Reaching championship football games gets tougher every year
Merrimack High School Kip Jackson was understandably emotional.
In fact, for a moment after Saturday’s 30-8 loss to Bedford in the Division I semifinals, he was at a loss for words, fought back tears, and had to compose himself.
“I’ve been doing this for 21 years,” he said, “and this is my favorite team.”
It was understandable. Several players came up and hugged their coach, who has established quite a theme with the Tomahawks – successful on the field, and successful off it in terms of great behavior and community presence.
Plus, the seniors who played in their final game were members of Jackson’s first full four-year class. There was a huge emotional tie.
Thus, you wanted a better ending for the Tomahawks on Saturday. Twice now in the last three years Jackson has seen his teams falter in the semis; two years ago it was a close, painful loss. This year, just painful.
On that same day in 2016, Nashua North lost in the other Division I semi in what was also a down-to-the-wire game at Exeter. We were that close to an all-area final.
However, see a theme? The area hasn’t had a Division I team in the finals since Nashua North lost to Pinkerton in 2010, now an eight-year drought. And none, obviously, since the enrollment-based realignment into one big four conference setup in 2013.
The moral of the story: It’s getting tougher and tougher to get there. Alvirne’s latest miracle finish vs. St. Thomas in another semifinal on Saturday – it’s got to be that Tarek Rothe Rhythm, right – ended a local seven-year drought of final appearances for the new Division II/old Division III since Souhegan’s title in – you guessed it – 2010.
Bedford, since they vaulted up into Division I, have been a force the last few years, losing to Pinkerton in the title game in 2014 and beating Exeter in 2016 by a 7-0 margin. Of course Pinkerton has been ever present, thinking title every year. Exeter has hit a down cycle, but the Blue Hawks have been no stranger to the championship game. Even Goffstown had a shot. Winnacunnet was a force for a couple of years with a title last year. We will see how Ron Auffant’s resignation this past week as Warriors head coach impacts that program.
“There’s a lot of teams that are out there to find success on a yearly basis and are doing a good job of it,” Bedford coach Derek Stank said. “And I’m just fortunate that we feel that we’re a program that’s joined that league.”
“It’s tough, it really is,” Jackson said. “You’ve got to have things going the right way. We had a great group of seniors, our first class we’ve had for four years, and they’re great kids.”
Alvirne did the right thing and moved down to Division II, where it felt it could legitimately compete, and now it is competing for a championship. There have been a few naysayers cropping up privately in the last few weeks, annoyed that the Broncos dropped down. But if you’ve followed their history, athletic director Karen Bonney and principal Steve Beals made the right call.
Bishop Guertin? The Cardinals are just getting their numbers up, but they are far removed from the Tony Johnson coached dynasty.
Which brings us back to Nashua North and South, who keep alternating back and forth with good seasons. Actually, in 2016, they were both playoff teams.
But is either close to a title game appearane? You’d have to think North could get there with a dynamic player like Curtis Harris, but hey, football is the ultimate team game. South has some up-and-comers too. The coaching at the area’s four current Division I schools is superb. Kids are simply kids, unpredictable, and pulled in a zillion different directions.
As Jackson said Saturday, “Even in college you start over but you get to pick your guys. We have the guys that are in the school that we get. We’ll start over next week. It’s 52 weeks a year now.”
Does that tell you how tough it is for a lot of schools or what?
Thus we were spoiled a decade ago. From 2007-2010, a Nashua team was in the Division I title game. Remember, that’s post-Split.
They always used to say that getting to the finals is half the battle. For local Division I high school football these last several years, it’s the entire war.
Tom King can be reached at 594-1251,firstname.lastname@example.org, or@Telegraph_TomK.