Semifinal Saturday: Big moment for Titans and Sabers
Welcome to Semifinal Saturday.
It’s a big day at 1 p.m. for two local high school unbeaten football teams. There’s a first-time meeting for the season between two teams in Nashua, and a rematch of a regular season meeting last month in Amherst.
Stellos Stadium will be the site for the Nashua North Titans (5-0) hosting Salem (5-1) in the Division I semifinals. And over in Amherst, the unbeaten Souhegan Sabers (6-0) will host 3-3 Timberlane of Plaistow. The Sabers beat the Owls 41-8 last month in Plaistow.
For North and Salem, it will be their first meeting of the year, and the Blue Devils record wise will be the best team the Titans have faced. North will be looking to make its first title game appearance since 2010.
“I think they are exactly what you think of as a Salem team,” North coach Dante Laurendi said of the Blue Devils, who beat the Titans back in the 2009 Division I finals, 28-21. “It’s as consistent of a football program the last who knows how many years.
“They are tough,physical, scrappy kids, who play together, and take tremendous pride in their program. Offensively they run that Wing-T as well as you can run it; defensively they make you earn every single thing.”
But so do the Titans, who have been dominant in this abbreviated season. Last week was the first game in which they allowed more than one score (42-12 over Merrimack), but those were with mainly the second unit on the field after it was 42-0.
Meanwhile, it’s a Souhegan team that has been strong on both sides of the ball. But early in the season, the Sabers shut out Hollis Brookline and held Bishop Guertin to a touchdown in their two games.
“Our defensive speed is fantastic,” Bowkett said. “We’ve always had pretty good defensive speed, or team speed the last few years. But more so now. We’ve got 11 guys who really understand their role.”
Bowkett said he and his staff have done a better job coaching the defense this season in terms of each position.
NORTH PLAYERS EMBRACING THE MOMENT
The Titans have to be eager for this opportunity, after they beat Merrimack for the first time in three straight quarterfinal matchups. But it’s also a very businesslike team.
“I think they’re excited,” Laurendi said. “They’re very excited because of the opportunity No. 1 to play in this year of uncertainty (due to the pandemic). We’re playing. And I think they’re excited because we’ve had a good year and your on the cusp of doing something special. And we’ve had a great senior class, great group of kids who have had some success and are playing together.
“They appreciate the fact they’re still playing but also know they have a big challenge ahead.”
In Division I, the winner of North-Salem will face the winner of Winnacunnet at Goffstown, also a 1 p.m. game today.
But in Division II, there’s been an unfortunate casualty. The anticipated battle of unbeatens Plymouth and Lebanon won’t take place as it was deemed the Raiders had too many players exposed during their quarterfinal win over Bow, which had a positive case.
“Basically, we have too many kids that have been exposed for us to continue,” Lebanon coach Chris Childs told the Valley News Friday. “My heart just melts for the seniors and he kids. We had a great year, and to have something like this cut it short sucks, for sure.”
PENALTIES A SABER EMPHASIS
If there’s one area the Sabers want to improve on, Bowkett said, it’s penalties.
“That’s one area we want to clean up,” he said. “Whether their warranted or not, the last two weeks, the only team stopping us is ourselves, the penalties. That’s one area we’d like to clean up.”
Two weeks ago, Bowkett had the team watch film on all of their penalties. “We kind of worked through the coaching point on those,” he said. “But you know sometimes those things are out of your hands. Certain things you can control, other things you can’t. When those things happen you have to have a short term memory, move on from them and be ready for the next play.”
Of course what’s called varies from week to week, and crew to crew.
“That’s just part of the deal,” Bowkett said. “Whatever they harp on one week, they might not harp on the next week. You just have to roll with it as the game goes on.”
FOUR YEARS OF TITAN EXPERIENCE
The group of Titan seniors certainly hope today is not their last game, and it’s been one of the most productive senior groups for North in recent years. Some of them have gotten varsity experience back to when they were freshmen.
“This senior class, we probably pulled a bunch of them up, maybe for four or five games in a season in which they started as freshman,” Laurendi said.
“You had Max (Ackerman), Spencer (Whiting), Curtis (Harris-Lopez), and I think Jayden (Espinal) was up. It might have been that Turkey Bowl (2017) We had about six freshmen on the field.”