Boston High School: Manchester West

New Hampshire football preview

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
5:46
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New Hampshire's high school football season will kick-off Wednesday, when teams are allowed to hold their first practice in preparation for the 2013 season.

New HampshireFootball in the Granite State has a drastic new look this year. The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association scrapped the six-division format it had used since 2008 in favor of three larger divisions that have four conferences in each division. The divisions are still based on enrollment and here's how the teams were divided:

Division I
  • East: Exeter, Winnacunnet, Dover, Spaulding and Timberlane.
  • West: Keene, Nashua North, Nashua South, Bishop Guertin and Alvirne.
  • North: Concord, Manchester West, Manchester Central, Manchester Memorial and Bedford.
  • South: Pinkerton, Salem, Londonderry, Goffstown and Merrimack.
Division II
  • North: Kennett, Hanover, Plymouth, Laconia and Lebanon.
  • South: Milford, John Stark, Windham, Souhegan and Trinity.
  • West: Monadnock, Con-Val, Hollis-Brookline, Sanborn and Kearsarge.
  • Central: Portsmouth, Pembroke, Merrimack Valley, Kingswood and St. Thomas.
Division III
  • South: Pelham, Campbell, Bow and Somersworth.
  • Lakes: Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough, Gilford, Winnisquam, Franklin and Newfound.
  • West; Raymond, Epping-Newmarket, Bishop Brady and Farmington/Nute.
  • East: Mascoma, Newport, Fall Mountain and Stevens.

“From the conversations I've had, more coaches like the new alignment than don't like it,” Manchester Memorial coach Peter Colcord said. “I''m just not happy that we've gone down from tenB (regular season) games to nine. That's a lot of work, and you want to play as many games as possible.

“I also understand that you can't please everybody.”

New Hampshire teams will no longer have room for a non-league game, so the Pinkerton-Brockton rivalry is among the casualties of the new alignment.

Eight teams will make the playoffs in each division (two from each conference), so the number of playoff teams (24) is the same as it was last year, when four teams qualified from each of the six divisions. The top two teams from each conference will meet in the quarterfinals. Teams will be reseeded for the semifinals using a point-rating system that will factor in each team's record and strength of its victories. A victory over a strong team is worth more that a victory over a lesser opponent.

“I like it,” Nashua South coach Scott Knight said. “I'm not one of those guys who's afraid of change.

“The only thing I don't like is the two teams in one conference playing in the (quarterfinals). I don't see why you have to play a team twice in a 20-team division. I'd like to play different teams in the playoffs.

“After this year I'm sure they'll tweak it, but we're definitely headed in the right direction.”

TEAMS TO WATCH
Here are 10 teams that should be in the hunt for a championship this season:
  1. PINKERTON ACADEMY -- The Astros have the state's premier running back in senior Manny Latimore, who rushed for 1,477 yards last season.
  2. NASHUA SOUTH -- South quarterback Trevor Knight, a three-year starter, has committed to the University of New Hampshire.
  3. EXETER -- The Blue Hawks are seeking their third straight Division I title.
  4. WINNACUNNET -- The Warriors won last year's Division II championship. They make the move to Division I this year.
  5. CONCORD -- If there's a surprise team in Division I this season it will likely be the Crimson Tide.
  6. PORTSMOUTH -- Clippers are also stepping up in class (to Division II) after winning the last two Division III championships.
  7. TRINITY -- Quarterback Carmen Giampetruzzi is headed to Boston College … to play baseball.
  8. PLYMOUTH -- Plymouth coach Chuck Lenahan has guided the Bobcats to 19 state titles.
  9. BISHOP GUERTIN -- There's plenty of talent left over from a team that reach the Division II semifinals last fall.
  10. BEDFORD -- The Bulldogs competed in Division III two years ago, moved to Division II last year and are in Division I this season.
MEET THE NEW BOSS
First-year head coaches this season: Mark Phillips (Alvirne), Dante Laurendi (Merrimack), Rob Pike (Salem), Jeff Hunt (Spaulding), Rich Bergskaug (Hollis-Brookline), Brian Pafford (Portsmouth), Mike Lochman (Souhegan), Greg Gush (Campbell), Vance Sullivan (Manchester West), Jeff Kaplan (Franklin) and Chris Marden (Gilford).

NIGHT VISION
Pinkerton Academy in Derry has added lights around its football field and, with one exception, will play its home games on Friday nights this season. Pinkerton's game against Londonderry will be played in Derry on a Saturday night, Sept. 28.

Last year, Pinkerton was the only Division I school without lights.

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

New England Roundup: New Hampshire

October, 31, 2012
10/31/12
7:04
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In the rich history of New England high school football, there isn't a head coach with more career wins than Plymouth (N.H.) Regional's Chuck Lenahan.

New Hampshire“How do I put this? It's a great honor, especially for the school and the program. That's the important thing,” said Lenahan, 69, who clinched career win No. 343 with a 35-21 Division IV decision over John Stark Regional on Oct. 27.

The 14-point win pushed Lenahan's career mark to 343-69-1. He moved past Rod Wotton (342-81-3), who retired in 2010. Wotton enjoyed successful stints at Maine schools South Berwick and Marshwood, and New Hampshire's St. Thomas Aquinas in Dover (111 NHIAA wins).

