NHIAA football will have a new shape next season, when the state's 57 teams will be squeezed into three divisions.
Manchester's three public schools - Central, Memorial and West - will all compete in Division I North, a conference that will also include Bedford and Concord. Trinity will be part of Division II South, along with John Stark, Milford, Souhegan and Windham.
What effect, if any, will this have on the Manchester Turkey Bowl? "Logic would dictate eliminating Trinity from the mix," said Central coach Ryan Ray, who is preparing his team to face Trinity on Thursday. "That's what happened a few years ago when Trinity stepped out of Division I to play an independent schedule.
"Since three teams will be in the same division, people might be more comfortable with a clear-cut way of determining the two best teams. That's just my opinion. I don't have any say in how it goes."
Manchester athletic director Dave Gosselin said no decision has been made regarding how next year's Turkey Bowl teams will be selected. It could be a three-team race between the public schools. A weighted formula based on regular-season victories - like the one currently in place - could be used to include Trinity. Or there may be more than one game.
"Memorial has asked me about having its own game," Gosselin said. "It's a Catch-22 because then you have to find a team to play. At this point, everything is up in the air. Right now we're just trying to get through this year's game."
The key matchup in Thursday's Central-Trinity contest will be Trinity's clock-killing double-wing offense against a Central defense that has struggled against strong opponents this season. Central (6-5) surrendered 91 points in its two games against No. 1 Exeter, 49 points against No. 3 Pinkerton Academy, 28 points against No. 8 Nashua South and 35 points against No. 9 Souhegan.
"We don't want to get behind and let them choke the clock," Ray said. "We'll have to play well in all three facets of the game."
Trinity (9-2), which lost to Plymouth in the Division IV championship game, has two players averaging more than 6 yards per carry: wingback Romeo Masuku (93 carries for 736 yards) and fullback Ryan Carrier (100-605).
Central has two of the top offensive players in the state in quarterback Riley Cote and split end Troy Pelletier. Despite averaging 26.2 points per game, the Little Green couldn't get past Exeter in the Division I semifinals.
"We'll need to slow down their offense," Trinity coach Steve Burns said. "You're not going to stop them. They have some of the top skill-position players in the state. Controlling the clock by running the ball will certainly be a big factor for us."
Central has beaten Trinity in each of the last two Turkey Bowls and has a 17-10 record in the game. Trinity is 8-5, West is 6-9 and Memorial is 0-7.
"This is a big game," Burns said. "This is the city championship."
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THE Nashua North-Nashua South contest is the only Thanksgiving Day game that features teams that have already played this season. South scored 27 points in the second quarter en route to a 30-17 victory in the rain on Sept. 28.
South quarterback Trevor Knight and South running back Dymier Hyde each ran for 115 yards in that contest.
"I think we had three turnovers in that game that led to points," North coach Jason Robie said. "We have to tackle better and not turn the ball over."
North (4-6 ) has a 2-6 record against South (6-5) on Thanksgiving. South leads the overall series 12-6.
"It's the last game for the seniors, and the last game of the year for the whole team," Robie said. "You want to go out with your best effort. We prepare for this game as hard as we do any other game as a staff, and we expect the kids to do the same."
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THE annual Thanksgiving Day games between Dover and Portsmouth, and Merrimack and Souhegan were on life support at this time a year ago, but each series was extended. The question is: for how long? "I don't know if I can answer that question," Souhegan coach Mike Beliveau said. "It's a little vague because both schools have new athletic directors. There was talk of extending it for four years with this being the first year, but I'm not sure either athletic director is aware of that. These (agreements) aren't things you always put in writing."
Souhegan (9-2) began playing Merrimack (0-10) in 1997, and leads the series 10-5. The teams will meet in Merrimack this year.
Originally, this year's game between Dover and Portsmouth wasn't scheduled. The series, which began when Portsmouth dropped from Division II to Division III in 2006, was extended by a year, but whether or not the teams will play next year is uncertain.
"We want to play the game," Dover coach Ken Osbon said "If we don't play next year it will be because someone on their side didn't want it to continue. We do not want to see it end."
Dover, which will travel to Portsmouth on Thursday, has won three of its five Thanksgiving meetings with Portsmouth.
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THERE ARE two other Thanksgiving games on the menu: Salem will play at Lawrence (Mass.) tonight (6), and Somersworth will play at Spaulding on Thursday (10 a.m.) It will be the third time Salem (0-10) has played Lawrence (2-8). The teams split the two previous games.
Spaulding (2-8) and Somersworth (8-2) will be meeting for the fifth time. Each team has prevailed twice.
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WINDHAM coach Bill Raycraft had hoped to play a Thanksgiving Day game this year, but nothing materialized.
"We didn't have any takers," Raycraft said. "I was contacted by some Bedford parents, but I think Kurt (Bedford coach Kurt Hines) was focused on the Division II championship game. Ideally we'd like to play somebody local, but we'll travel if we have to."
A Windham-Salem game might make the most sense, since Windham students used to attend Salem. Alvirne and Londonderry are also possibilities. Alvirne will have a new coach next season.
"New coach, new opportunity," Raycraft said. "I'm not sure what Salem's situation with Lawrence is. Maybe (Salem athletic director) Dave Rozumek and I can work something out."
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DIVISION I champion Exeter (11-1) is the only program that has finished first in the Union Leader/WGIR/WMUR Power Poll twice. The state's top-ranked team in the poll's five-year history:
2012 - Exeter
2011 - Exeter
2010 - Pinkerton
2009 - Bishop Guertin
2008 - Nashua South
- - - - - - - -Roger Brown may be reached at email@example.com.