Boston High School: Tony Johnson

Recruiting Notes: Interest for Newsome building

December, 30, 2012
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Ansonia (Conn.) High School running back Arkeel Newsome is used to being pursued. If opposing defensive players aren't after him, then it's college football coaches who are trying to chase him down.

Newsome, who completed his junior season by leading Ansonia to the Class S state championship Dec. 8, may be the most sought-after recruit in New England next season. He received scholarship offers from the University of Connecticut and the University of Massachusetts last summer, and that list of offers will certainly grow.

“In the last week Rutgers, Penn State and Syracuse have been in,” Ansonia coach Tom Brockett said the week before Christmas. “He's even getting some interest in the state of Florida -– Florida and Florida State. I would guess between now and May he'll have another 15-20 [offers].

“Almost everyone wants him to carry the ball as a tailback. He has the whole skill-set that great backs have: speed, vision and hands. He'd be a great receiver if he wasn't a tailback. Some college is going to be very fortunate to have him in uniform.”

Newsome made plenty of headlines as a sophomore, when he set Connecticut's single-season rushing record by gaining 3,763 yards. Some media outlets listed him as the nation's leading rusher. Others had him at No. 2.

He gained 2,245 yards and and 34 touchdowns on 227 carries as a junior, when Ansonia stretched the program's winning streak to 28 games by beating North Branford 59-26 in the Class S championship game. He set the state record for career rushing touchdowns in the Class S semifinals, and will enter his senior season with 119 rushing TDs.

Newsome said Boston College, Connecticut, Florida, Miami, Penn State, Pittsburgh, South Florida and Syracuse are the schools he hears from the most.

“I like making people miss,” he said. “It's a little early to say anything about recruiting. I'm happy with the two offers I have right now. UConn was the first school to offer. I can definitely see myself there.

“I don't know too much about UMass. I haven't seen them play.”

If there's a knock against Newsome it may be his size (5-foot-8, 180 pounds). Brockett insists colleges aren't concerned.

“Not one college who has seen him in person has expressed concern with his size,” Brockett said. “He carries his weight very well.

“He's a physical back. He's a tough, durable back who doesn't come off the field. “

Newsome, who also plays defensive back, isn't lacking speed. He said his best time in the 40-yard dash is 4.49 seconds.

Still, Brockett said Newsome's vision and ability to change direction is what separates him from most backs.

“You have a lot of kids with speed, but those players who can cut on a dime are hard to find,” he said. “Arkeel is humble, he's a hard-worker and he's a great weight room kid. Just by talking to him you'd never know he's the best player in Connecticut.”

MORRIS LIKES THE LOOK OF BROWN
LaSalle Academy (Bristol, R.I.) running back Josh Morris ended his recruitment last week, when he decided to play Ivy League football at Brown. Morris also had offers from Yale, Bryant, Monmouth and Valparaiso. In addition, he had a preferred walk-on option at Northwestern.

Morris said remaining close to home was among the factors that weighed in Brown's favor.

“At Brown I'm going to be able to get in the weight room right away, get in the meetings right away and meet all the players right away,” he said. “By the time camp comes in the summer I'll be tuning my craft rather that learning it.

“By me going to Brown it carried many great perks. The coaching staff is the best staff I've met. They're ready to make me the best player I could possibly be. Not all of us can go to the NFL. If I'm fortunate enough to then that's great, but if I don't I'll have a Brown University degree. And to me that's priceless.

Morris was Rhode Island's Gatorade Player of the Year in 2011, when he rushed for 1,278 yards and 16 touchdowns on 134 carries. He also caught nine passes for 175 yards, and averaged 39.8 yards per kickoff return.

He was bothered by an ankle injury for much of last season, but still rushed for 1,442 yards (8.1 yards per carry). Morris injured his ankle during a victory over South Kingstown on Oct. 5, but scored three touchdowns in a 41-24 triumph over Bridgewater-Raynam the following week.

QUARTERBACK OPTIONS
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien turned to New England to fill his quarterback shortage. Salisbury (Conn.) School QB Austin Whipple and Worcester Academy quarterback D.J. Crook were each offered – and accepted – preferred walk-on positions in mid-December.

