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November 17. 2012 5:45PM

Power Poll: Exeter edges out Winnacunnet for top spot

WHAT TEAM should be ranked No. 1 in the final Union Leader/WGIR/WMUR Power Poll? Let the debate rage on – and there is something to debate.

Even though top-ranked Exeter beat No. 2 Pinkerton Academy, 31-21, in Saturday's Division I championship game, it's not as simple as keeping the Blue Hawks in the top spot. Or at least it shouldn't be.

Voters should at least consider putting Winnacunnet No. 1. After all, both Exeter and Winnacunnet finished the season with an 11-1 record, and Winnacunnet beat Exeter, 27-24, when the teams met in Hampton earlier this season. Some would say the argument ends right there, and put the Warriors at the top of their ballot.

There's no doubt a strong case can be made for Winnacunnet, which entered the weekend ranked No. 3 and won the Division II title by beating Bedford 21-13 Saturday. Winnacunnet's lone loss came at Keene while Winnacunnet head coach Ron Auffant was serving a one-game suspension. The only thing working against the Warriors is this: They didn't play a Division I schedule.

Division I wasn't particularly deep this season – two Division I teams lost to Division III opponents -- and you could argue that three of the state's top five teams reside in Division II (Bedford, Keene and Winnacunnet), but the feeling here is that Division I was still the better of the two divisions from top to bottom. In other words, Exeter played a tougher schedule that Winnacunnet.

Something voters should look at when considering each team's strength of schedule is the one common opponent Exeter and Winnacunnet played this season: Dover. Exeter routed Dover 42-7, but Winnacunnet needed overtime to pull out a 31-24 victory over the Green Wave. Dover also made life tough on Keene (21-20 loss) and Bedford (20-14 loss) – two Division II teams that qualified for the playoffs.

Exeter will be No. 1 on this voter's ballot because of its more difficult schedule and its overall body of work, which includes two victories over Pinkerton. That trumps Winnacunnet's three-point victory over Exeter on its home field. The complete ballot will look like this:

1. Exeter
2. Winnacunnet
3. Pinkerton
4. Bedford
5. Keene
6. Nashua South
7. Plymouth
8. Portsmouth
9. Souhegan
10. Bishop Guertin

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THIS YEAR'S six championship games were originally scheduled to be played at St. Anselm College on consecutive weekends, but that plan was put on hold for at least a year.

NHIAA football will shrink from six divisions to three next season, and Winnacunnet athletic director Carol Dozibrin, who is also the chair for the NHIAA football committee, said finding one site for each of the 2013 championship games is something the committee will work on during the offseason.

“The football committee is still interested in pursuing an option of holding the football playoffs next year at a neutral site,” Dozibrin said. “That is something that is still on the table and something we will be working on.”

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THE THANKSGIVING menu kicks off Wednesday night (6), when Salem will play at Lawrence, Mass. Thursday's games include Manchester Central against Trinity of Manchester at Gill Stadium (10:15 a.m.).

Thursday's schedule includes four other games that will start at 10 a.m.: Dover at Portsmouth, Souhegan at Merrimack, Nashua North at Nashua South and Somersworth at Spaulding.

The Souhegan/Merrimack game will be Mike Beliveau's final game on the Souhegan sideline. Beliveau announced his plans to step down after that game following Souhegan's loss to Goffstown in the Division III semifinals.

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Roger Brown covers high school football for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He can be reached at rbrown@unionleader.com.


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