Football Rewind: Nashua North awaits another shot at Exeter
Exeter High School Bill Ball said it best as he was walking off Motta Field at Stellos Stadium with a little gleam in his eye after a win over Nashua South.
“It’s playoff time,” he said.
Indeed it is, and for the locals in Division I, there will be three in action next Saturday. Unofficially – the pairings will be released today – Nashua South should have an immediate rematch with Exeter at Bill Ball Stadium while Nashua North and Merrimack will likely hook up again in a rematch of last year’s quarterfinals.
Of course, with North, the question will be the health of all-everything QB Curtis Harris, the state’s leading rusher who is just as good on defense. Without him, the Titans battled in a hard fought but tenuous 7-0 win over Portsmouth Friday that likely would have been much more decisive had Harris been healthy.
The odd team out in Division I local circles? Bishop Guertin, which finished the season 6-3, but loses out in tiebreakers to both the Panthers and, most important, the Tomahawks. South had three road wins, Merrimack and BG had two, and Merrimack beat BG 35-19 three weeks ago head to head.
In Division II, it’s just like the great Yogi Berra said, “Deja vu all over again.”
For the second straight year Alvirne High and Milford met in the final week in the season and will meet in the opening round of the playoffs.
Ditto for Bow and Souhegan High. Played in the last week last year and first round of playoffs, and they’ll do it again – squared.
“Let’s go,” said Sabers coach Robin Bowkett, whose club is the eighth seed and hung very tough with Bow for three quarters before falling, 41-31.
“Offensively, we stopped ourselves. We played really solid offensively for three quarters, then we had back to back turnovers to start the fourth quarter. You’re not beating a team like Bow when you do that.
“Defensively, we can make some minor adjustments, take away what they were hurting us with.”
Bowkett, per usual, is optimistic and ecstatic about the postseason. He’ll get a couple of role-playing types back into the rotation, too.
“Just having a little more depth will help us, not just in this game but moving forward through the playoffs,” he said. “The D-II playoffs are awesome. There might be seven teams with a shot to win it all.”
For Alvirne coach Tarek Rothe, the three losses his team has suffered might have sounded like a lot back in August.
Of course, two were by one point, including Friday night’s classic with the No. 2 seeded Spartans.
“As the seventh seed I feel pretty good about it,” said Rothe. “We both know each other really well. We feel like we gave them a pretty good fight and it could be whoever gets the ball last will win, just like Friday night.
“I feel pretty good where we are. We’re in the dance. We’ll play anywhere. We’ll play in the parking lot.”
The other two D-II quarterfinals are expected to be Hollis Brookline at Kennett and Plymouth at Pelham.
How much of Friday night’s game was feeling each other out in preparation for a rematch?
“There was some of it,” South coach Scott Knight said. “But we were playing. We weren’t holding anything back, and I know they weren’t. Getting an idea of how we match up.
The Panthers did all the wrong things for three quarters against the Blue Hawks, mainly giving them a short field for the first two as they were able to pile up 24 points and then allowed a typical Exeter long drive to down the field.
That can’t happen this Saturday.
The Panthers had some bright spots. Sophomore Josh Compoh ran hard for 71 yards, and defensively, South did a good job on Exeter’s first scoring opportunity, limiting the Blue Hawks to a field goal.
” He (Josh Compoh) had a couple of good plays, and Jason (Compoh) runs hard,” Knight said. “He’s tough.”
It will be interesting to see what the film study shows on both sides.
” I think obviously we’re going to look at the tape, they’re going to look at the tape, and everybody makes their adjustments, Ball said. “I’ve played Scott enough times to know what he’s all about and the good job he does.”
Knight said there will be a lot of film watching, especially on the long drive the Blue Hawks had to start the second half.
” We made some mistakes on that,” he said. “That’s all a matter of watching some film. You don’t have a lot of room for error. Everybody’s got go be where they’re supposed to be. Their backs are really, really good, and they’ve got a couple of lineman that were getting up to our linebackers. So we have to take a look at some things.”
What type of team is Exeter? It seems to be more of a Bill Ball type of team.
” It is,” Ball said. “Grinders, good senior class, committed to each other.”
And committed to running Exeter football – witness the Blue Hawks opening second half drive that chewed up 8:47 on the clock.
“That was good,” Ball said, “But we know what we’re in for.”
“We’ll see what happens next week,” Knight said. “We’re going to have to play a lot better. I have no doubt we’ll have a good game next week.”
The Titans got a great game from Jayden Espinal the other night, and one player who makes big receptions for them no matter who the QB is is Sam Nicholls. Nicholls had the game-winning catch at Portsmouth the other night.
The question is, will he be catching any more passes from Harris this year? Harris, according to Titans coach Dante Laurendi, is set to undergo tests today on his injured left knee, and then the team will proceed from there.
One thing that can’t be overlooked is North’s defense, which pitched a shutout the other night without Harris, who is just as effective on that side of the ball. Other than allowing 28 points vs. Exeter and 19 vs. Merrimack, the Titans gave up a total of 26 points in the other seven games, with three shutouts.
It was an emotional meeting after Saturday’s 22-14 win over Dover, as the Cardinals knew it would likely be their last night at Stellos Stadium together.
But in a nice touch, on the game’s final play, senior quarterback Hayden Moses was able to go out and take a knee in the BG victory formation. Remember, Moses, who hopes to attend Brown University next fall, was supposed to be the Cards starting QB this season but tore his ACL in the preseason, ending his high school career.
“We knew it was a possibility, and he got permission, and we talked about it,” Cards coach John Trisciani said. “Obviously we needed to be up, and we needed to have the ball, and we did. So it ended up working out. I’m happy for him.”
“It was a great way to end the year, after a great season by the guys, coming back after a lot of tough injuries,” Moses said.
And none tougher than the one Moses sustained.
“It was rough, obviously,” he said. “Going into week one, not being able to play or help out. I was trying to help out as much as I can from the side.”
But finally, Moses, who had surgery a few weeks ago, was able to put the uniform on and be out on the field with his team.
“It felt to come out with the guys,” he said, “and be out there one last time.”
In Division III, the Cougars pulled off as big a regular season win as they could have, knocking Lebanon from the ranks of the unbeaten.
And they did it without their standout Keegan Mills, who was ejected in the first quarter for kicking another player.
The victory gave the rest of the state the chance to understand that guys like Carter Vedrani, Conor Sweeney and Cam Barrett are truly deserving of the spotlight.
“Those guys have been the backbone of Campbell’s success,” said coach Glenn Costello. “Those are kids who have been consistently reliable. It was awesome to see them shine in a big situation.”
Campbell will now host Stevens in the opening round of the playoffs. The Cougars canned the Cards in the state semis in 2018 but did not meet them in the 2019 regular season.
“Coach (Paul) Silva does a great job coaching up the kids he has,” said Costello. “If we can go out and execute, we’ll be in pretty good shape.”
Mills status was not discussed with the coach, but rules state that if a player is ejected for any reason, he must also sit out the next game.
That would leave the Cougars without Mills in the opener.