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Roger Brown's State of Sports: Warriors' record built on defense

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 12. 2017 9:18PM

Between now and Saturday night’s NHIAA Division I championship game you’ll be reading and hearing a lot about Winnacunnet of Hampton’s veer offense and the players who make it go: quarterback Pat MacDougall, running backs Billy Powers and Jordan Fuller, wide receiver Evan Welch and the big guys up front.

Winnacunnet’s 11-0 record wasn’t built on offense, however. The foundation for the team’s success this year is clearly defense, a unit that has been dominant for much of the season.

Defense is what carried the Warriors to a 21-6 victory over Goffstown in Saturday’s North/East semifinal. Winnacunnet held Goffstown to 183 yards of offense in that game, and the Grizzlies picked up most of that yardage on two plays: a 77-yard TD pass and a 31-yard pass on the game’s final play. Goffstown failed to pick up a first down on nine of its 13 possessions.

“They’re very good on defense,” Goffstown coach Justin Hufft said following Saturday’s game. “Very strong up front. Their ’backers run really well. They cover well in the back end.

“I love their (defensive) tackles (James Phennicie and Andrew Mills). They attack. They stay on the line of scrimmage, defeat blockers, eat up blockers and their ’backers are really good too. I think (Carter Havey) is one of the best linebackers in the state. So yeah, they’re a good unit.”

The Winnacunnet defense got everyone’s attention when it failed to allow more than eight points to any opponent during a five-game stretch in the middle of the regular season. The Warriors weren’t feasting on weak offenses either. They held Bedford to eight points, Exeter to seven points and Goffstown to six points during that span.

Winnacunnet’s only lackluster defensive performance came in a 34-33 overtime victory against Bedford in the Division I quarterfinals. Although porous at times, the Winnacunnet defense came up with the biggest play in that contest when it stopped a two-point-conversion attempt in overtime that could have handed Bedford the victory.

Defensively, the Warriors are exceptional at every level, but they’re particularly tough up front, where defensive ends Joseph MacDougall and Cameron Strukel team with Mills and Phennicie to form a wall that’s been tough to run against.

“We don’t have that one superstar, but across the board they’re all good,” Winnacunnet coach Ron Auffant said. “They just mesh well and they play well together. It’s a fast, athletic group.

“We’re simplifying a lot. Last year we got a little complicated and tried to over coach at times — too many coverages and this and that. So with high school kids we’ve simplified a lot of stuff defensively with these guys and just let them play.”

The toughest test for the Winnacunnet defense may come Saturday, when the Warriors face Pinkerton of Derry (10-1) in the Division I title game at the University of New Hampshire (6 p.m.). Pinkerton has scored 87 points in its two playoff games, including 45 Saturday against previously unbeaten Salem.

Since a regular-season loss to Salem in Week 4, these are the numbers that have appeared on the Pinkerton side of the scoreboard each week: 35, 49, 61, 49, 55, 56, 42, and 45.

The Winnacunnet/Pinkerton matchup will be Saturday’s dessert for NHIAA football fans. Earlier in the day, Monadnock (10-0) and Campbell (10-0) will meet for the Division III championship (11 a.m.), and Bow (8-2) will face Plymouth (10-0) for the Division II title (2:30 p.m.).

The Winnacunnet/Pinkerton game will be a bit of a David vs. Goliath matchup in that Pinkerton has the largest enrollment in the state (3,449 students) and Winnacunnet has the lowest enrollment of any non-private Division I school (1,078).

“Division I is tough, and we’re playing a big school like Pinkerton with a great tradition,” Auffant said. “Coach O’Reilly (Pinkerton coach Brian O’Reilly) is a legend, so we’re going to have our hands full.”

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THE BOWDOIN COLLEGE football team wrapped up its season with an 0-9 record following a 31-20 loss to Colby on Saturday, but former Bedford High School wide receiver Nick Vailas finished his college career on a high note.

Vailas tied the Bowdoin record for receptions in a game by catching 14 passes for 230 yards in the loss to Colby. His 230 receiving yards set the program’s single-game receiving record.

Earlier this season Vailas became the second player in Bowdoin history to catch at least 100 passes in his career when he hauled in eight passes for a career-high 167 yards in a loss to Wesleyan. Vailas caught 127 passes for 1,578 yards and 10 touchdowns during his four seasons with the Polar Bears. Pat Noone holds the school record for career receptions (176).

Vailas, a 2014 BHS graduate, played in both the CHaD New Hampshire East/West All-Star Game and the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl. He was also a Joe Yukica Scholar/Athlete award winner.

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AFTER a one-year stop at Gill Stadium, the New Hampshire American Legion Senior state tournament will return to Nashua’s Holman Stadium next year (July 27-31). The American Legion Junior tournament will be played at Portsmouth’s Leary Field (July 28- Aug. 1).

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