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Friday, November 22, 2013
N.H. football championships preview

By Roger Brown

New Hampshire will crown its three state champions in football Saturday, when the championship game in each division will be held at the home of the higher-seeded team. Here are the matchups and the top storyline in each game:

Division I: Pinkerton Academy (9-2) at Concord (11-0), 1 p.m.
Pinkerton is playing in the Division I championship game for the ninth time in the last 10 years and will be trying to knock off the only unbeaten team in the state.

Division II: Portsmouth (10-1) at Plymouth (10-1), 1 p.m.
This will be Chuck Lenahan’s final game as Plymouth’s head coach. Lenahan has a 355-70-1 record in 43 seasons on the Plymouth sideline. No New England high school football coach has won more games. A victory in this contest would hand Lenahan his 20th state championship.

Division III: Stevens (8-2) at Bow (9-1), 1 p.m.
Stevens will be trying to win its first state championship in football since 1962, and the school’s first state title in any sport since 1989 (boys' soccer).

Here’s a closer look at each game:


Pinkerton at Concord
No one has come closer to beating Concord this season than Pinkerton, which had an eight-point lead with less than a minute to play in the regular-season game between these teams. Concord scored with 51 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, added the two-point conversion and prevailed 21-14 in overtime.

Each team has scored 467 points (42.5 ppg.), which is a single-season school record for both programs. Concord runs a spread offense and is as dangerous through air as it is running the ball. Pinkerton runs a wing-T that has helped Pinkerton coach Brian O’Reilly post a 270-103 record in 36 seasons with the Astros.

“That’s a crowd-pleasing offense,” O’Reilly said when asked about Concord. “That’s not what we do. We run the ball until you stop us from running the ball."

Pinkerton will be looking for a big game from senior running back Manny Latimore, who has rushed for 1,496 yards and 16 touchdowns on 165 carries this season.

“Manny is a talented kid,” Concord coach Eric Brown said. “Giving up big plays is my No. 1 concern. We’ll have to minimize those.”

Concord also has a 1,000-yard rusher in Walters Ndi, who has run for 1,095 yards on 21 carries. He’s complimented by running back/slot receiver Marc Gaudet, who has scored 19 touchdowns (16 rushing).

Concord’s other offensive weapons include quarterback Rob Law, who has completed 92 of 138 passes for 1,404 yards and 15 touchdowns; and wide receiver Seimou Smith, who has a team-high 32 receptions for 620 yards and seven touchdowns.

“It’s hard to stop a team when they have so many facets they can go to,” O’Reilly said. “They’re the real deal.”

Portsmouth at Plymouth
Plymouth hasn’t lost a championship game at home since 1995, but Portsmouth beat the Bobcats 27-22 in Plymouth earlier this season. Plymouth built a 22-7 lead in that game, but the Clippers scored three touchdowns in the final quarter.

Like the Division I championship game, this contest will offer a contrast in offensive styles. Plymouth runs the wing-T and rarely throws the ball. Portsmouth uses a four-wide, no-huddle offense and prefers to attack through the air.

Plymouth has two 1,000-yard rushers in its backfield in Jared Kuehl (1,021) and John Thomas (1,011). Plymouth quarterback Collin Sullivan has completed 47 of 73 passes for 842 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s also run for seven touchdowns.

Portsmouth quarterback Donovan Phanor has completed 89 of 166 passes for 1,478 yards and 17 touchdowns, and has run for 719 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Clippers have four receivers who are averaging at least 10 yards per catch.

“There’s no rocket science in this one,” Portsmouth coach Brian Pafford said. “You can’t go toe-to-toe with them. You have to spread them out and make things happen. If it’s OK weather I think we can move the ball and put points up.

“Defensively you have to play tough up front. When we watched film on them before our first game we never saw them punt. If we can get one stop a quarter, that’s pretty good.”

This is the fourth meeting between these programs. Plymouth has a 3-1 record in those games, which includes a 35-20 triumph in the 2006 Division III championship game.

Stevens at Bow
Defense has been the story for each of these teams. Seven of Bow’s opponents failed to score more than seven points, and Stevens hasn’t surrendered more than six points in any of its last five games.

Each team has a go-to player on offense. Bow’s Matt Ehrenberg has rushed for a school-record 1,380 yards this year. Donald Pellerin leads Stevens with 1,377 yards and 22 touchdowns on 255 carries.

Bow scored in each quarter when it posted a 28-14 victory over Stevens during the regular season, but the Cardinals have won seven in a row since that loss.

Alex Reitze may be a wildcard for Bow, which is seeking the program’s first state championship since 2004. Reitze missed the first five games this season with appendicitis, but gained a team-high 98 yards on 14 carries in last Saturday’s semifinal victory over Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough.

The regular-season loss to Bow was the only game in which Pellerin didn’t score at least one touchdown this season.

“Bow does a real good job against the run,” Stevens coach Paul Silva said. “We’ll need to be on top of our game in all phases.”

Roger Brown is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader and publishes the New Hampshire Football Report. Follow him on Twitter: @603sportsmedia.