NHIAA football power poll: Status quo at the top: Exeter, Pinkerton 1-2
The final regular-season New Hampshire Union Leader/WGIR/WMUR Power Poll features the defending Division I state champion Blue Hawks (9-1) and the three-time dynasty king Astros (9-1) snugly sitting atop the state's football world.
But it's anyone's guess, including recently retired head coach Jack Gati (221-138 career record, four state championships), as to which team will add another state title plaque to their trophy case in two weeks.
"It's really a tossup," said Gati. "These are two sound disciplined coached teams, who have a history of being successful because they're very consistent."
For now, the pollsters have Exeter entering the post-season as the No. 1 team. All eight first place ballots went into Exeter's column, giving the Blue Hawks an 80-70 margin in total poll points over Pinkerton.
The chance of a Division I championship rematch between the Blue Hawks and Astros from Derry are strong.
Pinkerton just beat No. 3 seed Nashua South, 40-20, in the Gate City Saturday while Central, a 49-0 regular-season loser to Exeter, hasn't played well down the stretch. In the last three weeks, the Little Green lost to Division III Souhegan of Amherst, got steamrolled (42-0) by Pinkerton and beat winless Salem (50-6), which has given up 359 points this season.
"Central struggled in the first quarter against Salem last week before they got it going," said Gati. "The bottom line for me is who's been playing consistently well. To me, Exeter has been a machine. They have a great defense, can score points and their special teams have played very well all year. Central has been very inconsistent."
Last week's Nashua South-Pinkerton affair settled home field advantage for this week's semifinal game.
"I think it's important to note that both Pinkerton and Nashua South played a meaningful game last week," said Gati. "In a situation like that where you know you're going to face the same team next week in the playoffs, some coaches tend to lay back a little bit and some times that backfires on you. I didn't see it that way last week. Both teams came to play and that will carry over into this week."
Gati said both teams will make adjustments for this week's game.
"Naturally Nashua South has to figure some things out, like what schemes worked and which ones didn't in certain situations. Pinkerton will also review the film and see where they can tighten up a few things."
Nashua South's loss to Pinkerton dropped the Titans one spot to No. 6 this week in the poll. The Little Green weren't a top 10 team last week, but the pollsters vaulted them into the No. 9 spot this week.
Winnacunnet of Hampton switched places with Division II rival Bedford this week. The Warriors (9-1), who gained the top seed in their division after beating Bishop Guertin of Nashua, 28-14, are ranked third in the poll. Bedford (8-1) is No. 4 after taking care of business against Merrimack, 33-8.
Will Keene's regular-season loss to Manchester West three weeks ago come back to haunt them? Time will tell.
The Blackbirds rebounded well from that defeat, beating BG and Timberlane to close out the season as the No. 5 team in the poll with an 8-2 record. But the loss to West cost Keene a possible home playoff game and now the Blackbirds must beat the Bulldogs in Bedford to reach the final. Bedford beat Keene in the Elm City during the regular season.
Souhegan of Amherst (9-1, No. 7) and Plymouth (10-0, No. 8), who use to battle each other many times for state championships, remained stable in the poll from last week to this week.
Defending Division II state champion Bishop Guertin (5-4), which stumbled to the finish line, losing to Keene and Winnacunnet the past two weeks, is the No. 10 team in the state.