Awards handed out at annual Francoer Huddle in Manchester
The curtain was pulled on the 2012 NHIAA football season Thursday night, when the Joe Yukica Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame held its annual Jeff Francoeur Huddle at Manchester's Sweeney Post.
Yukica, who coached at Dartmouth, UNH and Boston College, was the event's featured speaker.
Franklin Pierce University sprint football head coach Peter Ewald, St. Anselm College defensive coordinator Rob Eggerling, Plymouth State head coach Paul Castonia, Dartmouth College director of football operations Joe McIntyre, UNH assistant coach Brian Barbato and Nick Vailas, founder of the CHaD East-West High School All-Star Game, were among the other guest speakers. In addition, Bedford's Steve Hall was named the outstanding high school football official of the year.
The coaches of this year's six high school state champions were also honored:
Bill Ball (Exeter): Ball guided Exeter to its second consecutive Division I championship and the No. 1 ranking in the Union Leader/WGIR/WGAM Power Poll. Exeter's 31-21 triumph over Pinkerton of Derry in the Division I championship game handed Ball his seventh state title in his 20 seasons as Exeter's head coach.
Ron Auffant (Winnacunnet of Hampton): Auffant guided Winnacunnet to a 21-13 victory over Bedford in the Division II championship game, which gave the program its first state title since 2000 and the No. 2 position in the Power Poll. It was Winnacunnet's sixth playoff appearance and fourth appearance in a championship game since Auffant took over as Winnacunnet's head coach in 2004.
Bill Murphy (Portsmouth): Perhaps no coach overcame more adversity on the path to a state title this season than Murphy. The Clippers started four different quarterbacks because of injuries, but qualified for the playoffs as the No. 4 seed and beat Goffstown, 54-27, in the Division III championship game. Portsmouth, which also won the Division III championship as the No. 4 seed last year, finished sixth in the Power Poll.
Chuck Lenahan (Plymouth): Plymouth capped an unbeaten season (11-0) by beating Trinity of Manchester, 7-0, in the Division IV championship game. It was Lenahan's 19th state title and 13th unbeaten season in his 42 years as Plymouth's head coach. Lenahan completed the season with a 345-69-1 career record. No high school football coach in New England has more career victories. Plymouth earned the No. 7 spot in the Power Poll.
Linwood Patnode (Monadnock of East Swanzey): Monadnock defeated top-seeded Somersworth, 9-0, in the Division V championship game. It was Monadnock's first state championship in the program's 51-year history. The Huskies finished the season with an 8-2 record and didn't allow more than seven points in seven of their eight victories.
Greg Husband (Franklin): Franklin punctuated its season with a 42-22 victory over top-seeded Mascoma Valley of Canaan of in the Division VI championship game. It was Franklin's fifth state title, and its first since 2008. The Golden Tornadoes ended the season with a 9-2 record. One of their losses was a 26-13 setback against Mascoma in Week 1.
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IT MAY be hard to believe that a regular-season game between Exeter and Winnacunnet could carry more meaning than it already does, but that will be the case next season when the two schools will be part of a revamped Division I.
Exeter and Winnacunnet - programs that form what is arguably the best rivalry in NHIAA football - will both be in Division I East with Dover, Spaulding and Timberlane. The Blue Hawks and Warriors used to compete in Division II until Exeter moved to Division I after the 2009 season.
The teams have played a non-league contest in each of the last three seasons, but the result of those games carried no weight outside of tiebreaker scenarios. When Exeter travels to Winnacunnet in Week 3 next season, the game will count in the Division I standings.
"The crowd we had at the Exeter game this year was bigger than the crowd at our state championship game, so it always means something," Auffant said. "Now it's going to be even better. It's going to be exciting."
Division I will feature four five-team conferences. Teams from Division I East will play each other as well as the five teams from Division I West: Alvirne, Bishop Guertin, Keene, Nashua North and Nashua South.
Division I North, which features Manchester's three public high school teams plus Bedford and Concord, will play each other, as well as the teams from Division I South: Goffstown, Londonderry, Merrimack, Pinkerton and Salem.
Division II will also feature four five-team conferences, but the teams will not play a balanced non-conference schedule. Plymouth (Division II North) will play Portsmouth but will not play every other team in Portsmouth's conference.
"Some of that was for competitive reasons, some was for parity and some was for geography," said Winnacunnet athletic director Carol Dozibrin, the chair of the NHIAA football committee. "We tried to do what made the most sense for Division II."
The Division III schedule has not been finalized.
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TYLER GRANT, a senior running back/defensive back who has led Exeter to the Division I championship in each of the last two seasons, was named the Gatorade Player of the Year on Thursday.
Grant rushed for 1,238 yards and 20 touchdowns on 173 carries this season. He also caught 12 passes for 217 yards and three TDs.
On defense, he recorded 47 tackles and led the team with three interceptions. He also forced three fumbles and had three fumble recoveries.
"He's a model student athlete," Ball said. "Does a terrific job in the classroom, a terrific job in the community and an unbelievable job on the football field. Coachable. What you get from him is 100 percent every day and nothing less."
Recent Gatorade Players of the Year from New Hampshire include Jake Kiley (New Hampton School/2011), Max Jacques (Salem/2009 and 2010), David Zocco (Nashua South/2008) and Billy Ferriter (Nashua South/2007).
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ACCORDING TO Fall Mountain of Langdon coach Frank Brown, the Wildcats plan to play a varsity schedule in 2013.
Fall Mountain decided to play a junior varsity schedule in 2012 after its petition to drop from Division V to Division VI was denied.
"We would have taken a physical pounding," Brown said. "We felt Division VI would have been far more competitive for us physically.
"This year helped us develop some first-time players. We'll still be in the same boat next year numbers-wise, but we're going to press forward. The opportunity is there. We're fully funded and ready to go."
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Roger Brown covers high school football for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.