Lenahan, of course, has never left Plymouth. As if his .831 winning percentage over 41-plus campaigns doesn't cut it, consider these football feats:


-- 29 state championship appearancesar


-- 18 state championships


-- 12 undefeated seasons


-- NHIAA's longest win streaks (57 games from 2005-10; 46 games from 2000-04)

On the strength of those win streaks – the 57-gamer a nation-best early in '10 -- Plymouth went 106-2 (nine titles) from 2000-09.

“Unparalleled success. A level of consistency that is so uncommon it's incredible,” said Bill Ball, the athletics director and 20-year head football coach at Division I Exeter. “To year-in and year-out put out the quality that he does on the football field, yet maintain a high level of sportsmanship, (the record is) an incredible accomplishment by Chuck, his coaches, his players and the Plymouth community.”

The gap between Lenahan and his peers, in terms of career NHIAA wins, is considerable. Brian O'Reilly of Division I Pinkerton Academy is second (249-102). Recently retired Jack Gati, who split time at then-Division I Trinity, Concord and Salem, is third (221-138).

To think, Lenahan didn't crack the win column as a 27-year-old rookie head coach in 1971. After settling for a season-opening 14-14 tie with Hanover, the Bobcats lost their final six games.

“We lost a lot of close games, I'll tell you that. We had injuries all over the place,” Lenahan said. “But I don't believe I had much of a clue what was going on anyway.”

If Lenahan was ever truly clueless, he quickly corrected the coaching flaw. The Bobcats celebrated their first undefeated championship season in '72, the first year the NHIAA adopted a playoff format.

Lenahan's first win was an 18-12 triple-overtime triumph against Newport on Sept. 9, 1972. The OT format, like postseason play, was new to the state's football landscape.

More milestone moments from Lenahan's legendary career:


-- Win No. 100 – Plymouth 22, Littleton 0 (Nov. 3, 1984)


-- Win No. 200 – Plymouth 34, Monadnock 12 (Oct. 10, 1998)


-- Win No. 217, NHIAA record – Plymouth 14, Kennett 0 (Sept. 16, 2000)


-- Win No. 300 – Plymouth 41, Kingswood 7 (Sept. 13, 2008)


Plymouth is again in a familiar position. Lenahan & Co. are the top playoff seed and two wins from a perfect season.

"A big part of our program has been consistency. I'm pretty proud of that," Lenahan said. "Our kids come to play no matter what we have for talent."

XC CHAMPS CROWNED
Northwood's Coe-Brown Academy collected considerable hardware at the NHIAA Cross Country Championship on Oct. 27.

Hannah Parker paced the girls' team to its third consecutive Division II title at Derryfield Park in Manchester. The sophomore finished the 3.1-mile run in 18 minutes, 58 seconds to lead the field. Junior Jeremy Brassard earned an individual title with his time of 16:08.

Parker and Brown became Coe-Brown's first individual winners.

Parker and her teammates were particularly dominant. The underclassman-laden squad was responsible for the first-, third-, fifth-, seventh- and ninth-place finishers. The team tallied a championship-low 25 points.

In Division I, Bedford's boys (57 points) and Londonderry's girls (89) finished No. 1. Concord's B.J. Smith (16:06) and Manchester Central's Elizabeth Conway (18:45) were the individual champs.

Souhegan's boys (44 points) won the Division II title.

In Division III, Hopkinton's boys (65 points) and girls (41) celebrated a No. 1 finish.

Fall Mountain's Levi Frye (16:12) paced the boys. Laconia's Sami Hicks (19:38) was first to finish for the girls.

DEJA VU
Manchester Memorial's Jared Ombati gained more than 300 yards on the ground for the second time this season on Oct. 26. The senior running back totaled 354 yards (three touchdowns) on 31 carries in his team's 29-14 win over Division II Manchester West.

Ombati shredded Division I foe Londonderry on Sept. 21. He ran for 330 yards (five TDs) in a 33-25 win.

“All week, we said the only one that would beat us was 20,” said West head coach Jim Lauzon, referncing Ombati's uniform number. “We had guys (in practice) pretend to be him. One of our coaches dressed and was him. We thought we were really ready to stop him.”

West's defense did stop Ombati – through two carries. He was stuffed for no gain on his first rush. He moved the ball 1 yard on his second touch.

Ombati finished the quarter with four carries for 139 yards, including 55- and 83-yard TD runs that capped one-play drives. His final TD, a 42-yard burst, also finished a one-play possession.

“He's one of the fastest kids in the school,” Memorial head coach Peter Colcord said. “I've been waiting for this for four years. He's really turned it on this year.”

Marc Thaler can be reached at marc.thaler@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @marc_thaler.

New England Roundup: New Hampshire

October, 15, 2012
10/15/12
7:41
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The 17-year series between regional football heavyweights Pinkerton (N.H.) Academy and Brockton (Mass.) High ended the way it started in 1996.

New HampshirePinkerton celebrated a six-point road win.

The 10-time NHIAA Division I champion from Derry forced five turnovers and left Marciano Stadium on Oct. 12 with a 20-14 triumph. The Astros snapped a five-game losing streak in the series, and earned a share of New Hampshire's No. 1 ranking as a result.

If the Boxers feel they lost the finale more than their opponents won it, that has been Pinkerton's belief the past four years. Turnovers – often at critical times – haunted the Astros.

It still burns Pinkerton head coach Brian O'Reilly that his 2008 team lost, 28-27. Those Astros coughed up a 27-7 lead, thanks largely to problems protecting the football.