Crook threw for 8,126 yards and 77 touchdowns at Barnstable High School before he enrolled at Worcester Academy last fall.

“He's a hard-worker and he wanted to play at the highest level he could,” Worcester Academy coach Tony Johnson said. “He ran the ball in my system more than he's used to, but he really improved his release. I think they have only four quarterbacks, so he'll get evaluated.”

Whipple's father Mark was the head coach at the University of Massachusetts when the Minutemen won the Division I-AA national championship in 1998. O'Brien was the inside linebackers coach at Brown in 1994, Mark Whipple's first year as the head coach there. He is currently the quarterbacks coach for the Cleveland Browns.

Whipple led Salisbury to a 29-26 victory over a Jonathan DiBiaso-led Phillips Exeter team in the Jack Etter Bowl last November. DiBiaso, who played at Everett High School, will suit up for Dartmouth next season.

Crook ran for two TDs in a 27-21 loss to Salisbury last season.

BOWL SEASON
Everett offensive tackle John Montelus, the top-ranked recruit from Massachusetts in the Class of 2013, will begin practice for Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Monday. The game will be played at the Alamodome in San Antonio and can be seen on NBC.

Montelus has committed to Notre Dame.

Xaverian defensive tackle Maurice Hurst Jr. can be seen in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl one day earlier. The Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl will be played Friday at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., and will be televised by the NFL Network.

Hurst, the No. 2 recruit in Massachusetts, has committed to Michigan.

Recruiting information about high school or prep school players in New England can be sent to Roger Brown at rbrown@nhfootballreport.com.

New England Roundup: New Hampshire

November, 27, 2011
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Bill Ball and his Exeter High Blue Hawks, in their second season competing against the state's largest schools, took the express elevator from cellar to penthouse.

It's one way to explain Exeter's voyage.

New HampshireAs is this: "It's just the ultimate roller-coaster. That's what it is," massive lineman Brad Tiernan said after his team stunned heavy favorite and statewide No. 1 Pinkerton Academy, 23-13, for the Division I championship at Memorial Field in Derry.

The Division I final on Nov. 19 was supposed to be a formality. The Astros, after all, topped the statewide poll since the preseason, securing every first-place vote in the process. They were one win from completing the first wire-to-wire run at No. 1 in the four-year era of rankings.

They were facing a former Division 2 power, but a program that went 0-8 in its Division I debut (1-9 overall) last season.

The Blue Hawks (11-1 overall, 9-1 Div. I) didn't forget those season-long frustrations. But they didn't dwell on them, either.

This team was confident. This team was composed. This team was clutch.

How else to explain the title-game comeback? Exeter erased a 13-3 second-quarter deficit.

Conor Carrier scored the fourth-quarter touchdown that placed Pinkerton in panic mode. The senior's big run off-tackle went for 37 yards and six points. The score snapped a 13-all tie with 7 minutes, 10 seconds left in the season.

Touchback-machine Logan Laurent added the extra point. He also iced the contest with his 23-yard field goal -- a kick preceded by 35- and 40-yard boots -- in the final minutes.

Tyler Grant touched the rock 31 times. He totaled 120 yards in Exeter's old-school straight-T offense.

Jamie Tymann tossed a second-quarter touchdown to Lucas Gajewski. The 15-yard strike sparked the 20-point run to the title.

The toss was the second of Tymann's five attempts. Exeter's senior signal-caller entered the final with just 29 pass attempts on the season.

But defense was the biggest difference-maker. Grant, Carrier, Ethan Joyce and Brian Henry led Exeter's disciplined perimeter defense. It surrendered 77- and 78-yard touchdown runs to Emmitt Smith in the second frame, but little else.

Exeter celebrated its sixth championship under Ball, who capped his 19th season at the helm. The coach previously won five Division II championships in 1997, 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2007.

"To get this done is just amazing," Ball said. "It's amazing."

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New England Roundup: New Hampshire

September, 2, 2011
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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
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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

May, 13, 2011
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It's a head-scratcher of the highest order.

New HampshireTony Johnson, among the Granite State's most successful head football coaches, will not return for his 18th season at powerhouse Bishop Guertin High, the three-time defending Division II champion.

