Roger Brown's First and 10: Offenses suit Pinkerton, Exeter to a T
Exeter running back Chris Kelley, center, gets sandwiched by Chris St. Onge, left, and Matt St. Onge during the second quarter of the teams' Sept. 8, game in Derry. (JOSH GIBNEY/UNION LEADER)
Roger Brown's Grid PicksSaturday
Division I championship
A strong argument can be made for either team in this contest. The Exeter defense isn't playing as well as it was when the Blue Hawks upset the Astros at this time a year ago, so if Exeter allows a couple of big plays that result in touchdowns (see regular-season game vs. Winnacunnet) Pinkerton will be celebrating Saturday. Otherwise, Exeter's kicking game will likely be the difference.
Exeter 17, Pinkerton 14.
Division II championship
The home-field advantage could be significant here. Bedford would undoubtedly prefer to be playing at home — on turf — but will have to play on the dirt in Hampton instead. A slow track favors the Warriors, who are bigger on both sides of the ball.
Winnacunnet 21, Bedford 14.
Division III championship
Portsmouth didn't meet much resistance when it beat Goffstown by 34 points (56-22) during the regular season. It'll be much closer this time, but the Clippers have the better defense.
Portsmouth 34, Goffstown 26.
Both quarterbacks will be under center, and there will be very few, if any, four-receiver sets when top-seeded Exeter (11-1, 10-0) meets second-seeded Pinkerton of Derry (11-1, 9-1) in Saturday's Division I championship game.
The spread offense may be all the rage in New Hampshire high school football these days, but two of the most consistent programs in the state still run a large dose of the old-fashioned wing-T. In Exeter's case, it's a marriage of the wing-T and the even more conservative straight-T.
Exciting? Maybe not. Successful? Absolutely.
Brian O'Reilly has been running the wing-T since he took over as Pinkerton's head coach with two games left in the 1978 season. He owns a 251-102 coaching record and has guided the Astros to 10 state championships. Pinkerton has reached the Division I championship game in eight of the last nine seasons.
Bill Ball has been running a mix of the straight-T and wing-T since he became Exeter's head coach in 1993. Ball's coaching record is 162-54, and his teams have won six state titles (five in Division II). Exeter has qualified for the playoffs in 16 of the last 18 seasons.
"Everybody wants to be Oregon now, and that's OK with me," O'Reilly said. "I thought when the spread came to New Hampshire - and Nashua South brought it here - South had an advantage because they were the only team running it. Now our kids see a spread offense every other week. It's ho-hum.
"Now it's teams like Exeter, Pinkerton and Londonderry, with the single-wing, that have the advantage because you're looking at such a unique offense."
Pinkerton runs the Delaware wing-T, and O'Reilly went right to the source to learn it. He and his staff made the trip to see legendary coach Tubby Raymond at the University of Delaware between the 1978 and '79 seasons.
Ball learned the wing-T when he played and coached at Melrose (Mass.) High School under Joe Hoague. The straight-T became even more popular in the Exeter playbook when Skip Swiezynski joined the Exeter staff. Swiezynski ran that offense when he was the head coach at Trinity of Manchester, Bishop Brady of Concord and Timberlane of Plaistow.
Ball said he's always tried to stay away from offenses that rely heavily on the quarterback.
"My feeling has always been at this level you have to be real careful about being quarterback dependent," he said. "There are injuries, and bad weather - that's another thing. We play in New England, not down South.
"You want to create conflict on the defense. I think certainly the spread is the new thing, especially with all of the 7-on-7s the kids are playing in, but our guys know there's a recipe and a way we do things. The truth is it's been good to us."
O'Reilly insists he's never considered changing his offense. He said he likes the deception it provides.
"If you do your faking properly, the defense is supposed to be frozen," he said. "The other thing I like about it is the flexibility to make the offense fit my personnel. We can run outside, we can run power. We can even drop back and throw it if we want to - and we've done that."
Exeter will enter Saturday's contest ranked No. 1 in the Union Leader/WGIR/WGAM Power Poll. Pinkerton is ranked No. 2. Pinkerton (393 points) and Exeter (390) also rank No. 1 and No. 2 in scoring among Division I teams, but neither coach cares much about style points.
"When you run a ground-based offense you have to have thick skin, because everybody has a better way to do it," Ball said. "The object is to win, not make people happy."
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AN OPPOSING coach, Keene's John Luopa, on Saturday's Division II championship game between top-seeded Winnacunnet (10-1, 8-1) and second-seeded Bedford (9-1, 8-1): "I think it's going to be a very interesting game because it's two totally different styles of (offensive) football. One of they keys will probably be whether or not Winnacunnet turns the ball over on offense. Bedford is potent enough on offense and has an advantage with the skill guys. They have four or five guys who can really hurt you. Winnacunnet's advantage on offense is its size.
"Bedford is a different team on turf. Playing on grass - and I don't know how much grass is still on Winnacunnet's field - is something that I think plays into Winnacunnet's hands because of its size and strength. It will come down to the team that plays better on defense, gets a turnover and forces some punts."
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NO TEAM has faced more obstacles on its path to a championship this season than Portsmouth, which advanced to the Division III title game for the fifth consecutive season and the sixth time in the last seven years.
Third-seeded Portsmouth (8-2, 7-2), which will face fourth-seeded Goffstown (7-4, 6-3) Saturday in Portsmouth, has been forced to use four different starting quarterbacks this season because of injuries. The number grows to five if you include Dillon Crosby, who ran the Wildcat offense against Alvirne.
In addition, running back/defensive back Jack Mackey and running back/defensive back Peter Hamblett each suffered season-ending injuries early in the year.
"We're fortunate that we have some athletes and we were able to fill some holes," Portsmouth coach Bill Murphy said. "Because of the stuff that you do in the summer, the passing leagues and so forth, we had some kids who were acclimated to playing the quarterback position. Somebody always came in and did the job."
Saturday's contest will be the first time Portsmouth has played a championship game at home since 1976, when the Clippers beat Spaulding, 13-6, in the Division I title game.
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Roger Brown may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.