Pinkerton-Exeter in Division I football championship: Let the anticipation begin
Brian O'Reilly quashed any discussion of comparing last year's championship game to Saturday's 1 p.m. Division I final rematch between host Exeter and Pinkerton of Derry. The Blue Hawks won the championship last year with a 23-13 decision.
"Don't even go there," O'Reilly warned. "These are two different teams from last year. We only brought back maybe four starters from last season and the rest were just waiting in the wings."
O'Reilly also deflected any attention to junior running back Manny Latimore who scored five touchdowns to lead the second-ranked Astros past third-ranked Nashua South, 42-3, in the semifinals Saturday in Derry.
"All I will say is that the team is not built around him (Latimore)," said O'Reilly. "He's not even our first option on offense. Instead we're a team made up of different parts."
Still, whether he's the first, second or 100th option, Latimore was impressive against the Panthers.
He scored on runs of 55, 65, 22 and five. Sean Conroy also hooked up with him for a 23-yard touchdown pass. On 15 carries, Latimore rushed for 206 yards.
O'Reilly said against Nashua South, he was pleased with his offense and defense, but said his kicking game was "abysmal. Let's just say we have some work to do (this week in practice)."
O'Reilly also said his team, with all its parts, has been a work in progress.
"If you go back to the first two weeks against Bishop Guertin and Exeter, we didn't rush the ball as well as we have since that time," he said. "Now that's a credit to Bishop Guertin and Exeter. We started slowly coming around on offense. Our defense has been fairly good and consistent from the beginning, giving our offense time to mesh."
O'Reilly said it was about two weeks before his team's non-conference win at Brockton Mass., when he first noticed his squad was coming of age.
"You tend to know you're at that point when we can run the ball even when the other team doesn't want you to," he said. "That was probably about two or three weeks before the Brockton game. By the time we faced Brockton, we reached the point to where we were playing well."
Exeter defeated Manchester Central 42-21 in the other semifinal game, securing the home field advantage for Saturday's match-up between the top two ranked teams in the weekly New Hampshire Union Leader/WGIR/WMUR poll.
O'Reilly said nothing has changed about Exeter, noting Bill Ball will run his straight-T on offense and look to establish field position early and often.
"We've played against the straight-T before, against Jack Gati and his teams," said O'Reilly. "Sure it isn't exactly the same straight-T as Exeter, but we're familiar with it."
For the record O'Reilly is making his 14th trip to a Division I state final as a head coach in his 34-year career. He spent his first seven seasons coaching in Division II.
He is 10-3 overall in Division I state title games. He's also nearly halfway to Chuck Lenahan's 30 state final appearances with Plymouth. O'Reilly chuckled over that fact, saying "I guess that puts things in perspective, doesn't it?"