good thing.”
BG – last year's runaway No. 1 team in New Hampshire – scored the game's first 24 points. The rout helped cement the '09 squad among the Granite State's four greatest single-season teams in the schoolboy football playoff era (1972-present). Guertin joined Manchester Memorial (1972), Derry's Pinkerton Academy (1985) and Manchester Central (2004).
But the group Guertin (4-0, 3-0 Div. II) brings into this game bares little resemblance to last year's undefeated Division II champion. Thirty-four seniors graduated from the title team. For that matter, CM (3-0) also features several new faces.
The signal callers, however, are back.
A.J. Doyle leads CM's spread offense. The 6-foot 3-inch, 220-pound junior connected with wideout Armani Reeves for a game-winning 67-yard touchdown in CM's season opener against Lynn Classical.
Cuipa guides Guertin's spread-option attack. The 6-foot-2, 178-pounder threw for 198 yards and three TDs in BG's Week 1 rout at Salem. He also rushed for 51 yards.
Quarterbacks aside, BG's linebackers versus Catholic Memorial's multiple playmakers may be the most pivotal matchup.
Senior Jim Kemos, junior Nolan Cornell and sophomore Andrew Crane are BG's second-level stoppers. The trio is tough on plays between the tackles. But can it prevent junior running backs Donovan Henry and William Earl, along with Reeves, from making plays in the open field?
“They are big and they are fast,” BG head coach Tony Johnson said of the Knights. “If these kids get into space … we'll be chasing a lot of people.”
Campea's focus is making sure momentum this season continues to build for Catholic Memorial. His team last year left Nashua with its first loss in five games. CM went 1-4 after the Guertin game, the four losses coming against league rivals in the super-competitive Catholic Conference.
“We're going to be ready to go,” Campea said. “We're always excited about playing on Friday night. We're always excited about playing at home. That doesn't change when the opponent is a non-league opponent.
“There's a memory of how we didn't perform (last year),” Campea added. “But I want them thinking about how we need to perform.”
Catholic Memorial, though, isn't the only team prepared to make a point.
“This, to me, is as big a game as we're ever going to have,” said Johnson, who feels BG is representing New Hampshire's 57 schools fielding varsity football teams. “We all feel pretty compelled to make sure that people realize that this brand of football is pretty good. And despite the fact we're only 45 miles north of Boston, we do have a very talented group of kids in the state of New Hampshire.”
Or, as Cuipa said during Tuesday's downpour: “We want to go down there, play our best and win.”
Marc Thaler is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader & Sunday News and UnionLeader.com. He has been the high schools reporter for football and lacrosse since joining the statewide newspaper in 2006. A graduate of Syracuse University (2000), he wrote about the state's football history for an exhibit at The Hall at Patriot Place. The Bedford, N.H., native has covered the Little League World Series, NCAA men's lacrosse championships, UNH athletics and New Hampshire Fisher Cats baseball. He can be reached at email@example.com.