“This game was more like the last four years,” O'Reilly said of the 2012 contest's up-for-grabs nature. “Only this time, we were able to make plays in the fourth quarter.”

Brockton dominated the series, finishing with a 12-5 record. Those 12 wins were by a 15.8-point margin. The Boxers created separation with a 9-1 mark from 2002-11.

Before Brockton's run, the series was knotted at 3-3. The '96 Astros, led by junior Mac Gassman, stunned the Peter Harris-led Boxers, 26-20, in the inaugural meeting.

O'Reilly's current players were aware the series was ending. NHIAA football will undergo significant realignment for the 2013 season. The changes include adding an extra round of playoffs, which leaves the Astros without an open date to conduct business with the Boxers.

“(The players) were told, 'This is a playoff game. We're going to Brockton and this is playoff intensity. Anybody that can walk is playing. We’re not just going down there to go through the motions,'” O'Reilly said. “You have to (make that clear) with kids every now and then in football.”

Captain Matt St. Onge best illustrates how badly the Astros wanted to finish strong. A leg injury sidelined the senior during practice in the days leading up to kick-off.

St. Onge played one snap on offense before the coaches decided to find another alternative at fullback. St. Onge, however, did not miss a play at linebacker. He and junior Matt Madden (interception, six solo tackles) were instrumental in the outcome.

“Our linebackers, I can't speak enough about them,” O'Reilly said. “Matt St. Onge essentially played on one leg.”

Normally a halfback, junior Manny Latimore moved to St. Onge's position on offense. Latimore rushed for 147 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries.

St. Onge's twin brother, Chris, averaged 4 yards per carry (11 rushes, 44 yards). Senior quarterback Sean Conroy tossed a 33-yard scoring strike to James Toohey.

Ryan Day's 1-yard run shortly before halftime snapped a 14-14 tie. O'Reilly lauded assistant coaches Bryon Murphy and Mike Gooden for making adjustments to the defense's coverage scheme that helped the Astros pitch a second-half shutout.

O'Reilly admitted feeling a sense of satisfaction over winning the finale. But he quickly placed the win in perspective.

“Even though it was a playoff atmosphere,” he said, “it wasn't a championship.”

100 GOALS
Milford senior Morgan Andrews, the reigning Gatorade National Girls' Soccer Player of the Year, scored her 100th career goal on Oct. 5. The milestone marker was one of her five goals that fueled Division II Milford's 8-0 win over Manchester West.

Andrews – a member of the U.S. Under-17 team that recently competed for the Women's World Cup in Azerbaijan – also kicks field goals and extra points for the Division III football team.

Hours after hitting the century mark in soccer, she drilled the game-winning 33-yard field goal that lifted the Spartans past Division I Nashua North, 24-21.

“I am actually home for the rest of (the NHIAA) season,” said Andrews, who missed high school games to play international soccer. “After the World Cup, we're allowed a bit of a break.”

100 WINS
Exeter defeated Concord, 3-0, in Division I field hockey on Oct. 10. The decision earned head coach Deb Grott her 100th career win.

Erin McKenna threaded a pass that led to Kelly Poncelet's first-half goal, the game-winner. Lexi Grott doubled the lead before halftime, and assisted on McKenna's late-game goal.

“What has been great about this achievement is the incredible group of girls I've had over the years who have all been a part of this run,” said Deb Grott, Exeter's leader since 2003. “I hope that the lessons they have learned on the playing field will serve them well outside of high school.”

Exeter has qualified for the Division I tournament in every year Deb Grott has guided the program. The 2006 team reached the state final, a game it lost to powerhouse Salem.

“I am extremely proud of all my teams and feel incredibly lucky to have had the coaches who have been next to me along the way,” she said.

RUNNING TO THE RECORD
Jesiah Wade set Division VI Campbell High's single-season rushing record on Oct. 13. He gained 274 yards (five TDs) on 19 carries, pushing his seven-game rushing total to 1,511 yards.

The junior's five touchdowns lifted his season total to 28 rushing TDs, also a program-record.

Wade entered the season's seventh week just 175 yards off the pace set by previous record-holder Dave Levesque (1,412 in 2003).

Perhaps most impressive is Wade has only played two full games to date. Campbell head coach Marc Prindiville pulled his quick-strike threat in five games because the team was in complete control.

“It's outstanding. I'm pretty sure he's leading the state – all six divisions – in touchdowns and rushing yards,” Prindiville said. “That's not even (including) his all-purpose yards.”

Marc Thaler is a reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader. He co-hosts the “N.H. High School Football Show” on WGIR-AM 610 and WQSO-FM 96.7. Read his blog at NewHampshireGameDay.com and follow him on Twitter: @marc_thaler.

New England Roundup: New Hampshire

June, 27, 2012
6/27/12
2:07
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Fundraising totals between the teams competing in the inaugural New Hampshire East-West High School Football All-Star Game couldn't have been much closer.

New HampshireThe game itself? That's a different story.

West's all-stars – widely considered underdogs for the June 23 contest at the University of New Hampshire – proved too tough. The combination of overpowering offense and dominant defense led to a 33-point halftime lead and 44-12 final score.

Thaddeus “Junior” Brown was toughest to cover. Manchester Central High's 6-foot 3-inch, 180-pound receiver made all four of his catches for 87 yards in the first half. Three receptions went for touchdowns, including a 50-yard down-the-right-seam dagger that helped Team West build a 37-6 halftime lead.