Also the Nashua school's athletics director for the past four years, Johnson announced his stunning decision on May 6. He first broke the news to his assistant coaches and student-athletes.

Word spread quickly.

Pinkerton Academy head football coach Brian O'Reilly – whose Division I champion Astros play yet another much-anticipated season-opening crossover contest with BG this fall – said his reaction was complete disbelief.

“Tony has obviously done an exceptional job at Bishop Guertin,” said O'Reilly, entering his 34th season at the helm in Derry. “When I think of Bishop Guertin football, I immediately think of Tony Johnson.”

O'Reilly, whose program is a 10-time Division I king, isn't alone.

On this topic, easily obtainable answers exist to four of journalism's five W's: Who?, What?, When?, and Where? The fifth question is much tougher to explain.

Why?

“My passion is coaching,” said Johnson, who will remain BG's athletics director. “But really, (BG officials) wanted me to focus on being AD.”

Four years earlier, Johnson became AD in addition to coaching football. He said his performance in both roles has been reviewed annually.

Johnson, a Guertin graduate (1977), simply said the powers-that-be wanted him to focus more attention on all sports programs.

Minus any details, which haven't emerged from behind Guertin's doors, this move is baffling. Guertin fields championship-caliber teams in a variety of fall, winter and spring sports.

Let's see how much longer Guertin football remains a force. Johnson and his loyal assistants are a big reason for BG's stranglehold on Division II.

Johnson took over in 1994, fresh off a winless campaign. BG reached the final in 1997, the first of 10 title-game trips under Johnson's tutelage.

The Cardinals finally finished No. 1 in 2004, securing their first crown since Johnson starred for the school's 1975 title team as a junior.

Johnson's juggernaut has won six of the seven state championships since 2004. All that separates the Cards from seven straight titles is, quite possibly, a controversial pass interference penalty late in the 2007 final against Exeter High. The infraction gave Exeter life, and led to a 14-13 comeback decision.

“It will not be the same,” O'Reilly said. “Whoever follows (Johnson) is behind the 8-ball.”

That's because the successor will work in a giant shadow cast by the former coach, still serving as AD.

“We'll open this thing up. We're going to do an open search,” Johnson said. “I owe it to my kids to find the best coach I can.”

JOHNSON'S PREPARED STATEMENT
BG's former head coach read this statement to select media members after informing the football team of his decision to leave the sideline:

“My heartfelt thanks goes to the thousands of young men I have had the honor of coaching and teaching over the past 17 years. I want to thank my loyal coaches, thousands of great parents, alumni and friends of BG for their contributions in achieving an unparalleled record of winning football games, developing outstanding scholar-athletes, and to their dedication of the highest principles of good sportsmanship and citizenship.”

CLIPPERS CLOSE TO RECORD
Portsmouth High's baseball team (10-0) is close to tying the national record for consecutive wins.

The three-time defending Division II champion won its 73rd consecutive game on May 11. The Clippers beat Amherst's Souhegan High, 9-3.

But it was Portsmouth's 70th straight win that stands out. It certainly qualified as nail-biter baseball. The Clippers clinched a 4-3 comeback win against Dover's St. Thomas Aquinas High on May 2.

Pitching ace Keegan Taylor was tagged for a first-inning home run that placed the Clippers in a 2-0 hole. Jordan Bean, STA's top hurler and Taylor's teammate on the celebrated Portsmouth Little League squad that reached the national semifinals of the 60th World Series in 2006, belted Taylor's third toss of the game.

Portsmouth's third-inning four-spot erased the deficit.

Bill Hartman cracked an RBI double. Matt Feeney ripped a two-run single. Taylor tripled to plate Feeney with the game-winning run.

Taylor threw a four-hitter on 100 pitches. Northeastern's recruit recorded 10 strikeouts and walked one.

The current win streak record-holder is Michigan's Homer High, which beat 75 teams in a row, according to the National Federation of State High Schools Association.

If the Clippers defeat Durham's Oyster River High on May 13, they'll play for a share of the record on May 16 at Kingston's Sanborn Regional.

The potential record-breaker game is May 18 at Pembroke Academy.

LANCERS LOCKED IN
Londonderry High survived a fierce five-game stretch from April 30 to May 11, which kept its state-best girls' lacrosse win streak alive. The streak reached 48 straight games with a 14-4 Division I win over arch-rival Pinkerton on May 11.

