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Monday, October 18, 2010

These days, nothing should be taken for granted

NASHUA – The Nashua High School North football players turned their heads almost in unison back up toward the Stellos Stadium press box on Friday night, coaxed by the voice of press box announcer Bob Bates.

The announcement was about the South-Londonderry game, which had gone into overtime.

The Titans did their job moments earlier, polishing off a 41-27 win over the Concord Crimson Tide in a game that was not nearly as close as the final score indicated. But the players’ close interest in the upset-in-the-making at Londonderry served as a reminder that this year especially, you’ve got to pay close attention to what’s going on in Division I – and Division II for that matter.

Who is the favorite in Division I? Some say Pinkerton. South was looking great until Friday.

In Division II? If you think Bishop Guertin was stunned by Dover a week ago Saturday, what about what Timberlane did to Winnacunnet on Friday night , taking a 26-14 win?

“I don’t think anything surprises us at this point,” North coach Jason Robie said. “On any given day – I tell you what, I went up and watched Exeter play Pinkerton. And those Exeter kids, talk about fighting the dog, wow. They give people problems and fits because they play hard.

“And we have Memorial next week, and they’re an improved team. It’s going to be a battle. And we know that. We understand what’s at stake next week. We have a lot of work ahead of us. By no means is this going to be an easy year for anybody. There’s not a gimme in this league. At this point in the year, if you can be healthy, and peak at the right time. …”

One of the players who bounced back for North the other night was running back Andre Williams. He was punishing Concord tacklers en route to a 181-yard, three-touchdown rushing night after rushing for nearly 100 fewer yards against South in the same number of carries (18) the week earlier. Plus he had a huge 60-yard kickoff return to start the game.

“He’s a physical specimen, he runs with authority, and I thought we blocked pretty well up front,” Robie said. “People know who he is, and they’re going to prepare to stop him. When they do that, they’ll put more people in the box and that opens things up for our passing game, opens things up for Jamar (Gathright, three catches for 82 yards and a TD, plus a rushing touchdown) and for BK (quarterback Brandon Karkhanis.

“We run the ball first. … And if you load the box we’ll throw the ball around.”

Yet in an inconsistent year, even North has had to deal with inconsistencies.

“People’s opinions outside the program, they vary,” Robie said. “One week we’re on top of the world, the next week it’s ‘Who are these guys?’ We know who we are, and we have to keep giving that effort each and every week.”

Nashua South vs. Londonderry

You could say the elements conspired against the Nashua South football team on Friday night.

Choosing to play the home game on a muddy field with standing water – probably the worst playing surface in Division I since improvements at Salem – Londonderry had the conditions it wanted.

The conditions seemed perfect for Londonderry’s single wing, power running offense, which features a direct snap to the running back and little if any passing.

The Lancers proved it by gaining 360 yards on the ground in the first half. They came with two yards of having three ball carriers over 100 yards in just the first half alone.

South, in the wide open spread offense that features speed, motion and lots of passing, seemed stuck in the mud and trailed 41-13 at halftime.

But the Panthers rallied to tie the game in the second half before dropping a 54-48 decision in double overtime. South coach Scott Knight was offering no excuses when it was over.

“We were like a scout team in the first half,’’ Knight said. “We didn’t make a lot of Xs and Os adjustments at halftime, we just decided to play.

“We couldn’t do the things we would have liked to do. The field didn’t help us, but they played on the same field we did and scored more points than we did.’’

So South, which could have solidified its position as one of the four playoff teams in Div. I, drops to 3-2 with Salem coming to Stellos on Friday night.

With Central improving to 3-2 on Friday night, it’s hard to believe the South-Central season finale on Nov. 5 at Stellos won’t be pivotal for both teams.

Bishop Guertin vs. Manchester West

Overlooked in the offensive fireworks of Saturday’s 55-0 demolition of Manchester West by Bishop Guertin was the fact that the Cardinals’ defense not only shut out the Blue Knights, but dominated them, giving up just 88 yards of total offense.