“This means a lot. I worked hard for it,” Brown, the game's first Bo Dickson MVP, said of the trophy he was handed for his efforts. “The coaches helped me out a lot. I just busted my butt for 10 days. The outcome was this MVP.”

Off the field, the outcome of Brown's efforts, as well as the 73 other all-stars, was even more impressive.

Teams East and West combined to raise $51,301.21 for Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD) in Lebanon.

Team East was designated the home team. It earned use of UNH football's locker room for winning the head-to-head fundraising contest. Coach Bill Raycraft's players raised $25,751.21 – a mere $201.21 more than West's standouts.

In total, $301,000 was raised for CHaD.

HS All Star Game
BASCTBD by editorial
“These kids came together and did a heck of a job for a great cause,” said Team West coach Keith Jones, whose 6-year-old son, Harris, a CHaD patient, participated in the pre-game coin toss.

Harris was involved in a freak snowmobile accident three years ago. His father has said many times if not for CHaD, right-leg amputation would have been required.

On gameday, the soon-to-be first-grader made an appearance in Team West's locker room prior to warm-ups. It gave the players an additional boost, which carried over to kickoff.

Several playmakers fueled Team West's 37-point first half.

Brown caught a pair of 9-yard TD passes from Manchester West High's Aaron Martin, who also used his speed to sneak inside the left pylon for a 2-yard rushing score.

Merrimack High's Jackson King returned an interception 19-yards for a TD.

Nashua South's Johnny Bieren was crucial to posting a second-quarter safety. He also forced and recovered a fumble on one of his three quarterback sacks.

Central's Stephen Grzywacz – who raised a players-best $5,965 for CHaD – converted five extra points (6-for-6 overall).

East's all-stars committed five of the game's eight turnovers. The favored squad fell behind, 30-0, before Salem High's Jerickson Fedrick returned a kickoff 96 yards to paydirt.

Fedrick, and Pinkerton Academy of Derry stars Kevin Davies and Emmitt Smith, were all neutralized. Combining to rush for 4,649 yards and 57 TDs last fall, the trio managed 99 yards – 28 through two quarters.

Conor Donovan of Division VI cooperative team Inter-Lakes-Moultonborough scored East's second TD early in the third. Derek Paradis of Nashua South answered with an up-the-gut run.

“The first series, I thought we did pretty well. We stopped them (but) right away turned the ball over,” Raycraft said. “That's not the way you want to start an all-star game. From there, we pressed a little bit more than we probably should have and, because of that, created more turnovers.

“But, like I told the kids, I had a blast these last (10) days,” he added. “I couldn't have asked for a better group of kids. It's going to be fun watching where they go from here. The score will fade, but they set the tone for fundraising.”

BASEBALL CHAMPS
Division I: Dillon Emerson's extra-inning hit snapped two droughts, including a lengthy one for Concord High.

The senior's single down the right-field line scored Pat Cannon and gave the top-seeded Crimson Tide a 5-4 walk-off win over No. 3 seed Merrimack High in the state final June 16 at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, home of Double-A baseball's New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

Emerson's hit snapped an 0-for-4 skid in the title game and earned Concord (18-4) its first crown since 1980. The Tide lost the state final in 2011.

“I was in the dugout upset over all the missed opportunities I had when coach [Scott Owen] came up to me and said, 'Stick with it. You'll get your at-bat and you'll come through.' He was right,” Emerson told the New Hampshire Sunday News.

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New England Roundup: New Hampshire

February, 18, 2012
2/18/12
9:46
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First-time head football coach Adam Gagne would not describe the man he succeeds at Division I Salem High as a Granite State grid legend.

New Hampshire“In my mind, and many other minds, he's not just a New Hampshire coaching legend,” Gagne said of Jack Gati, who retired Dec. 5 after lengthy stints at Manchester's Trinity High (1978-85), Concord High (1986-93) and Salem (1994-2011). “I put him in the New England coaching legends. The states are tied together. They're so close.”

Great answer from the former offensive coordinator for Westford (Mass.) Academy. The 31-year-old takes over for a coach with the third-best win total in state history.

Gati's 37 years calling the shots led to a 221-138 career record, eight championship appearances and four state titles. He won 121 games in his 18 years guiding Salem. Two of those wins, in 1995 and 2009, clinched crowns for the Blue Devils.

Expectations, thanks largely to Gati, are high at 44 Geremonty Drive.

“I put pressure on myself to succeed,” said Gagne, who will continue teaching in Westford Academy's business department. “I wasn't going after any old coaching job. I did my research. It was absolutely the type of program I was seeking for my first job as a head coach.”

Now, the task is to make his mark on the program. Salem's offensive system seems like the logical place to start.

Gagne, a former three-sport athlete at Haverhill (Mass.) High, spent the past three seasons as an assistant head coach and offensive coordinator for the Dual County League's Grey Ghosts.

Prior to joining Rich McKenna's coaching staff at Westford Academy, Gagne spent six seasons as an assistant at Merrimack College. The resident of Haverhill, a neighboring town of Salem, was a three-year starting wide receiver at Bentley University.

Gagne's arrival means this much: fans longing for Salem to attack through the air with greater frequency should get their wish.

“'Spread offense' is such a generic term. It's a form of the spread,” Gagne said of his system. “I don't know if I have a specific name for it. It's probably going to be called the 'Blue Devil system.'”

Whatever its name, Gagne's system is far different from the one Gati preferred.

