High School Football: Huge weekend ahead for North, Merrimack, Campbell

Hollis Brookline's Michael Gillespie pulls in a sweet catch at the 1 against Souhegan.

Now we get a big game on the docket.

Actually, a couple of them.

The place to be in the immediate local vicinity this Friday night will be Merrimack High School’s Student Memorial Field, where the Tomahawks will host Nashua North in a battle for West Conference supremacy.

The other would be a battle of unbeatens, with Campbell and Monadnock both 7-0 and the Huskies hosting the Cougars in a rematch of last year’s Division III title game – and perhaps a preview of this one.

In the local Division I battle, here’s what’s at take: The West regular season crown, and home field in at least the first round of the playoffs as it stands now. Both teams are 6-1 going in, and both won relatively easily on Friday night. North’s 47-18 cruise past Keene was expected – it could’ve been much worse before the Titans called off the dogs late in the first half. Merrimack was favored but a 39-7 road win over a Concord team that had been competitive was an accomplishment.

“I told them we haven’t seen as much overall speed as (the Tomahawks) have,” North coach Dante Laurendi said. “The speed of the game is going to be a little different (than this past Friday). We’ll have to adjust very quickly and get ready for a great football game.”

Speed is the name of this one. Merrimack has big play capability as Ben Eichman showed in his 203 yards rushing vs. Concord. Titan Curtis Harris needed only five carries to get 107 yards and three TDs vs. Keene.

Garrett Murray and the Wood brothers, Tristan and Devan, can score from anywhere on the field after QB James Dowling gets them the ball.

Again, high stakes. Theoretically, the loser could have to play another powerhouse, Bedford, in the first round.

“You want to be playing your best football at the end of the season,” Laurendi, himself a former Merrimack head coach, said. “They’re obviously going to be a big challenge. Our focus has to be there. It’s an away game, probably be a great atmosphere over there as there usually is.”

Will it be high scoring? North has become so versatile, when Harris plays quarterback sometimes starting QB Mike Loveless becomes a running back. He scored twice the other night.

Defensively, North forced three key turnovers and blocked a punt. The Titans have been winning the trench war lately, and they’ll need to do that on Friday.

“Our D-line in front played very well (on Friday),” Laurendi said. “If you can control the line of scrimmage, that goes a long way.”

But the Tomahawks’ speed may make that difficult. Remember how they were in the Nashua South offensive backfield most of the time a few weeks ago? Defensively, since losing to Manchester Central in the third week of the season, coach Kip Jackson’s crew has given up just 16 points. Yikes. As Jackson said Friday night of his team, “They fly around and don’t give up many big plays, and if they do, they bounce right back.”

That’s speed.

One coach thinks the Titans are the team to beat, which certainly won’t sit well off Exit 11.

“Nashua (North) looks pretty good,” Keene coach Bill Hope said. “I think (Merrimack and North) match up pretty well. I’d like North over Merrimack from what I saw tonight. But I’d have to look at the film and stuff like that.”

In the Division III battle, one has to wonder what the effect of suddenly not playing will do to the Cougars. If you think North and Merrimack had an easy night, Campbell didn’t even have to take the field vs. Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough on Saturday, as ILM had to forfeit the game due to a lack of healthy bodies, or just bodies in general.

Tale of the tape: Monadnock has allowed just 12 points in its last three games, but only 41 for the season. Campbell, on the other hand, has given up 84 points, but you can argue some is in second-unit time.

But it’s a game in hostile territory.

Nashua South

If you were a Nashua South backer, or even just a casual, objective observer, you had to feel like the Panthers were wronged on Saturday afternoon at Goffstown.

Here’s a team just decimated by injuries with a bunch of underclassmen forced into key positions, and they are slugging it out with a potential playoff team in the Grizzlies, on their home turf.

Put yourself in young Christopher Keefe’s shoes.

A sophomore slot receiver, Keefe was making his first career varsity start behind center. It wasn’t pretty in the second quarter for the South offense, but here the Panthers go, with the drive of the day out of halftime, moving 90 yards in chunks: Two long completions to Brendon Frost, a long Frost run and a 26-yarder from frosh halfback Josh Compoh. It’s a ballgame at 17-12.

And before Keefe can even find the blue Gatorade on the sideline, Goffstown “answers” with an 85-yard kick return TD, on which the returner was tackled, got up and raced 65 more yards.

As the brilliant video work by the Goffstown community television folks clearly showed, the returner’s knee was on the ground.

Yet the five officials, whose job it is to blow the whistle when the runner is tackled, didn’t. They are human.

Coach Scott Knight knew it, he saw it on the team video, but he showed amazing restraint. Talk about class.

Keefe, who finished 6 of 14 for 120 and kept getting up after some brutal hits, is to be commended for his performance Saturday.

Same for the rest of the Panthers.

Souhegan

The Sabers have scored 78 points in the last two weeks, and there is no secret as to whom is making this offense go.

In the two victories over Pelham and HB — each a potential playoff team — Lohnes was 33 of 62 for 447 yards and four TD passes. He’s also run 44 times 234 yards and three scores.

“Keeping the team alive, having something to play for is extremely important. We managed to get it done,” said Lohnes about Friday night’s 35-28 win. “This means a lot, a lot more to our morale than anything. We’ve struggled to win at home (now 1-3) and the playoffs are on the line for us every time we’re out there. This win is something that will really, really help us push on.”

While on the subject of the Sabers, Hollis Brookline OC Shaun Aubut is as big a fan as there is of Souhegan slot man Trey Johnson.

Johnson shredded HB for 10 catches Friday night.

“He’s just really, really good,” said the Cavaliers assistant. “And he’s still just a junior, wow!”

You know Johnson’s QB is a fan.

“Trey and I have such good chemistry. We’re always on the same page with routes and stuff,” said Lohnes. “I think that’s a huge part of him getting open so consistently. I have that with all my receivers but with him it’s special.”

Speaking of Lohnes’ receivers, Luke Manning and Reese Colby have really emerged as weapons.

“Luke and Colby are both sophomores. At the beginning of the year we had about a half dozen sophomore receivers and we all were wondering who would step up,” said Lohnes. ” Those two guys have risen to the challenge and took it on themselves to step up and take leadership and take the spots they’ve earned.”

Milford

The Spartans continued their push from 2-6 to the playoffs with a big win Saturday at Keene.

Right now, it’s all about getting healthy, namely fullback/linebacker Junior Ughu who is expected to miss this week’s game with ConVal and hopefully return for the season finale at Alvirne.

“We’re getting there. We want to just keep playing well,” said Spartans coach Keith Jones. “In this league, the way the weird point system goes with the top team (in each conference) and the next-best six (overall)? Who knows what is going to happen?”

Hollis Brookline

You have to love the grit of Cavalier center Jeremiah Lones, who played every offensive snap at center much of the defensive work at tackle Friday night against Souhegan with a soft cast on his broken wrist.

Tough loss for Hollis Brookline, who lost receiver Michael Gillespie early in the night Friday after his wild, circus catch at the Souhegan one on the opening drive.

HB now holds the edge in a four-team cluster, points-wise, for the final Division II playoff spot. The Cavs also own the toughest, by far, remaining slate at 6-1 Alvirne and at home against 6-1 St. Thomas.

Pelham (at St. Thomas, vs. West), Gilford (at Sanborn, vs. John Stark) and John Stark (vs. Hanover, at Gilford) all remain right there in the cluster.