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September 03. 2014 7:36PM

NHIAA Div. I Football Preview: Will Tide roll to another crown?

Concord's Leo Sudieh bounces off Pinkerton's TJ Urbanik during the Queen City Football Jamboree held at Gill Stadium in Manchester on Friday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

Division I Football Scoop

What's new: Portsmouth, which lost to Plymouth Regional in last year's Division II championship game, has moved up to Division I. Portsmouth replaced Manchester West, which dropped from Division I to Division II, and will compete in Division I East. Timberlane of Plaistow moved from Division I East to Division I North, and Goffstown moved from Division I South to Division I North. In addition, the Division I championship game will be played at UNH's Cowell Stadium on Nov. 22 (6 p.m.). All three NHIAA title games will be played at UNH that day.
East: Dover, Exeter, Portsmouth, Spaulding and Winnacunnet.
North: Bedford, Concord, Goffstown, Manchester Central and Manchester Memorial.
South: Londonderry, Merrimack, Pinkerton, Salem and Timberlane.
West: Alvirne, Bishop Guertin, Keene, Nashua North and Nashua South.

Players to watch: Joe Auger Jr./RB (Portsmouth), Dennis Bishop Sr./RB (Londonderry). Kyle Cantalupo Jr./PK (Pinkerton), Mark Cicchini Sr./RB (Exeter), Jesse Claus Sr./DB (Nashua South), Andrew Decarteret Sr./LB (Nashua South), Quintin Desjardins Sr./OL/DE (Portsmouth), Eric Fairweather Sr./DB (Londonderry), Tyler Furey Jr./RB (Timberlane), Casey Gervais Jr./QB (Goffstown), Eric Glassman Sr./DE (Bedford), Nate Guillermo Sr./WR (Central), Jason Hansen Sr./LB/RB (Pinkerton), Dave Harvey Sr./OL/DE (Exeter), Daquan Henclewood Sr./RB (Memorial), Chris Henry Sr./G/DE (Exeter), Austin Homsey Sr./TE/LB (Salem), Jackson Housman Sr./RB (Bishop Guertin); Jason Hughes Jr./QB/P (Timberlane), Demitri Jackson Sr./RB (Nashua North), Evan Jones Sr./C (Portsmouth), Tim Lane Sr./RB (Keene), Matt Lavallee Sr./OL (Nashua North), Robbie Law Sr./QB (Concord), Wyatt Labombard Sr./DT (Concord), Christian Marquis Sr./WR (Goffstown), Justin Mattis-Clark Sr./OL/DL (Portsmouth), Sean Nartif Jr./OL/DE (Salem), Josh Perry Sr./RB (Nashua South), Kelvin Rivera Sr./RB (Bishop Guertin), Drew Sanborn Sr./P (Bishop Guertin), Kris Skinner Sr./DL (Concord), Andrew Stevens Sr./WR (Alvirne), Hayden Sturdevant Jr./OL/DL (Pinkerton), Leo Sudieh Jr./RB (Concord), Jacob Szulc Sr./WR (Concord), Paul Teixeira Sr./WR (Goffstown), Mikel Toar Sr./FB/LB (Portsmouth), T.J. Urbanik Jr./RB (Pinkerton), Mike Vailas Sr./WR (Bedford), Isaac Velez Sr./Slot/CB (Memorial), Neil Vorster Sr./OL (Exeter).

Change at the top: Two Division I teams will enter the 2014 season with a first-year head coach: Alvirne (Tim Walsh) and Londonderry (Jimmy Lauzon).

Circle this date: Pinkerton will travel to Stellos Stadium to face Nashua South on Sept. 12 in a Week 2 matchup between two of the top teams in the state. The outcome of this contest will undoubtedly cause some movement at or near the top of the Union Leader/WGIR/WMUR Power Poll.

Trending: Pinkerton has reached the Division I championship game in each of the past four seasons. The Astros are 1-3 in those four contests.

The search for the favorite in Division I high school football this season begins in Concord, where several key ingredients return from a team that went 12-0 and won the 2013 Division I title.

Quarterback Robbie Law, running back Leo Sudieh, receiver Jacob Szulc and two-way linemen Kris Skinner and Wyatt LaBombard are among the top players from a year ago who are still on the Crimson Tide roster.

Law set the school record for passing yards in a season last year (1,623), when Concord set the program’s record for points scored in a season (509).

Concord was a unanimous No. 1 selection in the Union Leader/WGIR/WMUR Power Poll.

“I’d say Concord is the team to beat,” Salem coach Rob Pike said. “They haven’t lost in a long time and they have a lot of guys back and they’re well coached, but it’s wide open right now. There will be a team hanging around the playoff chase nobody is talking about now.”

After Concord, it’s the usual cast of characters: Pinkerton Academy of Derry, Exeter and Nashua South. Pinkerton, which lost to Concord in last year’s championship game, may be a more well-rounded team that it was a year ago, when the Astros relied heavily on running Manny Latimore and linebacker Matt Madden.

Running back T.J. Urbanik, quarterback Jack Hanaway and lineman Hayden Sturdevant are some of the players expected to lead this year’s Pinkerton team.

“Our young players have stepped up,” Pinkerton coach Brian O’Reilly said. “We’re going to be OK. Jack (Hanaway) is back at quarterback, our receivers are back, our line is bigger than ever. Defensively we should be in good shape. We return two of our three linebackers, and they’re both our captains, and three veterans return in the secondary.”

Nashua South lost quarterback Trevor Knight (now playing at the University of New Hampshire), but has nine players on each side of the ball with significant experience. Exeter and Bedford, another championship contender, each had about 140 players turn out for football this season.

“I’d say Concord is the favorite, and then I’d say Pinkerton, Exeter and Bedford — just because of their numbers,” Nashua South coach Scott Knight said. “Numbers doesn’t always mean you’re good, but you have a pretty darned good chance. There’s always Central because it’s a big school, a lot of kids. You know there are some good athletes there.”

Like any healthy economy, there’s also a strong middle class. That group includes Bishop Guertin of Nashua, Keene, Londonderry, Nashua North, Portsmouth, Spaulding of Rochester, Winnacunnet of Hampton, Goffstown and Central.

Portsmouth made the jump to Division I this season after six consecutive playoff appearances in Division II and Division III. Keene, Londonderry, Spaulding and Central were also playoff teams last season, and appear to have enough talent to get back to the postseason this year.

Alvirne, Dover, Manchester Memorial, Merrimack, Salem and Timberlane of Plaistow are among the programs that failed to make the playoffs last year and are looking for better results in 2014.

“I think the division is going to be good,” Merrimack coach Dante Laurendi said. “It’s a physical division up and down. In Division I, if you can just survive the punches, anybody can knock off anybody. I don’t think it’s a top-heavy division. You have to fight all the way through.”

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