Almost exclusively relying on the ground game was always a staple of Gati-led teams.

“He's the godfather of the off-tackle. Jack hangs his hat on the running game,” former Concord head coach Bob Camirand, Gati's successor with the Crimson Tide, said when his friend of 40 years retired.

Increased focus on the the passing game certainly separates Gagne from Gati. But, the new coach insists his predecessor, who still teaches at the high school, has a place with the team.

“I see him as a big stakeholder in the program,” Gagne said. “In no way do I want to completely separate myself from that dynamic.”

Retaining two of Gati's former assistants, Dan Kelleher and Robert Pike, proves Gagne's point.

“All of us,” Gagne said, “are going to have our hands dirty in the program.”

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New England Roundup: New Hampshire

January, 5, 2012
1/05/12
3:54
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This had to be Merrimack High's mantra for the holiday tournament season: Why settle for just one title?

New HampshireIn the days after Christmas, the Tomahawks rolled to championships in arguably New Hampshire's top tournaments for boys' basketball and hockey.

The school's Division I hoop team, on the strength of a last-second 3-pointer from star guard Dimitri Floras, won the 48th annual Queen City Invitational Basketball Tournament at Manchester Memorial High. The Division II hockey club, thanks to a fourth-round shootout goal from forward Chris Fortin, copped the Bauer Classic crown at Manchester's JFK Coliseum.

Talk about a wild week.

The hockey team's four-day run to the crown was the more surprising story. The reigning state runners-up, the Tomahawks were considered a mystery when the season started shortly before the holiday break. They graduated one of the state's top snipers (Erik Glendye) and said goodbye to their coach (Dan Legro).

They're a mystery no more.

After starting 3-0 in league play, the Tomahawks won four games at JFK. They beat three Division I teams, including defending champion Trinity High of Manchester, 3-1; reigning runner-up and perennial power Hanover High, 4-3 (shootout); and then-No. 1-ranked Memorial, 2-1 (shootout), in the final.

Goaltender Brett Glendye -- who made 45 title-game saves -- was named tournament MVP. Teammate and forward David Downie also earned a spot on the all-tourney team.

"I looked at (the holiday tourney) as a 'prove it' opportunity for the kids," Merrimack coach Kurt Mithoefer said. "Thus far, the kids have proven the naysayers wrong in terms of offensive ability and being a mystery team."

On the hardwood, the Tomahawks ended the feel-good story of the QCIBT.

Floras hit the big bucket that lifted Merrimack a 57-54 win over upstart Manchester West High. The 6-foot 2-inch junior guard -- named the tourney MVP -- drained a lead-changing 3-pointer from the left corner with 7 seconds to play. He finished the contest with 20 points, six assists and four rebounds.

"I missed a lot of easy ones tonight and felt like I let my team down. But I got the one that mattered most, I guess," Floras told the New Hampshire Union Leader after the Dec. 28 title-game win.

Merrimack's path to the title round included wins over Seacoast squads Dover High, 59-51, and Exeter High, 58-39.

But in the high-stakes round, it took a charging violation to clinch the win. Jeff Giannelli, a 6-foot-7 tower, held his ground as West's Jocarl Bureau drove the lane for a potential game-winning layup. The pivotal play came with 2.1 seconds remaining in regulation.

The QCIBT runner-up a year earlier, Merrimack reached the championship game for the ninth time in the last 12 years. This year's title was the program's fourth in that span, and first since a three-peat from 2000-02.

"We played good. But my hats off to West," Merrimack coach Tim Goodridge told the statewide newspaper. "They made it come down to one shot."

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New England Roundup: New Hampshire

November, 10, 2011
11/10/11
6:13
PM ET
In his 41st year at the helm of Plymouth Regional's storied football program – a span that's produced a state-record 334 wins and 18 championships – Chuck Lenahan has surely experienced it all.

New HampshireYet it was the manner in which the Bobcats won their most recent matchup that had the gruff-voiced grid coach admitting, “I'm kind of numb.”

It's understandable. Lenahan approved the call for a fourth-quarter fake punt that produced the game-winning touchdown. Plymouth celebrated a 21-14 Division IV semifinal win Nov. 5 against longtime rival Laconia High.

The scenario: Plymouth was forced to punt from its 32-yard line in a 14-all game. The game clock showed less than nine minutes remained in regulation.

Special teams coach Chris Sanborn persuaded Lenahan to fake the punt. The Bobcats desperately needed a spark. Their rushing attack, which generated two lengthy first-half scoring drives capped by Cole Brooker touchdown runs, was stifled after halftime.

Standout senior Taylor Newberry (37 carries for 205 yards) was asked to fake the punt for the first time in his career. It worked out better than even Lenahan could have expected.

Newberry gained the three yards necessary to extend the drive. He also picked up 65 more yards, cutting left-to-right across the field, dodging would-be tacklers, and ultimately celebrating a 68-yard TD run.

“We actually just set that up (in the week leading up to the semifinal). We were 50-50 on it,” Newberry said. “I guess it worked.”

Plymouth – a year removed from missing the playoffs on a three-team tiebreaker – actually plays the role of underdog in the Nov. 12 final.

The second-seeded Bobcats (9-1) travel to Manchester's Gill Stadium for a showdown with No. 1 seed Trinity High (10-0). The Bobcats were stunned at home in Week 4 by the Pioneers, allowing a pair of late-game touchdown passes in a 12-7 loss.

