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.”
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.”
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
Dover at Alvirne
Nashua North at Spaulding
Timberlane at Nashua South
Bedford at Londonderry
Concord at Merrimack
Winnacunnet at Exeter
Manchester Central at Manchester Memorial
Manchester West at Goffstown
Pinkerton at Salem
Keene at Bishop Guertin
Laconia at Kingswood
Merrimack Valley at Portsmouth
Kearsarge at Hanover
Lebanon at Trinity
Con-Val at Milford
Pembroke at Sanborn
John Stark at St. Thomas
Kennett at Plymouth
Souhegan at Windham
Monadnock at Hollis/Brookline
Epping-Newmarket at Raymond
Somersworth at Pelham
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.