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December 05. 2013 10:27PM

Divisions still under discussion

THE topics of discussion at Thursday night's Jeff Francoeur Football Huddle included this: What will NHIAA football look like next season?

The NHIAA experimented with a three-division format in 2013, and that format will remain in place at least through the 2015 season.

"It's going to be the same thing as last year, the same setup," said recently retired Plymouth Regional coach Chuck Lenahan, who led the Bobcats to a 20th state title (Division II) with a victory over Portsmouth on Nov. 23. "We're going to stick with it until the end of this (two-year) cycle, and that will give us three years to evaluate."

Not everything will remain status quo, however. Portsmouth, which has reached the championship game in its division in each of the last six years, will move from Division II to Division I. The Clippers will replace Manchester West, which will drop to Division II after an 0-9 season. In addition, Pelham, which competed in Division III last season, will move to Division II.

Division I will feature 20 teams next season, Division II will have 21 and Division III will have 16. The odd number of teams in Division II will require each team in that division to have an open date. Division III may have two eight-team conferences instead of four conferences with four teams in each.

"There will be some movement of teams within the conferences, but all that hasn't been finalized yet," said Lenahan, a member of the NHIAA football committee.

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THE HEAD COACHES from this year's three state championship teams — Lenahan, Concord's Eric Brown and Bow's Paul Cohen — were among those honored at The Huddle, which is sponsored by the Joe Yukica New Hampshire Chapter of the National Football Foundation.

Brown guided Concord to the school's first unbeaten, untied season (12-0) and the Division I championship. The Crimson Tide set a program record for points scored this season (509) and finished No. 1 in the Union Leader/WGIR/WMUR Power Poll following a 42-14 triumph over Pinkerton Academy of Derry in the Division I championship game.

Plymouth beat Portsmouth 21-14 in the Division II championship game, which was Lenahan's final game as Plymouth's head coach. The Bobcats won 20 state titles in Lenahan's 43 seasons on the sideline. He retired with a career record of 356-70-1.

Cohen steered Bow to the program's second state title. The Falcons, who beat Stevens of Claremont 20-6 in the Division III championship game, finished with a 10-1 record and set the school record for victories in a season.

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NO TEAM had a bigger turnaround in 2013 than Merrimack Valley of Penacook, which finished with a 7-3 record following a loss to Portsmouth in the Division II East championship game. It was the program's first playoff appearance, and came in Dave Jackson's third year as the program's head coach.

Until this year, Merrimack Valley hadn't won more than five games in a season since the school first fielded a varsity football team in 2002. The Pride finished 1-9 in 2011 and 0-9 last season.

"There's still buzz in the school," Jackson said. "I think it just came down to more kids buying in to what we wanted them to do this year. That, and we had a lot better leadership. Hopefully this will set the tone for our program in the future."

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THE NHIAA is still waiting to hear from the University of New Hampshire regarding the possibility of playing all three state championship games at UNH's Cowell Stadium next season.
"Hopefully there's a good possibility it wil happen," Lenahan said.

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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. Follow him on Twitter: @603sportsmedia.


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