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Winnacunnet's loss will shake up grid rankings

First and 10 BY MARC THALER
October 14. 2012 12:21AM

THE STATE'S No. 1 high school football team hails from Derry.

Whether Pinkerton Academy receives the ranking that reflects this belief may be the biggest question pertaining to the Week 8 Union Leader/WGIR/WMUR Power Poll.

It isn't the only question, however. Far from it.

The statewide top 10 will be released Monday, and based on results from Friday night, the top half of the Week 8 poll should look different for the first time in weeks.

Top-ranked Winnacunnet of Hampton, suffering its first setback, is likely to slip. No. 2 Exeter, No. 3 Pinkerton, No. 4 Bedford and No. 5 Keene are worthy one-loss candidates to replace the Warriors.

'Flat out, Exeter should be the top team,' Pinkerton head coach Brian O'Reilly said after winning a slugfest with powerhouse Brockton, Mass., 20-14, at Marciano Stadium.

Surprised to learn O'Reilly is lobbying for a Division I rival? The Astros (6-1 overall, 4-1 Div. I) are perhaps playing better than anyone - including Exeter, which has an undeniable edge in the chase for first place.

Bottom line, O'Reilly said, is his team did not beat the defending champion Blue Hawks (6-1, 5-0 Div. I) in Week 2.

'The first tiebreaker in anything is head-to-head competition,' O'Reilly said of Pinkerton's 24-20 Week 2 loss.

This is true. But the Power Poll's purpose isn't to determine playoff teams, set tournament seeding or determine state champions. That has never been the case.

The poll's purpose is to encourage debate throughout the season about who's best.

Exeter is undefeated in Division I. But head coach Bill Ball & Co. were upset in Week 4 by a Division II team, albeit a very good one.

The Warriors (6-1, 4-1 Div. II) celebrated a 27-24 win. It lifted them to No. 1, status expected to change with Friday's 20-7 loss to Keene's Blackbirds (6-1, 4-1 Div. II).

The fact, however, remains: Exeter's non-league loss to a team from a lower division can't be ignored, regardless of the rich history the Seacoast teams share as fierce rivals.

O'Reilly's argument convinced poll voter Pete Tarrier of WGIR-AM's 'N.H. High School Football Show.' He said after Saturday morning's program that Exeter will top his ballot.

'We're definitely talking about the two best teams in the state here ... Hopefully we'll see them meet again in November so we can find out for sure who's best,' Tarrier said.

One must wonder if Bedford takes issue with the notion that New Hampshire's No. 1 team plays in Division I.

Bedford head coach Kurt Hines said several parents asked if he thought the No. 4 Bulldogs (6-1, 5-1 Div. II) had a case to make after defeating Dover, 20-14, with a last-second James Caparell-to-Dylan York touchdown.

'I'm probably going to anger some parents, but where we are at No. 4 is where we belong,' Hines said. 'I couldn't be prouder of them. But the fact is Winnacunnet still beat us (13-6 in Week 2), even with the loss to Keene.'

Similar to the Pinkerton vs. Exeter debate, how much weight should be placed on Bedford's Week 2 loss? The Bulldogs, after all, stormed back in Week 4 to top Keene, 25-24.

Working in Bedford's favor is the fact Keene knocked off the No. 1 Warriors.

Then again, Keene's only loss is to Bedford (25-24 in Week 4). And the Blackbirds succeeded on Friday where the Bulldogs previously fell short.

'The poll's purpose is to get people interested or aggravated,' O'Reilly said. 'In the past, with the whole Plymouth (debate), you got people from both sides weighing in.

'Some argued they belonged in the poll because of their undefeated seasons and national win streak. Others said they couldn't compete against Division I and II teams in the poll.'

Speaking of head coach Chuck Lenahan and his Division IV Bobcats, they're 7-0.

A poll outsider for some time, perhaps it's appropriate that Plymouth throw a wrench into the rankings.

Poll voters have some difficult decisions to make.

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Marc Thaler covers high school football for the New Hampshire Union Leader & Sunday News. He co-hosts the 'N.H. High School Football Show' Saturday 7-9 a.m. on Manchester's WGIR-AM 610 and the Seacoast's WQSO-FM 96.7. Send e-mails to and follow him on Twitter: @marc_thaler.