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NHIAA D-I Football Championship: Winnacunnet's versatile weapon

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 16. 2017 3:06AM
Winnacunnet's James Phennicie (facing camera) works on a blocking drill with teammate Joseph MacDougall during practice in Hampton on Wednesday. The Warriors face Pinkerton on Saturday in the Division I championship game. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Winnacunnet coach Ron Auffant huddles with his team during practice in Hampton on Wednesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

HAMPTON — First and foremost, James Phennicie is a defensive tackle, but he also plays a large role in a small slice of Winnacunnet High School’s offensive playbook.

Phennicie, a 6-foot-1, 265-pound junior, occasionally lines up in the backfield in short-yardage situations. It’s not uncommon for a team to use a lineman as a blocking back, but what makes Phennicie unique is that the Warriors often hand him the ball.

That’s what happened during Winnacunnet’s 21-6 victory over Goffstown in Saturday’s Division I semifinals. With Winnacunnet leading 7-0 in the third quarter, Phennicie entered the game for a fourth-and-1 play from the Goffstown 4-yard line. Phennicie took the handoff and met little resistance before he entered the end zone.

“Way back we ran a package similar to this, so I brought it up to Ryan (offensive coordinator Ryan Francoeur) and said, ‘Let’s use Phennicie because he’s not starting on the offensive line,’” head coach Ron Auffant said. “We didn’t want to rob Peter to pay Paul. I said, ‘Let’s put him back there in the Power-I for short yardage and call it the Jumbo package.’”

Winnacunnet, which will face Pinkerton Academy in Saturday’s Division I championship game, installed its “Jumbo” package before its regular-season game against Goffstown.

“We were in the weight room and (coach Auffant) told me we were going to be putting in this play,” Phennicie recalled. “Then he drew it on the board for me. We put it in in practice. I expected to be more of a blocker, but he did say there were a couple plays where I would get the ball.

“It’s a lineman’s dream to get in the end zone any way it happens.”

Phennicie carried the ball twice in the regular-season game against Goffstown, a 9-6 Winnacunnet victory. He picked up 3 yards on a third-and-3 play, and gained another 3 yards on fourth-and-1 play late in the second half.

Phennicie does have some other experience as a running back on his resume. In seventh grade he was used in the backfield whenever his team attempted a two-point conversion.

Despite his success carrying the football, Phennicie’s performance on the defensive side of the ball will likely be more of a factor when Winnacunnet (11-0) faces Pinkerton (10-1) Saturday at the University of New Hampshire. The Astros are averaging 44.4 points per game, and have scored 87 points in their two playoff games.

Winnacunnet has surrendered 145 points in its 11 games, and has limited six opponents to eight points or less. The Warriors, who use a four-man defensive front, have been particularly stingy against the run.

“He causes teams to have to double team him,” Auffant said. “You can’t really single block him. If you single block him he’s too good. So if you have to double team him it frees up linebackers. That’s been big for us.

“We need to contain what they (the Astros) do best, and from what I’ve seen on film that’s their running game.”

The Division I championship game will be a rare meeting between Winnacunnet and Pinkerton, programs that have faced each other once in Auffant’s 18 years with the Winnacunnet program (14 as the head coach). Winnacunnet beat Pinkerton, 17-7, in Derry in 2015.

If Winnacunnet prevails Saturday the Warriors will have completed the first unbeaten season in school history.

“We always knew back in sixth and seventh grade that this was our year,” Phennicie said. “We always looked forward to this year.”

NHIAA Hampton