West is winning: Blue Knight gridders enjoying modest success this season
Manchester West High School football coach Jim Lauzon talks to players during a walk through practice Monday at West High School. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)
Manchester West High School football coach Jim Lauzon talks to players Robert Place, left, and Jared Camire, during a walk through practice Monday at West High School. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)
MANCHESTER - THE LAST time Manchester West won three consecutive football games, the team's 24-year-old head coach was a senior quarterback in the program.
And the Blue Knights were Division I contenders.
Six years after Jim Lauzon helped West's 2006 team rattle off four in a row, the third-year Division II Blue Knights ride a modest two-game streak. Lauzon, in his second season at the helm, has guided them to a 3-2 record (2-2 in Div. II).
“The whole school has been stamped with this image, especially since Bedford left, that we're not much,” said Lauzon, referring to the opening of Bedford High, the multiple-year exodus of athletes that resulted, and the corresponding hit West athletics took. “(Football) dropped a division. I hear people say, 'Oh you go to West? I'm sorry to hear that,' or 'Oh, you coach there?' “I use that as a point with the kids,” Lauzon added before Monday's walkthrough practice at West Memorial Field. “Wins will come in time. But we've got to change the image.”
Quickly matching last year's win total helps. West's last winning season was 2007, when the program made its most recent postseason appearance (Div. I semifinals).
“West hasn't been so great. We wanted to change that around,” said senior running back/safety Jared Camire, a three-year varsity player. “Our thing is (last year's team) set the table. This year we eat.”
The Blue Knights opened this season with a 43-19 win over Division III Merrimack Valley of Penacook. Losses followed against Division II heavyweights Bishop Guertin of Nashua (27-0) and No. 1-ranked Winnacunnet of Hampton (47-6).
Week 4 was significant. Hosting perennial playoff candidate Timberlane of Plaistow, the Blue Knights returned to .500 with a 43-40 comeback win. Senior quarterback Zach Ziemba led the offense on a game-winning, length-of-field drive in the final minutes.
Ziemba, a former soccer player, never called signals before this season. The 5-foot 11-inch, 175-pound captain convinced Lauzon last November to approve a positional move from receiver.
“I think people aren't going to take us seriously. And that's fine. We're not really worried about them,” said Ziemba, whose team last Saturday topped Merrimack, 31-13. “We're just playing for our team and our coaches.”
Camire said the 2012 playoffs are “a silent thought” for the Blue Knights. Ziemba called tournament qualification “a long shot goal right now.”
“We're just happy we're out here playing, trying to win some games,” Ziemba said.
Contributions are coming from multiple classes. Lauzon said West's varsity features 22 players. The team calls upon junior varsity athletes, of which there are 23, for certain offensive and defensive packages.
Robert Place is opening eyes on defense. The sophomore has played for banged-up senior captain Chres Barrett, half of West's play-making linebacker duo that includes junior Colin Knight.
Knight is also a physical blocking fullback on offense. Senior running back Hank Pineault and junior receiver Zach Theriault add athleticism to West's skill positions.
“We take a lot of shots (down field),” Lauzon said. “We kind of live and die by that.”
Camire and Ziemba are clearly important components to the quick-strike strategy. But the duo, like Lauzon, maintains offensive linemen Alister Tenters, Barrett, Michael Garcia, John Ware and Stefan Rajkovic are the biggest reasons for West's surprise September.
The Blue Knights on Saturday have the chance to pull off their biggest surprise to date. It would be monumental.
West visits, of all places, No. 4 Bedford (4-1, 3-1 Div. II). Kickoff at Bulldog Stadium is 2 p.m.
There's no doubt West is a decided underdog. Then again, this squad expects nothing less.
“We've got to beat one of these top 10 teams if we want to be taken seriously,” Lauzon said. “I don't know when it's going to happen, but we'll get there at some point.”