Wednesday, September 29, 2010
New England Roundup: New Hampshire
By Marc Thaler
When Smith Center, Kan., lost last year's Class 2-1A title game, the nation's longest active win streak in high school football instantly became property of New Hampshire's Plymouth Regional.
Smith Center was tackled in overtime, ending the program's 79-game run. And Plymouth – two weeks earlier crowned a champion for the 18th time – inherited pressure previously placed upon the Redmen.
But, after five consecutive 11-0 championship campaigns and two more wins to open this season, Plymouth's state-record run ended at 57 games. Kennett High of Conway, a decided underdog at home, snapped the streak with a shocking 20-9 Week 3 win on Sept. 17.
“We didn't play very well. That's not a trademark (of Plymouth football),” said Plymouth head coach Chuck Lenahan, whose program's previous state-record 46-game win streak was also snapped by Kennett, a 6-0 winner in the 2004 season's third week.
Games To Watch
Here are our choices for the most intriguing N.H. high school football matchups this weekend.
Friday, Oct. 1
Bishop Guertin (4-0, 3-0 Div. II) at Catholic Memorial (3-0), 7 p.m. When these teams met last year in Nashua, BG won in a rout, 52-13. This year, New Hampshire's third-ranked and two-time defending Division II champion Cardinals travel to West Roxbury, Mass., where ESPNBoston.com's No. 8 Knights surely would love to return the favor.
Nashua North (3-1, 3-0 Div. I) at Salem (2-2, 2-1 Div. I), 7 p.m. A rematch of last year's Division I championship, which Salem won, 28-21. A year ago as juniors, Matt Cannone tossed the title-clinching 43-yard touchdown to Mike Lorenz with 70 seconds remaining in regulation. Salem also won the regular-season meeting, 54-33, as star running backs Max Jacques combined for 496 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 36 carries.
Manchester Central (2-2, 1-2 Div. I) at Souhegan (4-0, 3-0 Div. III), 7 p.m. Central's two losses were at the hands of Salem and Nashua North, the preseason picks to clash for the Division I crown. Two-time defending Division III champ Souhegan, meanwhile, faces its second Division I foe of the season. The Sabers scored 34 unanswered points in their eye-opening 34-19 season-opening road win at Division I Londonderry.
Saturday, Oct. 2
Hanover (0-4 Div. IV) at Plymouth Regional (2-2 Div. IV), 1:30 p.m. Playoff teams a year ago, both squads are desperate for a win. Hanover lost a heartbreaker last week, when a failed fourth-down conversion allowed the opposition to kick a last-second game-winning field goal. Eighteen-time champion Plymouth, since having its state-record 57-game win streak snapped, has lost two consecutive games for the first time since 1991.
Pinkerton (3-1, 2-1 Div. I) at Londonderry (1-3, 1-2 Div. I), 7 p.m. It's time for the "Mack Plaque" competition between these neighboring schools and fierce rivals. The school that celebrates wins in the most fall varsity sports earns the coveted hardware. Like it has in the overall competition, Pinkerton has dominated the football series. Counting two playoff wins, the Astros own a 10-game gridiron win streak against the Lancers that dates to 2002.
-- Marc Thaler
“We felt we had the kids that matched up well with those guys,” first-year Kennett head coach Mike Holderman, an assistant on last year's team that was Plymouth's state-record-breaking 47th straight victim, told the New Hampshire Sunday News. “We believed we were stronger.”
Lengthy win streaks aside, Lenahan's Bobcats are best known for playing disciplined, mistake-free football.
Four turnovers and nearly 100 yards in penalties, however, prevented a 58th straight victory.
“Everything that could go wrong did. Nothing came together for us. Kennett had a lot to do with it. They certainly deserved to beat us that day. It would've been nice to play them better,” said Lenahan, whose team lost at Trinity High of Manchester, 39-6, in Week 4, marking the first losing streak for the small-school powerhouse since 1991.
Plymouth's 57-game run spanned three seasons in Division III (2005-07) and two-plus years in Division IV (2008-present). Two wins, in particular, stand out.
Lenahan & Co. beat Laconia, 14-7, in the 2008 Division IV title game. Clinching the crown required the host Bobcats to erase a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit in the final eight minutes at muddy Zoulias Field.
But Plymouth's “free kick” win at Souhegan High of Amherst in 2007 may top the list.
