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New Hampshire Football Preview

9/20/2013

How much interest is there in Saturday's Division I game between Exeter and neighboring Winnacunnet of Hampton?

Put it this way: If 4,000 fans show up for Saturday's contest there will undoubtedly be some who will label the turnout a disappointment.

The Exeter-Winnacunnet rivalry has become the fiercest in the state.

“It's the biggest game of the year,” Exeter coach Bill Ball said. “Always has been. Always will be.”

This year's game will have even more meaning since both programs are in Division I. The programs battled in Division II until Exeter moved to Division I after the 2009 season. Winnacunnet moved to Division I after last season.

Both teams will enter this year's matchup with a 2-0 record. Winnacunnet has won close games against Bishop Guertin of Nashua (23-22) and Nashua North (20-17). Exeter has beaten Dover (48-6) and Keene (13-3).

“Like all of our games against Exeter, this one will be won in the box,” Winnacunnet coach Ron Auffant said. “Their offensive line is big and they come off the ball well, so our kids will have to be tough against their running game. Defensively, the key against Exeter is first down. You have to take them out of their comfort zone.

“We'll have to pick our spots (on offense) and try to make some big plays. They're physical, but I like our athletes.”

Exeter has won the last two Division I championships. Winnacunnet, which won last year's Division II title, is the only team that beat Exeter last season.

“It's always huge when we play Exeter,” Auffant said. “We'll have to bring our A game.”

DIVISION II

Merrimack Valley of Penacook is off to a 2-0 start and may be the most intriguing team in Division II.

Merrimack Valley first fielded a varsity program in 2002 and has had one winning season since then (5-4 in 2008). Pride quarterback Ivan Niyamugabo has drawn some FCS interest, and Tucker Burt has added some punch to the running game after playing for New Hampton Prep last season.

Merrimack Valley, which didn't win a game last year, will get its stiffest test to date when it plays at Portsmouth (1-1) on Friday night.

“They're better than anybody we've played, that's for sure,” Merrimack Valley coach Dave Jackson said. “Everywhere I look I see athletes who can catch the ball.

“I think for us to win it'll have to be a high-scoring game. We have some speed too. We have some play makers.”

DIVISION III

Pelham is one of three unbeaten teams in Division III –- Fall Mountain (Langdon) and Campbell (Litchfield) are the others -– and will try to raise its record to 3-0 when it plays Somersworth (1-1) in Pelham on Friday night.

“I think Somersworth is the best team in the division,” Pelham coach Ryan Clark said. “They have a strong winning tradition. We'll need our play makers to step up.”

Running back Chris Medeiros is the leading rusher in the team's double-wing offense. He's one of several four-year starters on the team.

Pelham finished 3-6 last year, Clark's first season as the program's head coach.

“I felt like we finished last season strong, and we didn't really lose much,” Clark said. “This Friday is going to tell us a lot.”

UNION LEADER/WGIR/WMUR POWER POLL

1. Exeter (2-0)

2. Bedford (2-0)

3. Concord (2-0)

4. Nashua South (2-0)

5. Pinkerton Academy (1-1)

6. Winnacunnet (2-0)

7. Keene (1-1)

8. Trinity (2-0)

9. Londonderry (2-0)

10. Plymouth (2-0)

WEEK 3 SCHEDULE

Division I

Friday

Dover at Alvirne

Nashua North at Spaulding

Timberlane at Nashua South

Bedford at Londonderry

Concord at Merrimack

Saturday

Winnacunnet at Exeter

Manchester Central at Manchester Memorial

Manchester West at Goffstown

Pinkerton at Salem

Keene at Bishop Guertin

Division II

Friday

Laconia at Kingswood

Merrimack Valley at Portsmouth

Kearsarge at Hanover

Lebanon at Trinity

Con-Val at Milford

Saturday

Pembroke at Sanborn

John Stark at St. Thomas

Kennett at Plymouth

Souhegan at Windham

Monadnock at Hollis/Brookline

Division III

Friday

Epping-Newmarket at Raymond

Somersworth at Pelham

Saturday

Bishop Brady at Campbell

Farmington-Nute at Winnisquam

Newfound at Franklin

Gilford at Inter-Lakes/Moultonboro

Newport at Fall Mountain

Stevens at Bow

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