It was Londonderry's lone lopsided win in the 12-day span.

The Lancers (11-0) edged the Bay State's Duxbury High, 12-11, on April 30. They worked a 10-8 comeback win at Pinkerton on May 3.

Three days later, Londonderry beat Concord High, 8-6. The Lancers kept the Crimson Tide off the scoreboard for the final 22 minutes, and erased a 6-2 second-half deficit.

They again faced Concord on May 10, and topped the Tide, 12-9.

From front to back, the Lancers displayed their balance. Attackers Leah Walter and Julia Wasserman, midfielders Jenny Thompson and Alexa Bedell, defenders Amy Johnson and Lindsay Conroy, and goalkeeper Crystalle Parent all made critical contributions.

“All the stuff we've been trying to teach throughout the year is just starting to come into place,” Londonderry coach Bob Slater said. “This is when we wanted it. This is when we needed it.”

SCHOLAR-ATHLETES HONORED
Twenty-nine seniors from schools throughout the state were the honored guests at the 24th annual Joe Yukica New Hampshire Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame scholar-athlete dinner on May 4.

The number of standouts – celebrated by 200-plus members of the state's football community at the Executive Court in Manchester – tied the record set last year. At least one school from each of the six New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association (NHIAA) football divisions was represented.

A five-man selection committee from the Yukica foundation chose from nearly 50 candidates nominated by their coaches. Prerequisites for consideration included football talent, good grades and high character.

This year's winners included:
  • Chris Almeida, Souhegan (Amherst)
  • Jared Barczak, Trinity (Manchester)
  • Nick Kepka-Calvetti, Souhegan
  • Matthew Cannone, Salem
  • Sam Carney, Hanover
  • Tim Croteau, Nashua North
  • Stephen Cuipa II, Bishop Guertin
  • Joseph DiPalma, Salem
  • Keith Farkas, Nashua South
  • Benjamin Fee, Winnacunnet (Hampton)
  • Dan Folger, Bishop Guertin
  • Nick Hession, Souhegan
  • Jake Holmes, Laconia
  • Max Jacques, Salem
  • Brandon Karkhanis, Nashua North
  • Jim Kemos, Bishop Guertin
  • Kevin Kosiorek, Mascoma (Canaan)
  • Doran Logsdon, Laconia
  • Anton Marinchik, Nashua North
  • Sam McClain, Bedford
  • James Murphy, Nashua North
  • Cody Patch, Lebanon
  • Jack Pearl, St. Thomas Aquinas (Dover)
  • Jonathan Roth, Lebanon
  • Michael Seaman, Epping
  • Luke Somers, Pinkerton
  • Matthew Sullivan, Winnacunnet
  • Michael Sullivan, Winnacunnet
  • Nicholas Sullivan, Newport
STARS TO SHINE
The Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD) recently announced plans for New Hampshire's first East-West high school football all-star game. The inaugural contest is June 23, 2012, at the University of New Hampshire's Cowell Stadium.

The game will benefit CHaD and the Kristen's Gift fund for pediatric oncology.

Each team's roster will include 36 players based on nominations made by their head coaches. Players must compete for schools recognized by the NHIAA.

Every division will be represented by, at minimum, one athlete. A maximum four players may be chosen from a single team.

Route 3 and Interstate-93 are the dividing lines that create the “East vs. West” matchup.

“The team of organizers that we’ve assembled will do a masterful job in premiering the state's only all-star football game,” event founder Nick Vailas said in a written statement. “New Hampshire football will be elevated by this platform, and players should aspire to make the teams' rosters in order to showcase their skills in an event that will raise awareness and funding for CHaD and Kristen’s Gift.”