It snapped Plymouth's 40-game home win streak.

“Another week,” Lenahan said. “The kids wanted it bad. What the heck. We might as well take a trip to Manchester.”

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New England Roundup: New Hampshire

October, 28, 2011
10/28/11
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Show of hands: Who's surprised by Spaulding High's success this season on the gridiron?

New HampshireAsk that question in Rochester and, truthfully, throughout New Hampshire. You'll find the team's head football coach is among many with an arm stretched high to the sky.

"Kind of. I didn't think we'd win three in a row," head coach Dennis Fontaine said shortly before his Red Raiders added a fourth straight win to their resume Oct. 21. "For the kids to grasp the new systems on offense and defense, they picked it up quick. They're executing what we showed them."

Those new systems on both sides of scrimmage are the result of Fontaine's appointment to the head coaching post this fall. Spaulding's once-proud program is under new leadership for the second time in as many seasons.

Fontaine is the fifth head coach since 1998, the first season after legendary Hugo Bolin retired with a 198-127-3 career record and five state titles.

The post-Bolin era hasn't been pretty.

Spaulding went 28-107 from 1998-2010, a span that included time in Divisions I and II. The program celebrated just one playoff season in those 13 campaigns. Jim Keays, known for his championship success at Somersworth High years ago, led the '06 Red Raiders to the Division II semifinals.

Considering the coaching turnover and run of football futility, there was nothing in the preseason that indicated Spaulding (4-4 overall, 3-3 Div. II) would compete for the playoffs.

There weren't any signs in September, either.

The Red Raiders went 0-4, including three consecutive setbacks to perennial contenders in league play. They suffered three shutout losses. They were outscored, 125-8.

Then came the turning point. Rather than fight the formula for winning -- from yet another head coach -- the players bought into it.

“They're realizing it's not just a bunch of hot air. They're taking it and applying it on the field,” said Fontaine, previously a longtime assistant for recently retired Rod Wotton, who owns New England's record for career wins (342), and led Maine's Marshwood High and Dover's St. Thomas Aquinas High to a combined 21 state titles.

Spaulding rattled off four straight wins from Sept. 30 to Oct. 21.

The Red Raiders stunned Keene High, 25-17. They whacked Manchester West High, 47-14. They slammed Merrimack High, 39-0, for the program's first shutout win since the '06 season.

Handling Hudson's Alvirne High with ease, 39-13, Spaulding celebrated its first four-game win streak since 1999, when Dave Keller was at the helm.

Fontaine said the turnaround has been a team effort.

There are, however, standouts in the group. The Scott brothers, Tyrone and Trey, are running the football with purpose. Linemen Dillon Couture and Ben Lafond are providing push up front.

Safety Nate Zriny “is playing fantastic defense,” Fontaine said. “He'll play anything for us. He'll play nose tackle if we ask him to.”

Fontaine's gridders have two regular-season games remaining, though they close their league slate Oct. 28 at Hugo Bolin Field against Plaistow's Timberlane Regional.

A win for the Red Raiders earns them the No. 3 playoff seed.

Surely, Fontaine is excited by his squad's stunning second half to the season. Right?

“Yes and no. I've been there before from prior coaching. You can't get too excited in front of the kids,” he said. “We just do our normal practice, work on what we need to do on offense and defense.”

Spoken like one very focused head football coach.

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New England Roundup: New Hampshire

October, 13, 2011
10/13/11
8:39
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The Little Green cross country machine didn't take long to hit high gear.

New HampshireBoth the boys' and girls' teams for Manchester Central High, fresh off last year's NHIAA championship campaigns, served notice in the season-opening race Oct. 11 that they're still the squads to beat.

Dylan Lafond led the boys and Elizabeth Conway paced the girls as Central swept the Manchester City Championship at Derryfield Park.

“This race was the first step (in the championship season),” Lafond told the New Hampshire Union Leader after posting the lone sub-17-minute time of 16 minutes, 55.6 seconds. “Our goal is to win states, and if we make New Englands, even better.”

Central's boys secured the top three finishes on the 3.1-mile course. Sean Brown and Matt Becker finished second and third, respectively, with times of 17:06.5 and 17:11.2.

Those times helped the Little Green record 26 team points. Manchester Memorial High's Adam Vargas (17:18.1) finished fourth. The Crusaders placed second with 40 points, followed by Manchester West High (70) and Trinity High (74).

Central's girls were equally dominant. Elizabeth Conway had a lot to do with it.

Conway crossed the finish line in 18:54.7. Teammate Laurel Gagnon (20:03.8) finished second – exactly 1:09.1 after Conway. Megan Brockett clinched third with a time of 20:48.5.

Kaitlin George-Blay led the Crusaders. Her time of 21:09 was good for fourth place.

Gang Green scored 20 team points to distance itself from Memorial (56), Trinity (68) and West (102).

“It was scorching on those hills,” Conway told the Union Leader. “Our team is looking pretty strong, though we do have a couple of girls fighting injuries.”

The division championships take place Oct. 29. Central certainly seems posed to, yet again, dominate Division I.

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New England Roundup: New Hampshire

September, 15, 2011
9/15/11
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Imagine if Jerickson Fedrick and Emmitt Smith – rather than running the football for rival teams in the Granite State's heavyweight division – lined up an arm's length from one another behind the same signal-caller.

New HampshireCoaches would truly quiver in their head sets.