Considering that West did march 35 yards on their first drive (aided by two BG penalties), that figure is astonishing. (West quarterback Aaron Martin was responsible for 62 of those, with 38 yards rushing and 24 passing).

“Physically, I thought they did a very, very good job,” said coach Tony Johnson of his Cardinals.

“That was the bottom line. We haven’t played a good physical game, in my opinion, in almost two and a half weeks. We started hitting – I think defense and special teams set the tone, and the offense got going.”

Among the defensive stars for Bishop Guertin – keep in mind, most of these guys played less than a half – were Sean Fenn (two sacks), Jeremy Bayne (fumble recovery, sack), and Nathan Chartrand (an interception).

On special teams, Ryan Card eight of his extra points- at least on the first attempt. One successful extra point had to be re-kicked because of a penalty, and the second try was block.

Alvirne vs. Pelham

Alvirne’s 14-12 victory over Pelham on Saturday was a relatively penalty-free affair (just five for the game, between the two teams), but one penalty could have changed the entire outcome of the game.

Heavy winds led the Broncos to go almost exclusively with the run, but they called the rare pass play deep in their own end late in the first half. The Pythons’ Jacob Diaz intercepted Joshua Cohen’s pass and returned it for a touchdown, but the play was called back because of a personal foul on Pelham prior to the pick.

The touchdown came off the board, the ball went back to the Broncos, and the fifteen yards of penalty proved crucial because the Broncos ended up punting from out at the 30 instead of in the shadows of their goal line.

Merrimack vs. Spaulding

Outside of a 90-yard touchdown return by Tyrone Scott, it is difficult to find any positive moments for the Red Raiders of Spaulding in the 48-7 domination by Merrimack in Rochester on Saturday, but there almost was another moment that proved brought a sense of deja vu for the visiting Tomahawks.

Spaulding nearly caught Merrimack punter Kevin Grosso for a safety after blocking his punt just after the start of the fourth quarter Saturday night.

The kick ricocheted to Grosso’s right and he recovered it in the end zone, but was able to scramble to the left and out to the 19 yard line, eluding several tackles and a bad reminder of their game losing safety to Keene a week before.

“(Grosso’s) a former soccer player and still getting used to things,” said Merrimack head coach Joe Battista.

Despite the excellent field position, Spaulding would give the ball back on downs. Merrimack couldn’t convert on the next drive either, but Grosso redeemed himself, sending one 55 yards.

Under the NHIAA’s football playoff system, which rewards five points for a road win and four points for a home win, Merrimack’s win at Spaulding brought it to a 3-3 division record and 14 points, the same point total but a lower rating (2.33 to 2.8) than 3-2 Dover.

BG, Winnacunnet and Timberlane are all 4-1 with 18 points (3.6 ratings), while Keene is 4-0 with 18 points (but a 4.5 rating).

Having already faced BG and Dover, Merrimack will need some help to grab the fourth and final playoff spot. It has two division games remaining, against Manchester West this week and at Winnacunnet on Nov. 5.

Hollis/Brookline vs. Bedford

With so many high-scoring shootouts in local high school football this year, the extra point almost seems to have lost its value, but in Hollis/Brookline’s 9-0 win over Bedford on Friday night, the one extra point to be kicked loomed large.

Due to the unusual nature of being up just 2-0 when Brian Liamos scored on a five-yard run in the third quarter, the extra point attempt by McHale Perkins was the difference between a one-score lead and a two-score lead.

Adding to the drama was a botched snap in the wet conditions that forced Perkins to stop, plant, and kick the ball while standing still. Not only did the ball make it through the uprights, but it still nearly cleared the tops of them.

Considering the good natured ribbing about football players being tough and soccer players not, it was Perkins, a standout on the Hollis/Brookline girls soccer team, who made one of the night’s clutch plays in foul conditions.

The Cavaliers ended up shutting out the Bulldogs, but late in the game the Bedford air attack started clicking and it did appear as if they might put together a drive for a touchdown, making that point after all the more critical.

Staff writers Tom King and Gary Fitz, and correspondents Matt Lordan and Andrew Syliva contributed to this story.