GRANITE STATE GREATS
  • Bedford High goalkeeper Austin Lauzier made at least 20 saves in consecutive Division II boys' lacrosse contests on May 7 and 9. He stopped 21 shots in a 17-10 loss at Souhegan on May 7. He made 20 saves in an 11-8 win over Portsmouth two days later.
  • Jack Dowst, a midfielder at Manchester's Derryfield School, totaled seven goals and three assists on May 9. His 10-point effort paced the defending Division III boys' lacrosse champion in a 13-10 win over Lebanon High.
  • Pinkerton's Ryan Feney was a double threat on the baseball diamond May 9 at Rochester's Spaulding High. He struck out nine batters and hit a two-run homer in his team's 5-3 Division I win.
  • Mickenzie Larivee and Meggie Whitney each recorded five goals and an assist in Souhegan's 19-3 Division I girls' lacrosse win over Manchester Central High on May 10.
  • Julia Nolan led Litchfield's Campbell High to a 1-0 Division III softball win over Conant High of Jaffrey on May 11. She fanned 14 batters and celebrated her 100th strikeout of the season.
  • Oyster River girls' basketball star Danielle Walczak, a scholarship recruit for the University of Maine, secured a spot on Parade Magazine's 35th annual All-America high school team. The 6-foot 1-inch center will be profiled in the publication's May 15 issue.
Marc Thaler is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader & Sunday News. He can be reached at marc.thaler@gmail.com. You can read his blog, "New Hampshire GameDay" and follow him on Twitter @marc_thaler.

New England Roundup: New Hampshire

February, 9, 2011
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Mike Kelly's dream of playing Division I college football turned nightmarish before the high school campaign built any momentum.

New Hampshire“When it happened (last September), I got down. Like anyone else would,” Kelly said of the Week 2 foot injury that ended his senior season for Nashua's Bishop Guertin High, the eventual Division II three-peat champion. “It just didn't seem possible.”

Nor did this: Verbally accepting a partial scholarship offer on Jan. 27 to play football for the University of New Hampshire, which competes in the Football Championship Subdivision's super-competitive Colonial Athletic Association.

“Knowing most colleges go off senior tape, I didn't think it would be enough for colleges to assess me,” said the 5-foot 9-inch, 176-pound talent, a projected slot receiver, kick- and punt-returner, and possible cornerback for the Wildcats. “I was nervous about that. In one game, to seemingly have (my dream) taken away, it was a hard thing to come to grips with.”

Good thing Kelly, a Merrimack resident, enjoyed a career contest in the season-opener. Guertin routed defending Division I champ Salem, the heavy preseason favorite to repeat, 48-21.

Kelly was impossible to contain.

The top weapon in BG's spread-option attack totaled 310 yards of offense and five touchdowns. His 17 carries generated 193 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He also caught three passes for 117 yards, including a 65-yard catch-and-run TD on the season's first play from scrimmage.

Running a crossing pattern toward the left sideline, Kelly snared in stride Steve Cuipa's 20-yard toss and hit high gear. He burned past Salem's secondary for the final 45 yards.

It was vintage Kelly, who a year earlier scored three touchdowns in Guertin's Division II title-game clincher.

“He's gifted. He's got tremendous speed. And on the football field, speed is everything,” BG athletics director and head football coach Tony Johnson said, noting Kelly ran the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds before injuring his foot. “(UNH coaches) looked at his ability to change directions, excel quickly, sustain speed for a long period of time. They were interested in him in spring of his junior year.”

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New England Roundup: New Hampshire

November, 24, 2010
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On the eve of coaching Pinkerton Academy to its 10th Division I football championship in his 33rd year at the helm, Brian O'Reilly had a conversation that triggered some great gridiron memories.

New Hampshire“The phone call came to me at my house from Ryan Mihalko, down in North Carolina, wishing us good luck,” O'Reilly said on Nov. 20, after his statewide No. 1 Astros shut down Nashua North, 14-7, in front of 2,500 wind-chilled fans at Memorial Field. “It was like, 'There's my 1985 guy who won the national championship at Notre Dame in '88.'

Mihalko, along with Joe Segreti, also led Pinkerton's legendary '85 team to the program's first title under O'Reilly. The group is among the four greatest single-season teams of New Hampshire's 38-year schoolboy football playoff era.

It's arguably the top team of the quartet, too. O'Reilly's '85 team is held in such high historical regard because, just one year earlier, it was a Division II program.

And 25 years after Mihalko helped Pinkerton manhandle the competition en route to a surprise undefeated season, O'Reilly's Astros reached rarefied air.