Salem High's Fedrick and Pinkerton Academy's Smith certainly made the heads of opposing mentors spin in Week 2, which kicked off NHIAA Division I play. The duo combined for 341 rushing yards on 29 carries, 84 receiving yards on four catches, two near-length-of-field kick-return scores and 10 total touchdowns.

And Smith only played three quarters.

But let's begin with Fedrick, widely considered the state's most coveted college prospect. The 5-foot 10-inch, 195-pound senior, a tremendous blend of speed and power, scored six touchdowns in Salem's 50-28 Sept. 9 win at Manchester Central High.

Salem head coach Jacki Gati said Fedrick is garnering interest from Boston College as well FCS programs Fordham, Maine and Rhode Island. The star's statistics against Central explain why college coaches are keeping tabs.

Fedrick, on 19 carries, ran for 141 yards and four TDs (his rushing total took a hit when he unselfishly fell on Salem's third-quarter fumble 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage). He also recorded run-oriented Salem's three receptions for 37 yards.

Yet he was best on special teams. Fedrick broke free for two first-half touchdowns – of the 98- and 99-yard variety – before halftime.

“I just want to keep moving on the field,” Fedrick told New Hampshire GameDay. “Just don't stop, basically.”

Smith was equally spectacular. He scored four of top-ranked Pinkerton's eight touchdowns in a 56-14 thrashing of No. 2 Nashua South High on Sept. 10.

The 5-foot-8, 152-pound sparkplug turned the corner on his first offensive touch and raced 57 yards down the right sideline for the score.

It sparked a 200-yard game on the ground. Smith hit the mark on just 10 carries, his ninth and 10th attempts going for 43- and 45-yard scores. He also slipped past the defensive secondary for a 47-yard touchdown reception.

“All of our options were doing well (Sept. 10). It wasn't just one guy contributing,” said Smith, whose teammates Kevin Davies and Manny Latimore each rushed for 100-plus yards and a touchdown. “That can create problems for the other team … so it's a good thing for us.”

Makes you wonder what these two talents will do in this year's Salem-Pinkerton Homecoming matchup. The teams play at Salem's Grant Field in Week 4 (Saturday, Sept. 24).

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New England Roundup: New Hampshire

September, 2, 2011
9/02/11
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A year ago, underclassmen-laden Pinkerton Academy wasn't supposed to win its 10th Division I football championship since the celebrated 1985 season. But the young Astros, facing foes with far more experience, beat those odds.

New HampshireThis time around, the odds of repeating are overwhelmingly in their favor.

"Our focus doesn't change at all, even when we're not the favorites," Pinkerton head coach Brian O'Reilly said. "We simply strive for championships. That's our goal, otherwise it's not a successful year."

Quite simply, there isn't a more complete team, at present, than the one residing in Derry.

The Astros return almost everyone. Twelve of the team's 20 seniors are returning starters.

Bulldozer Kevin Davies and speedy Emmitt Smith are the focal points of Pinkerton's Wing-T offense. But there's also junior quarterback Chris St. Onge and sophomore Manny Latimore that round out the returning starting backfield.

Andrew Curran, exclusively a top-line defensive back in 2010, will reprise that role this season. But he's expected to earn touches on offense, too.

On a team stacked with superb athletes, Ryan Coombs could prove most dynamic. The 5-foot 11-inch, 178-pound senior kicks, punts, catches passes and patrols the defensive secondary.

“He's a big-game player. He can be a difference-maker. He's got some outstanding athletic ability that other kids do not have,” O'Reilly said of Coombs. “He just turned 17 for his senior year. He really doesn't come off the field.”

Linebackers Branden Rodgers, Davies and Matt Madden, last year the team's second-leading tackler as a freshman, were huge reasons the Astros excelled in red-zone defense. The linebacking corps added depth with the return of Matt St. Onge, sidelined in '10 with an ACL injury.

Understandably, the Astros were unanimously voted No. 1 in the preseason edition of the fourth-year statewide poll, a joint effort involving the New Hampshire Union Leader, WGAM-Radio and WMUR-TV.

Based on history alone, Pinkerton is the preseason pick.

Since O'Reilly's fabled Ryan Mihalko- and Joe Segreti-led 1985 team surprised everyone to win it all (the program's debut season in Division I) the Astros have always won championships in chunks.

The Astros went back-to-back in 1985-86, copped four straight crowns from 1991-94, and rattled off a three-peat from 2005-07.

But don't talk championship pep rally with O'Reilly just yet. Pinkerton's 34-year head coach knows a grid king isn't crowned in the preseason.

“We might be pegged as favorites. But we weren't pegged as favorites last year – and we won,” he said. “Our focus is 'Don't allow newspaper clippings to influence hard work.'”

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New England Roundup: New Hampshire

June, 22, 2011
6/22/11
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Considering the contest's national significance and how the seven-inning bout played out, there's just one way to sum up the Division II baseball final.

It was sensational.

New HampshirePortsmouth High prevailed in a thriller – a game played in 2 hours, 8 minutes but over the course of two days – to stun Seacoast rival St. Thomas Aquinas High of Dover. The Clippers clinched a 9-6 win at the home of Double-A baseball's New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

The last title game of the NHIAA's “Super Saturday,” a June 18 quadruple-header at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester, ended with No. 1 seed Portsmouth (20-0) celebrating a fourth consecutive crown and national record-extending 83rd straight win.