Trailing by a point with 10 seconds to play, the Bobcats called for a fair catch on Souhegan's punt. An obscure rule allowed the Bobcats to attempt a game-winning 47-yard field goal using a kick-off tee.
Souhegan's defense, forced 10 yards off the line of scrimmage, couldn't pressure the kick.
Kyle Underwood split the uprights, lifting Plymouth to the 11-9 win.
“We had some great games,” said Lenahan, who, in his 40th season at Plymouth, owns a career record of 322-65-1 and the most New Hampshire high school football wins in state history. “You have to be a little lucky. But it's a lot of hard work.”
For all the drama packed into those wins, Plymouth mostly pummeled foes during the streak. The average margin of victory in the 57 games was 26.2 points.
Such dominance wasn't universally celebrated across the state. When Plymouth moved down a division for the 2008-10 classification cycle, the program and streak became hotly debated topics.
Plymouth competes in the appropriate league based on the school's student enrollment, which Lenahan, also the athletics director, said was 714 as of Sept. 20. For some time, though, Plymouth has fielded teams considered vastly superior, in talent and coaching, to opponents of comparable school size.
The proof: From 2000-09, the Bobcats went 106-3 with nine undefeated championship seasons split between Divisions III and IV.
Why not seek a tougher challenge?
“We're right where we should be (based on enrollment),” said Lenahan. “We're pretty happy with what we are.
“I know a lot of people use words like 'Pride and Tradition,'” he added, referring to Plymouth's signature phrase. “But that takes a lot of time and hard work to build. A lot of intangibles go into it.”
RUNNING AWAY WITH IT Granite State cross country runners dominated the varsity races at the 35th annual Manchester Invitational, which draws many of the Northeast's top talents, on Sept. 25. Five of the six 5K (3.1-mile) races at Derryfield Park were won by local athletes.
Jeff LaCoste, a senior at Nashua's Bishop Guertin High, won the elite boys' race. He was the only runner to record a sub-16 minute time (15-minutes, 53 seconds). Chloe Maleski, a senior at Keene High, placed first in the elite girls' race (18:30).
Merrimack High junior John Conlin topped the field in the boys' large school run (16:17). Exeter High senior Kelsey Smith earned the win in the girls' large school event (18:42).
Marina Slavin, a senior at Durham's Oyster River High, posted a winning time of 18:30 in the girls' small school race. Hopkinton High won the girls' small school team title with 74 points, well ahead of second-place Hanover High (112 points) and 20 other schools.
TOURNEY TIME Golf will soon crown champions in Divisions I, II and III. Postseason tournaments for each tier tee off Sept. 30 at courses throughout the state.
Bretwood Golf Course of Keene hosts the Division I competition. Paced by sophomore Chelso Barrett, top-seeded Keene High (27-0) has the luxury of playing on its home turf.
Bedford High (22-0) is the team to beat in Division II. Standout senior Jake Nutter and the Bulldogs seek to top the leaderboard at Concord's Beaver Meadow Golf Course.
In Division III, Moultonborough Academy (23-0), Gilford (22-0) and Mascenic Regional of New Ipswich (21-0) take perfect records to Owl's Nest Resort and Golf Club in Campton.
(BLUE) HAWK TALK Defending Division I champion Exeter High improved to 9-0 in girls' soccer with its 7-2 win on Sept. 28. The team used a different starting lineup in every match.
“What's leading to our success is the depth of our team,” said 10th-year Exeter coach Megan Curran, who guided the Blue Hawks to Class L crowns in 2006, 2007 and 2009. “We go about 15 (players) that can start on any given night. Whoever performs gets that starting role.”
In the nine contests, the Blue Hawks outscored the opposition, 28-6. The champs allowed more than two markers just once.
First-year goalkeeper Micaela Janowski, a senior, is making the routine and difficult saves. Classmates and defenders Alison Wilson, Anna Grant and Connie Boutilier help limit quality scoring chances for the competition.
Center-midfielder and four-year varsity contributor Ally George is the catalyst on offense. Sophomores Aby Short (team-high eight goals) and Aly Day (six goals) consistently finish on the attack.
The best part of Exeter's start? Five of the team's first nine wins were by one goal.
“That's always good, to see the type of character a team has. Pressure situations make you grow a little faster,” said Curran. “You don't learn much from killing a team. I do think it'll help us out in the long run.”
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.