“We've had a lot of great players over the years. We don't do it with smoke and mirrors here,” said O'Reilly, who improved to 10-2 in Division I title games (10-3 overall) and bumped his career record to 240-98. “We have 3,400 kids (at Pinkerton), although that's recent. We didn't have that back in the old days.

“We are a large school. We have a lot of athletes. We have great feeder programs. We do it with players, and I've had great, great players over the years,” he added, specifically naming Mihalko, Segreti and early '90s star Matt Jordan, a national champion at UMass. “All those championships are a testament to all those players that we've had.”

O'Reilly's 10th title team didn't have individual stars. But the collection of talent, particularly on defense, powered Pinkerton (10-2 overall, 9-1 Div. I) to its first crown since 2007.

Co-captains Luke Somers and Mike Mazzola, among just 10 seniors listed on this year's roster, paced a defense that delivered in crucial spots.

Certainly capable of scoring points, these Astros won by preventing them. They allowed an average of 16.5 points to league foes. The average dropped to 14.8 points after their lone league loss, a 33-7 drubbing in Week 3 by the very Titans they tackled for the title.

In the semifinals, Pinkerton held defending champion Salem, the league's high-scoring team (413 regular-season points), to a TD in each half. It resulted in a 21-14 win, decided on Emmitt Smith's 12-yard run with 21 seconds remaining in regulation.

The bend-but-don't-break defense sure delivered in the championship game. Three times in the second half, including its last two possessions, North was stopped cold in the red zone.

Linebacker Kevin Davies, whose game-high 94 rushing yards and TD were critical, deflected a fourth-down pass attempt at his team's 4-yard line. The play ended North's second-to-last drive. Somers and cornerback Ryan Coombs made key plays in the final minute to keep the Titans out of the end zone.

“We've had a lot of experience stopping (offenses) on the goal line,” said Mazzola, a running back and defensive end whose 15-yard TD with 7-plus minutes to play erased Pinkerton's 7-6 title-game deficit. “We take pride in that. We like to dig deep and we don't want to give up.”

PERCHED ON TOP
Bishop Guertin's Cardinals are again a three-pete champion in Division II.

The Nashua program survived a staggering number of injuries throughout the season to reach its 10th championship game in 14 years. It also claimed its sixth title in seven seasons with a 14-13 comeback win over Winnacunnet of Hampton at Stellos Stadium on Nov. 20.

“This was probably the most challenging team I've coached since '99,” BG head coach Tony Johnson said in reference to the season-long injury bug that ravaged his roster.

Thirty-four players suffered injuries this season, ranging from minor to season-ending. But BG (10-2, 9-1 Div. II) overcame the many changes in personnel.

The defense – anchored by linebacker Jim Kemos – forced a critical late-game turnover in each playoff game. Jim Carver recovered a fourth-quarter fumble against Keene and returned it 30 yards for the game-winning score. The play erased a one-point deficit in BG's 28-21 semifinal win.

Brody Smith pulled down an interception inside BG's 10-yard line in the final minute of the title game. It ended Winnacunnet's potential championship-winning drive and preserved the clutch TD connection between quarterback Steve Cuipa and Nick Pyzocha.

“We had two common denominators through the whole season, one on offense and one on defense,” Johnson said. “'Coop' (Cuipa) on offense, Kemos on defense. Everything else, we were moving parts.”

SUPERB UNDER PRESSURE

Souhegan celebrated a Division III three-peat on Nov. 20. The Amherst squad – trailing by five points late in the fourth quarter – needed an 85-yard drive to do it.

Known for quick strikes through the air, Souhegan (11-1, 10-0 Div. III) orchestrated an uncharacteristic 14-play march. Senior signal-caller Mike Luks capped the drive with a 3-yard run and Denny Desserault added the two-point conversion that lifted the host Sabers past Portsmouth, 24-21.

“There was a lot of drama in the drive. We did it in a pressure-packed situation,” Souhegan head coach Mike Beliveau said. “The best part is we left (Portsmouth's) high-powered offense only 51 seconds to counter.”

Luks completed 31 of a program-record 54 pass attempts for 305 yards and two TDs. But Dessereault and Matt Schagrin made season-saving plays that sustained the drive.

