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Winnacunnet of Hampton steamrolled its way to the No. 1 seed in Division II football, shutting down Bedford and defeating Division I Exeter along the way.
Hard to believe the Warriors won only three games last year. How'd they become so dangerous after missing the playoffs in 2011?
More experience, leadership and muscle.
Right guard Jordan Cutting (6-foot-2, 280 pounds) and right tackle Christian Dyer (6-foot-4, 280 pounds) often pave the way for running back Ben Franzoso, who has rushed for 1,353 yards despite missing significant action while recovering from a groin pull.
Junior signal caller Ing Hao Veasna has turned in a terrific season in The Year of the Quarterback in Division II. Veasna and Bedford gunslinger James Caparell lead their teams into Saturday's championship at 1 p.m. in Hampton. Winnacunnet, ranked third in the Union Leader/WGIR/WMUR Power Poll, seeks to deliver Ron Auffant his first championship as head coach.
What a difference a year makes.
"For the most part, we have the same team from last year," said Dyer, a senior captain. "We added a few pieces and guys gained a lot of experience. We worked a lot harder in the off-season, too, especially after the season we had (3-7 overall) last year. That made some guys really angry."
Offensive tackle Zach Williams, guard Mike Karpel and center Ryan Welch were among the bigger and better Warriors in 2012. Dyer, for one, added 20 pounds of muscle. He hopes to play in college and is hoping for an offer.
The linemen absolutely love blocking for Franzoso, who is patient enough to allow blocking schemes to develop yet fast enough to break free at any moment.
Franzoso had been limited since suffering a groin pull against Exeter in Week 4. He sat out for two games and wasn't himself for another two games. Finally, in the last game of the regular season, he felt 100 percent and ran wild against Bishop Guertin of Nashua, unleashing touchdown runs of 73 yards and 90 yards and racking up 233 yards on 16 rushing attempts.
"He makes it very easy," Dyer said. "His vision is insane. The holes don't have to be that big. When you're finishing a block, you know it could be a touchdown with this kid."
Auffant was the defensive coordinator on Winnacunnet's state championship team in 2000. That year, the Warriors defeated host Exeter, 10-9. Winnacunnet Regional hasn't hosted a football championship since the Warriors defeated Exeter, 19-7, in 1983.
"We've had a lot of kids who've been playing together the last couple of years," Auffant said. "We made some big improvements this year. It was a combination of those kids getting stronger, faster and having a good off-season."