“What the program has accomplished and what we've gone through, and the attention (the win streak) has earned, to get to this point and not finish it with a win, that wasn't something I was prepared to deal with,” Portsmouth coach Tim Hopley said. “It was a real important game for us.”

Three storylines from the much-anticipated matchup:

Strange time to start. The game was scheduled to start at 8:15 p.m. Portsmouth ace and Northeastern-bound Keegan Taylor didn't fire the first pitch until 10:23.

The last out wasn't recorded until 12:45 Sunday morning.

STA-Portsmouth followed the Division IV final, delayed 50 minutes by thunder. Weather was just one factor contributing to the lengthy game that pushed back the main event's scheduled start time.

“We gave both teams the option of coming back (to play Sunday). It was late. But everybody preferred to get it in,” NHIAA executive director Pat Corbin said. “We had a tremendous crowd. For the kids, they'll always be able to say, 'We're the ones that played the latest game in the history of New Hampshire.'”

Dueling aces. Five summers ago, they were the Nos. 1 and 2 pitchers for Portsmouth's Little League World Series team that reached the U.S. semifinals. As the clock approached 1 a.m. Sunday, STA ace Jordan Bean and Taylor squared off in the game's key sequence.

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New England Roundup: New Hampshire

January, 1, 2011
1/01/11
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You can't ring in the New Year without a countdown.

New HampshireIn the spirit of the time-honored Dec. 31 tradition – counting down the final 10 ticks of the calendar year – here are the top items this reporter contributed to ESPNBoston.com High Schools since its launch in August 2010:

10. The 6-0-3 sets record. New Hampshire extended its win streak in the annual Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl to a series-record 10 games.

The Granite State's recent high school graduates topped Vermont in the 57th all-star football game, played at Windsor (Vt.) High's MacLeay-Royce Field, in early August, 34-20. The previous record for longest win streak was a nine-gamer set by New Hampshire from 1989-97.

New Hampshire's 14-point win makes it sound like the game was somewhat competitive. Guess again.

Despite committing seven turnovers, including four in the first quarter, and amassing 165 yards on 18 penalties, New Hampshire never trailed. The 2010 team did, however, twice lead by 20 points and ultimately improved the state's all-time record in the series to 42-13-2.

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New England Roundup: New Hampshire

December, 16, 2010
12/16/10
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Concord High caught a few teams by surprise during its postseason run to the Division I boys' hockey championship a year ago.

New Hampshire"We certainly got hot in the tournament," said Concord coach Duncan Walsh, recalling his team's run to the title as the No. 4 seed. "I don't think anyone thought Concord was going to win it."

The Crimson Tide's rink rivals won't be fooled this time around. The Tide is the preseason team to beat.

"You've got to start with Concord. They've got a lot of guys back," said Pinkerton Academy of Derry coach Casey Kesselring, whose Astros, as defending champs last season, were ousted in a wide open semifinal round that also featured Nashua's Bishop Guertin and Exeter. "They lost a key piece in (Division I Player of the Year) Kevin Marceau. But they have the Lacasse brothers back."

Pat Lacasse is Concord's top returning playmaker. Nick Lacasse leads a veteran defensive group. The twin brothers are among 16 of 20 returning players from the program's first title team since 1999.

"Goals are going to come harder than last year," Walsh said. "Last year, we had a dominant first line. There weren’t many games they didn’t get two or three goals. I don’t think we’ll get four or five goals (per game), but we might get two or three."

Concord's first line projects to be Pat Lacasse, the lone returning first-liner from last season, and Chris Acres and Pat Cannon. It's on the other end of the ice where the Tide has fewer question marks.

Nick Lacasse, Taylor Lebell and Dustin Walsh earned the bulk of ice time along the blue line during the 2009-10 campaign. Goaltender Brendan Garrett is also back from the surprise squad that ousted top-seeded BG, 4-3, in the semifinals and blanked No. 3 seed Exeter, 1-0, in the final.

"In my opinion, it's Concord, Hanover, Pinkerton and Bishop Guertin. Those are the usual suspects," Exeter coach Jim Tufts said. "But Concord is the defending champ. Their starting goalie is back, and those twins are really good."

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New England Roundup: New Hampshire

September, 1, 2010
9/01/10
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Support for 15-year-old Cooper Doucette extends well beyond state lines.

New Hampshire“A lot of teams and organizations are stepping forward to keep Coop’s spirits up,” said Nashua High School North head football coach Jason Robie.

Doucette, a North sophomore, underwent surgery at Children’s Hospital Boston on Aug. 17 to stabilize his neck and C5 vertebra, which, three days earlier, he broke during a tackling drill. He experienced paralysis from the mid-torso down as a result of the break.

Long-term implications are unknown. But this much is certain: Stars with New Hampshire ties stepped forward to ensure the injured Titan remains upbeat.

University of Oregon head football coach Chip Kelly, a Manchester native and former UNH offensive coordinator, sent a signed card.

Nashua native Ted Phillips, the president and chief executive officer of the Chicago Bears, sent a Super Bowl XLI football. Walpole’s Ryan Durand, a guard for the Tennessee Titans, also sent a football.

Even Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who doesn’t have formal ties to New Hampshire, sent a game-used bat signed to Doucette.

Closer to home, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats are hosting a fundraiser. The Double-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays will donate $3 for every club ticket purchased and $4 per premium ticket sold for tomorrow’s game at Merchantsauto.com Stadium against the Harrisburg Senators.

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