Dessereault pounced on a loose ball that Souhegan fumbled forward after Luks completed a pass to midfield. Schagrin converted a critical third-down pass by launching himself horizontal to the turf.

“The thing about this year's group of seniors, and there are 20 on the team, is they believe they're never out of a game,” Beliveau said. “That's been their M.O. since they were in youth football.”

SECOND-HALF SURGE

The boys from New Hampshire's Upper Valley reached the mountaintop for the first time.

Twenty-four unanswered points erased a 14-point deficit and earned Division IV Lebanon (11-0) its first NHIAA football crown on Nov. 13. The Raiders topped Trinity of Manchester, 24-14.

Star senior Cody Patch scored Lebanon's second and third touchdowns in the second half. Patch's key runs were sandwiched between Chris Barker's short-yardage scores in the second quarter and Justin Judd's fourth-quarter field goal.

Mark Davidson delivered the big blow. The lineman blocked Trinity's third-quarter punt that set up Lebanon's go-ahead score.

“They never give up,” Lebanon head coach Chris Childs told the New Hampshire Sunday News. “They kept plugging along and fighting adversity. That second half was just phenomenal.”

STORYBOOK SEND-OFF
Kearsarge Regional of North Sutton completed an undefeated Division V season on Nov. 13. The Cougars doubled up Dover's St. Thomas Aquinas, 12-6.

The six-point decision earned Kearsarge its first football championship. It also proved the perfect goodbye gift for retiring head coach Dennis Hoffman, who started the program in 1994.

“It's just unbelievable,” Hoffman told the New Hampshire Sunday News. “To be (11-0) in my last season, it just doesn't get any better. What a story.”

Doug Gregory was the difference on offense. Kearsarge's quarterback cracked the 100-yard rushing mark, which included 10- and 7-yard TD runs. His second score snapped a 6-all tie early in the final frame.

BACK ON TOP

Division VI Newport ended its title drought on Nov. 13. The second-seeded Tigers gutted top-seeded Gilford, 35-0, in the championship round.

The championship win was Newport's first since claiming the Division IV crown in 1995.

Newport (9-2) offered a steady diet of Harrison Wade, whose 134 rushing yards and three TDs helped avenge a 40-20 regular-season loss to the Golden Eagles two weeks earlier.

3-FOR-3

Manchester Central's boys won the team title at the New England Cross Country Championships. The trend that started with wins at the Division I meet and Meet of Champions concluded with another solid effort at Thetford (Vt.) Academy on Nov. 13.

Sam Gagnon led the Little Green. He placed 18th overall with a time of 17-minutes, 15.9 seconds. Dylan Lafond (32nd, 17:31.1), Matt Becker (45th, 17:42.8), Zach Chabot (72nd, 18:06.4) and Max Tucker (96th, 18:20.4) also scored points for the winning squad.

DIAMOND NOTES

Keep tabs on Salem seniors Nick Poore and Josh Treff after they graduate. Both will play Division I college baseball.

Poore, a 5-foot 11-inch, 170-pound left-handed pitcher, signed his Letter of Intent to join Boston College. Treff, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound catcher, signed with Northeastern.

Last season, Poore went 8-2 with 1.23 ERA. In 62 2/3 innings pitched, he struck out 90 batters. Seven of his 11 appearances were complete-game efforts. Six times he amassed double-digit strikeouts.

“Nick put himself with an elite group of pitchers that have come through New Hampshire,” Salem head baseball coach Dan Keleher said. “He earned the respect of BC before his junior year started, and then went out and backed it up. The two playoff games against Exeter and (Nashua) North he was dominating, winning both games 2-1.”

Treff last spring hit .378 (28-for-74) with four homers and 16 RBI. He also worked 10 walks and scored 23 runs. He hit safely in 19 of Salem's 23 games. Eight times he recorded multiple hits.

“Josh came into his junior year needing to improve his offensive production; he was already the best defensive catcher in the state,” Keleher said. “He came through to lead the Salem offense, highlighted by his walk-off home run against Timberlane in the (Class L) quarterfinals.”

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 marc.thaler@gmail.com.

Guertin prepares for Mass. bout with No. 8 CM

September, 30, 2010
9/30/10
2:27
PM ET
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 marc.thaler@gmail.com.

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