Who's the best high school quarterback in the state? You probably can make a case for a handful of players, two of whom will be on opposite sidelines when Goffstown meets Souhegan of Amherst at St. Anselm College Saturday at 7 p.m.
Despite missing two full games and the second half of two others, Goffstown's Connor Benjamin will enter Saturday's contest with 1,151 yards rushing and 822 yards passing. He has run for 17 touchdowns, passed for 11 more and been intercepted five times.
The case for Souhegan's Tyler Ford starts with these statistics: 81 completions in 164 pass attempts for 1,395 yards and 15 touchdowns (9 interceptions), plus 760 yards rushing and 11 TDs on 83 carries.
"I'd say they're comparable," Goffstown coach Justin Hufft said of the two QBs. "(The Sabers) throw the ball a lot more than we do. Ford is really an exceptional athlete. He really scrambles and keeps plays alive.
"Connor has really has had a great year. He's gotten stronger, faster - and he's really improved big-time throwing the ball."
In addition to his QB duties, Ford is also a defensive back and the team's kicker for punts and kickoffs.
"Tyler has done an unbelievable job directing the offense," Souhegan coach Mike Beliveau said. "Some games he's done it with his legs, like when he had 215 yards against Portsmouth. Some games he's done it through the air.
"As far as Benjamin, I think he's the most explosive player in the division, and in the state he ranks right up there with the best of them. It's a matchup between two great quarterbacks in the state of New Hampshire."
The Saturday night showdown will punctuate the NHIAA's regular season and put the final pieces in place for the Division III playoffs.
Since opening the season with a non-league loss to Winnacunnet of Hampton, Souhegan has won eight games in a row, including a 35-28 victory over Division I Manchester Central. The Sabers (8-1 overall, 7-0 in Division III) already have secured the No. 1 seed for the Division III playoffs, and they enter the weekend ranked seventh in the statewide New Hampshire Union Leader/WGIR/WMUR Power Poll.
Although the road has been much bumpier for Goffstown (5-4, 5-2), the Grizzlies can secure the No. 2 seed and a home game for the Division III semifinals by beating Souhegan.
Milford (6-3, 5-2) and Portsmouth (6-2, 5-2) will complete the Division III playoff field.
Beliveau said his team will treat Saturday night's game like any other on its schedule.
"We're going to play all-out to win," he said. "I'm not sure it would be fair to the players to handle it any other way."
Hufft, who is in his second season as Goffstown's head coach, played at Souhegan and coached with Beliveau for 11 seasons. He was an assistant coach at St. Anselm before taking over the Goffstown program, and he said moving the game to Grappone Stadium was a way for his team to play a "home" night game without renting lights.
"It's something we had been looking into since last year," he said. "The opening kickoff is at 7, but we're asking Souhegan to show up at 8."
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IT APPEARS that Winnacunnet, No. 4 in the Power Poll, is getting healthy at the right time.
Tailback Ben Franzoso has missed the team's last two games with a groin injury, but Winnacunnet coach Ron Auffant said Franzoso will play in tonight's game against Bishop Guertin of Nashua. Two-way tackle Jordan Cutting (toe) and wide receiver/defensive back Alec Boucher (flu) also missed last weekend's game against Merrimack but are expected back in the lineup for tonight's contest, which will be played in Hampton.
Franzoso has been at less than 100 percent since he led Winnacunnet to a victory over Division I Exeter in late September. He aggravated the injury during Winnacunnet's overtime victory against Dover, but then played sparingly against Keene and didn't play at all in victories over Timberlane Regional of Plaistow (7-0) and Merrimack (32-8)."
We figured we could win some of these games without him," Auffant said. "I wouldn't say he's at 100 percent, but he's much better. I think there's a good chance he could get 10 to 12 carries (against BG).
"Defense has really carried us the last few weeks, but now we're as healthy as we've been since the Exeter game."
If Winnacunnet (8-1 overall, 6-1 in Division II) defeats BG (5-3, 5-2), the Warriors will be the No. 1 seed for the Division II playoffs and meet the Cardinals again in the semifinals. A BG victory could drop Winnacunnet as low as the No. 4 seed and would open the door for Bedford to earn the No. 1 seed if it can beat Merrimack, which is winless.
"Their backs run hard, and their skill people are good," Auffant said of the Cardinals. "We're definitely going to be tested."
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MILT ROBINSON said Saturday's game against Milford will be his final one as Hollis/Brookline's head coach.
"The decision had nothing to do with the team or the school; it had to do with my kids," Robinson said. "Just missing too much of their stuff. I don't want to miss any more, because you don't get it back."
Robinson - who has a 12-year-old daughter, McKenzie, and 9-year-old son, Garrett - has been Hollis/Brookline's head coach since the school first fielded a team in 2003. The Cavaliers have been a varsity program since 2005.
Hollis/Brookline has qualified for the playoffs twice, in 2010 and 2011. The Cavaliers lost in the semifinals each year.
"This wasn't an easy decision for me," Robinson said. "It's been a fun 10 years."
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THE SEMIFINALS in Divisions IV, V and VI will be played Saturday. The higher-seeded team in each of the six games won the regular-season meeting against its semifinal opponent.
The Division VI game between top-seeded Mascoma Valley Regional of Canaan and fourth-seeded Newfound Regional of Bristol has been moved to Hanover High School but is still scheduled to start at 1 p.m.
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THE WINNER of tonight's game between Pinkerton Academy of Derry and Nashua South will earn the No. 2 seed for the Division I playoffs. The loser will be the No. 3 seed. The teams will meet again in next weekend's semifinals.
- - - - - - - -Roger Brown may be reached at email@example.com.