Once again, the West is not the best in Division I
Nobody wraps up a season like the Merrimack High School football team.
Unfortunately, they’ve been wrapping them up after tough Division I semifinal losses the last few years.
It was quite an emotional scene on Saturday after the Exeter Blue Hawks took just a sliver over two hours to eliminate the Tomahawks, 34-14, in the Division I semis. Not easy to see a dream die, especially for high school kids, some who were playing in their last football game.
So once again, there is not a local team in the Division I finals, set for next Sunday at the University of New Hampshire. There is a local, Hollis Brookline, in the Division II title bout, and that is fantastic. Who would have predicted that?
But after a few weeks into the season seeing the local Division entries, it sure looked like this was supposed to be the year. Curtis Harris helped Nashua North beat Exeter at its own game during the regular season, and the Titans also beat the Tomahawks. But Harris got hurt, among other Titans, and North essentially saw a 9-0 regular season go for naught. They have one more shot with the kid next year, and you’d love to seem them go that title game distance. At least let’s get a semifinal at Stellos Stadium.
South had a nice bounce back year, going 6-3, but, like the Tomahawks, the Panthers had to travel to Exeter for a playoff game and gave up 42 points. The Blue Hawks just don’t lose playoff games at Bill Ball.
Bishop Guertin had its best season in three years at 6-3 and couldn’t crack the playoff roster due to tiebreakers.
It’s one of the toughest high school titles to win. Bedford has won two of the last three. Pinkerton has been in seven finals this decade, winning three, and the decad e began with their win over Nashua North, the last time a local was in the Division I final. Londonderry this year looks like a powerhouse, but that Exeter style of hide and seek with the football leaves the best players flatfooted.
Just ask the Tomahawks, who gave up 75 points in two games to the Blue Hawks this year.
“Any time the bracket includes the South (Conference), people tend to favor that bracket, just because of the way it’s been the last few years,” Jackson said. “In all honesty, Londonderry’s a very good team, I’ve seen some film on them. But they’re going to have to prepare for this style of (Exeter) offense. That’s going to be a challenge for them.”
And, as Jackson said, Londonderry, with all their athletes, will be a challenge for Exeter. The Blue Hawks are back in the finals for the first time since 2016. But, they haven’t won the whole thing since back-to-backs in 2011-12.
“I’m looking forward to seeing it,” Jackson said. “Should be a good game.”
It’s too bad he and the other local Division I coachs have to be spectators for the 6 p.m. special again.
Instead, Jackson and his players endured another tough good bye, but that scene on the turf at Eustis Field in an otherwise empty Bill Ball Stadium was clear evidence how close the Tomahawk football team was, as family members and friends joined the players in hugs and farwells to the season and in a lot of cases, high school football in general.
It was really a tribute to what Jackson and his coaching staff have built over the years in terms of quality kids, family atmosphere, etc. They’ve deserved a chance to play at UNH, but someone always gets in the way. They’ve had to travel for the semis each time (two in Bedford), and it’s been tough.
“I don’t think it mattered the game was (in Exeter), Jackson said. “It mattered that they’re a real good football team, they played well and we needed to play better.”
Maybe it’s this simple:
“Football,” Jackson said, “is a lot easier when you have really good players.”
The area Division I teams have had them , probably the best group this year in recent memory.
But the results, unfortunately, are the same – as in wait til next year.
Tom King may be reached at 594-1251,email@example.com, or@Telegraph _TomK.