NHIAA Div. III Football Championship Preview: Defense, QBs right formula for Portsmouth
Portsmouth at a glanceRecord: 7-2 Division III, 8-2 overall
Win streak: 2 games
History: Defending champions make their fifth consecutive appearance in the final; defeated Bedford in last year's championship, 41-6.
Coach: Bill Murphy, 17th season, 82-96 record; 8 playoff appearances, one championship
Captains: DT Ricky Holt, C-DT Kurtis Leonard, RB-DB Dillon Crosby, WR-DB Colin MacDonald
Other key players: QB Donovan Phanor, RB Mike Toar, WR Jake Becker, WR Taylor Henschke, QB Travis MacDonald, DB Chris Main, QB Nate McFarland
Portsmouth's run to the Division III football championship is a story of defensive excellence and a quintet of quarterbacks. Yes, five of them.
The season took a dramatic turn when projected starting QB Travis MacDonald, a senior, suffered a broken collarbone in preseason. Junior Donovan Phanor and Nate McFarland filled in admirably but also missed significant action with injuries. Connor DiCesare and sophomore Dillon Crosby have also taken snaps for the defending champion Clippers (8-2), who host Goffstown (6-5) on Saturday at 1 p.m.
"We've weathered some storms," said Portsmouth coach Bill Murphy. "We have some depth, and we have some kids who've really worked hard as a group and filled in for each other."
MacDonald re-injured his collarbone on Oct. 26 and is listed as "doubtful" for Saturday's game - the fifth straight championship appearance by Portsmouth. Phanor, a junior, will get the start at quarterback. He missed the final two games of the regular season with a knee injury but returned last week for the semifinals, rushing for 100 yards and throwing a 15-yard touchdown pass to Jake Becker in Portsmouth's 7-0 win over Milford.
Murphy has spent equal time studying his play chart and depth chart.
Crosby, a dynamic tailback, has filled in to briefly run his version of a "Wildcat" offense. DiCesare, the fourth-string QB, played against Milford and completed eight of 21 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown. MacDonald returned from his collarbone injury and relieved Phanor (knee injury) against Pembroke on Oct. 19. MacDonald's touchdown pass to Taylor Henschke at the end of the first half was the play of the game in Portsmouth's 24-8 home win at Daubney Field.
"Dillon probably had the hardest transition (at quarterback) because he's always been a natural running back," Murphy said. "All of a sudden, he stepped in there out of necessity (against Pembroke) and did the job, and we won the game. My coaches have done an exceptional job keeping everyone on the same page."
Portsmouth's defense, led by senior lineman Ricky Holt, has posted two straight shutouts and yielded the fewest points (125) in the division this season. Holt earned a taste of varsity football as a freshman and will play in his fourth consecutive championship game. The 6-foot-4, 260-pounder plays tackle on both sides of the ball. He is being recruited by schools in the Colonial Athletic Association, including the University of New Hampshire.
Portsmouth easily handled Goffstown during the regular season, posting a 56-22 home win. In that game, McFarland tossed four touchdown passes and had a 17-yard touchdown run.