How do you know when you've handed a team a thorough beating? When that team revamps its defense immediately after the loss.
That's what the Portsmouth High School football team did following its season-opening 58-37 loss to Trinity of Manchester. The Clippers lined up in a 5-2 defense and played their defensive backs close to the line of scrimmage that night, and Trinity quarterback Carmen Giampetruzzi burned them by completing 11 of 15 passes for 358 yards and four touchdowns.
Portsmouth's base defense has been a 4-4 since that game.
"A lot of it was our fault," Portsmouth coach Brian Pafford said when asked about that setback against Trinity. "We tried to play the run too much. We underestimated their speed. We won't do that again."
Third-seeded Trinity (8-2) and second-seeded Portsmouth (9-1) will meet in today's Division II semifinals at Portsmouth's Tom Daubney Field. The opening kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.
The Trinity-Portsmouth winner will face either top-seeded Plymouth Regional (9-1) or fourth-seeded Sanborn Regional of Kingston (6-4) in next weekend's Division II championship game.
"The coverages that they were showing us just allowed us to throw the ball," Trinity coach Steve Burns said. "They played up on us and we were able to get by them. I'm not expecting to see a lot of man (coverage) this time. I think we'll see a lot of zone."
The game features two of the top quarterbacks in the state. Giampetruzzi recently signed a National Letter of Intent to play baseball at Boston College. Portsmouth's Donovan Phanor has completed 80 of 147 passes for 1,354 yards and 15 TDs this season (four interceptions). He has also run the ball 98 times for 640 yards and 11 TDs.
Phanor left the game after he was injured on Portsmouth's second offensive series in the earlier meeting with Trinity this season. Nate McFarland, Portsmouth's No. 2 quarterback, was also injured in that contest.
"Phanor is very dangerous," Burns said. "He's a threat every time he touches the ball, and he touches it on every play."
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MIDDLE LINEBACKER Jake Valinski is one of 17 Newmarket residents on an Epping-Newmarket team that will face Stevens of Claremont in Saturday's Division III semifinals. Valinski, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior, will enter that game as the program's all-time leading tackler (421).
"He's at another level," Epping-Newmarket coach Ross Salovitch said. "He has a good nose for the football. There's very little he can't do in the middle of a defense. He's definitely something special."
Third-seeded Epping-Newmarket will also be looking for a big game from fullback Joe Leclerc, who holds the school record for yards rushing in a season (1,214).
The winner between third-seeded Epping-Newmarket (5-4) and second-seeded Stevens (7-2) will face either top-seeded Bow (8-1) or fourth-seeded Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough of Meredith (5-4) in the Division III title game.
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SATURDAY'S Division I semifinal between third-seeded Pinkerton Academy of Derry (8-2) and second-seeded Keene (8-2) will be the first playoff game between those programs since Pinkerton posted a 52-0 victory in the 1986 Division I championship game played at Manchester's Gill Stadium.
The Pinkerton backfield that day featured Ryan Mihalko, who went on to play at Notre Dame; and Joe Segreti, who played for Holy Cross. Senior Manny Latimore is the key figure in the Pinkerton backfield this season. Latimore will enter today's contest with 1,406 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns on 150 carries.
Fourth-seeded Exeter (7-3) will face top-seeded Concord (10-0) in Saturday's other Division I semifinal.
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BECAUSE he's gained a school-record 1,338 yards on the ground this season, Bow junior Matt Ehrenberg makes most of the headlines. Defense may be the prime reason Bow has reached the Division III semifinals, however.
The Falcons are allowing an average of 9.3 points per game this season, and six of their opponents failed to score more than seven points. Bow has three shutouts, one of which came in its earlier meeting with Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough (33-0).
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BRIAN GRIDLEY resigned as Pembroke Academy's football coach Thursday night, ending his second stint as the program's head coach.
Gridley was Pembroke's head coach from 1997 to 2001, and from 2010 to 2013.
"It has been a lot of fun, but my daughter, Rachel, is 8 and I want to watch her grow up and play soccer and ice hockey," Gridley said. "There were only five seniors on this year's team and a great junior class coming back. It's a great opportunity for the next PA coach."
Roger Brown covers high school football for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @603sportsmedia.