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Roger Brown's H.S. Football: Old school in session Saturday

By ROGER BROWN
New Hampshire Union Leader

November 16. 2017 8:30PM


If you attend any or all of the NHIAA championship games at the University of New Hampshire on Saturday, you won’t see wide receivers lined up in two-by-two or three-by-one formations on each side of the field — at least not very often. What you will see are old-school offenses. Check out these matchups:

Division III: Monadnock (Wishbone) vs. Campbell (Single Wing)

Division II: Plymouth (Wing-T) vs. Bow (Wing-T)

Division I: Winnacunnet (Veer) vs. Pinkerton (Wing-T)

This isn’t to suggest the spread formation is no longer in style or effective — nearly half of the high school teams in the state use it — but, for whatever reason, teams that run the spread weren’t “la creme de la creme” this year.

“I saw an article in the Nashua paper a few years ago and I wish I had saved it,” Plymouth coach Chris Sanborn said. “Basically the article said the Wing-T is dead. If you’re not running it (the spread) you’re behind. Pinkerton won the title that year running the Wing-T.

“It’s what works. It’s what fits your personnel. It always comes down to execution.”

Unlike so many coaches who steadfastly stick to their offensive system year after year, often jamming square pegs into round holes, Campbell coach Greg Gush is a chameleon. He ran the spread for his first three years as Campbell’s head coach — the Cougars won the Division III title using the spread in 2014 — switched to the Pro-I (one back) last season and then, after bumping into Pop Warner at breakfast one morning last winter, decided to install the antiquated but effective Single-Wing offense this season.

“One of the things that makes our staff good, not necessarily me, but my guys, is they’re very good at evaluating ‘What are we? And what can we do?’” Gush explained. “The willingness to adapt to what you have is critical.”

When Monadnock’s Ryan Avery was elevated from assistant coach to head coach after Linwood Patnode stepped down following the 2016 season, he stuck with the Wishbone offense that has treated the Huskies so well in recent years. Pinkerton’s Brian O’Reilly has won a few games — 294 by our count — using the Wing-T, and you won’t see Winnacunnet straying from the Veer anytime soon.

Of the six NHIAA teams that will play for a state championship Saturday, Bow may have the most “wide open” offense, only because it uses a wide variety of formations. When you boil it down though, the Falcons are a Wing-T team.

“We use multiple sets and we do run some spread, but it’s far from our primary set,” Bow coach Paul Cohen explained. “I don’t think the spread is necessarily a bad offense. We faced some teams that ran the spread, but really didn’t have the personnel to run that offense. You need a solid quarterback and fast, shifty wide receivers. It all depends on the personnel that you have.”

O’Reilly said he’s not surprised no spread teams played their way to UNH this year.

“The spread is a college offense that’s an outstanding offense when you have the right people to run it,” he said. “In high school, to copy a college offense and not have the dynamic athletes colleges have, you don’t get to use it the way it’s meant to be utilized.

“When I had Bryan Farris (a Pinkerton quarterback who later played at Yale) we ran the spread before anyone else was running the spread, but it was just a one-year thing. We’re always, always going to be a Wing-T team as long as I’m here.”

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PERHAPS the most intriguing game Saturday is the Division III contest between top-seeded Monadnock (10-0) and second-seeded Campbell (10-0). Both teams feature punishing running games, but what really stands out is each team’s defense.

Monadnock has allowed 51 points in its 10 games and has posted four shutouts. The Huskies have allowed three points in their two playoff games.

Campbell has limited its 10 opponents to 38 points. The Cougars have six shutouts, and Somersworth, which suffered a 47-14 loss to Campbell, is the only team that has scored more than nine points against the Cougars.

Stevens, last year’s Division III champion, provided each team with its toughest test. Monadnock beat Stevens 8-6 on the regular season’s final weekend, and Campbell handed Stevens a 33-0 loss in last weekend’s semifinals. Stevens trailed 6-0 at halftime of that game, and 14-0 entering the fourth quarter.

“They both play great defense and they’re solid at all three levels,” Stevens coach Paul Silva said. “Neither of these teams has given up anything on the ground and that’s what both teams do. It might come down to who can make a couple plays in the passing game.

“I think it’s going to be a fantastic game. If you’re going to UNH, get there early because that first game (Monadnock-Campbell) could be as entertaining as any of them.”

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YOU COULD make a case that no team in NHIAA history has had more standing between it and a state championship than Bow, which is the No. 8 seed in Division II.

No team in any division has captured a state title by winning three games away from home since the NHIAA expanded the playoff format from four to eight teams in 2013, and if Bow (8-2) does defeat Plymouth (10-0) to win the Division II title the Falcons will have defeated three teams that were previously unbeaten in the process (No. 1 Windham, No. 4 Hanover and No. 2 Plymouth).

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THE MARQUEE MATCHUP in the Division I game is Winnacunnet’s dominant defense against an equally dominant Pinkerton running game.

Winnacunnet (11-0) played three consecutive games against playoff teams (Bedford, Exeter and Goffstown) during the regular season and held those teams to a total of 21 points. Bedford scored 33 points in an overtime loss to Winnacunnet in the Division I quarterfinals, but the Warriors limited Goffstown to six first downs during a 21-6 victory in Saturday’s semifinals.

Pinkerton (10-1) has been a point-producing machine all season, and you’ll need both hands to count the number of quality running backs the Astros have unleashed this season.

Pinkerton scored at least 42 points in each of its last seven games, and in eight of its 11 games this season.

“What it comes down to is blocking,” O’Reilly said. “The caliber of your running backs take a back seat to the caliber of your offensive and defensive lines. If you’re a running team and your offensive line can get control of the situation, you’re home free for the day.

“If we can’t run on Saturday night, we’ll just throw the ball on every down if we have to. Some years in the Wing-T, you can’t do that. I assume Ron (Winnacunnet coach Ron Auffant) feels the same way. I know their quarterback (Pat MacDougall) can throw. We’re two running teams that can throw the football.”

rbrown@unionleader.com


NHIAA

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