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Roger Brown's H.S. Football: Exeter defense faces a tall task

By ROGER BROWN
September 13. 2018 11:13PM




WHEN the Exeter High School and Pinkerton Academy football programs last met, the Blue Hawks turned in what had to be one of the best defensive efforts in the program’s history. The result was a 10-0 victory in the 2015 Division I semifinals in Derry.

The Exeter defense smothered Pinkerton for four quarters and held the Astros to 107 yards of offense in that contest. Pinkerton didn’t run a play on Exeter’s half of the field.

It would be unrealistic for Exeter fans to expect a similar defensive performance when the teams meet tonight in Derry, but there’s no doubt the Blue Hawks will have to be extra sharp on that side of the ball to have any shot at an upset. Pinkerton, the No. 1 team in the Union Leader Power Poll, is 2-0 and has scored 104 points in those two victories. No NHIAA team has scored more points this season.

“It always starts with defense with us,” Exeter coach Bill Ball said. “Really, really good (Pinkerton) team. Defensively they’re active. Run to the ball well. Linebackers run well. Secondary flows well.

“Offensively it’s always the same. It’s a cadre of backs, whether it’s (Gannon) Fast, whether it’s (Gennaro) Marra. There’s about four other guys that are really good backs. And Brian (Pinkerton coach Brian O’Reilly) does a really good job coaching them.”

Pinkerton rushed for 445 yards and seven touchdowns during last week’s 56-28 victory against Dover. In addition to a dominant running game, Pinkerton has the ability to throw the football. That’s what makes this Pinkerton offense especially tough to defend.

Quarterback Aiden Goujon is in his third season as Pinkerton’s starting quarterback. He completed 46 of 110 passes for 1,154 yards and 13 touchdowns with one interception last season.

“That’s the issue,” Ball said. “He throws extremely well. He’s a threat to run. He’s a threat to throw. He can put the ball where it needs to be, and he’s got some good receivers. We have to be at our absolute best defensively for 48 (minutes) plus.”

Exeter (1-1) opened its season with a 28-7 loss at Salem, but regained the services of starting quarterback Jack Gillis for last Friday’s 35-6 victory over Timberlane. The Blue Hawks are No. 9 in the Power Poll.

Now in his 41st season as Pinkerton’s head coach, O’Reilly has a career record of 305-114. He has guided the Astros to the Division I championship game in 11 of the last 14 seasons.

“Outstanding team and it’s always a great challenge going to Pinkerton,” Ball said. “That rivalry goes back a long time, even though we skipped it a while. When I got here in the late 70s it was alive and well.

“Exeter-Pinkerton is always a big game. This is a big week for us.”

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HOW IMPORTANT has senior running back/defensive back Owen Brickley been to Plymouth’s success this season? The Bobcats are 2-0 entering Saturday’s game against Gilford/Belmont, and Plymouth coach Chris Sanborn said without Brickley his team would be 0-2.

Brickley has scored two touchdowns in each of Plymouth’s two games. He scored a rushing touchdown and on a punt return during a 19-7 triumph over Bow, and ran for a touchdown and caught a TD pass during Saturday’s 27-13 victory over John Stark.

“He’s our best player,” Sanborn said. “We played two good teams and he still had those kind of games. He’s fast and shifty. He’s rugged, but he can really cut. I’ve also been impressed with him from Day 1 by his ability to tackle in open space.”

Brickley, who is used at both safety and cornerback on defense, suffered a broken collarbone during a playoff game against St. Thomas as a sophomore and didn’t play in the semifinals or Plymouth’s victory over Bow in the Division II championship game. He was one of several good options the Plymouth offense has last season when the Bobcats beat Bow for the Division II title again, but he’s been a much bigger piece of the puzzle this season.

Brickley is one of Plymouth’s captains. He’s also a captain for the Plymouth varsity basketball and baseball teams.

“This year you kind of expected him to be good, but I gotta tell you without him we really would be 0-2,” Sanborn said. “He’s been better than advertised.”

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DESPITE losing three of its four starters on the defensive line from a year ago, the Stevens of Claremont defense hasn’t allowed a point in its first two games. Stevens has beaten Epping/Newmarket 41-0 and Newport 19-0.

“When you consider we lost three all-state linemen, two defensive ends and one interior tackle, we’re playing better than I thought we would, let’s put it that way,” Stevens coach Paul Silva said. “Everybody looks at the scores, but we’re only two weeks in and our schedule ratchets up the next couple weeks.”

Safety Baylor Rozell intercepted two passes in last weekend’s victory over Newport. The Cardinals have also been getting strong performances from defensive end Josh Stithen, outside linebacker Keaghan McAllister and middle linebacker Quentin Bicknell. Stithen, a senior, played football as a sophomore, but wasn’t on the team last season.

“I didn’t know what to expect from a guy who had been out for a year,” Silva said. “He’s been fantastic for us. Does everything we ask.

“You don’t see too many middle linebackers who also play quarterback, like Bicknell. He started for us (at linebacker) as a freshman two years ago. He plays downhill and has a nose for the ball.”

The Stevens defense took a hit right before the season began when defensive coordinator Arik Anderson landed a new job that prevented him from remaining on the coaching staff. Silva talked former defensive coordinator Bill Gobin into joining the staff.

“We were very lucky there,” Silva said. “Couldn’t ask for a smoother transition. I don’t know where I’d be without him.”

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Newfound at Raymond looks like the most attractive matchup in Division IV this weekend. It’s the only Division IV game on the schedule in which neither team has a loss.

Newfound opened with a 61-13 victory over Bishop Brady on Saturday, and Raymond handled Fall Mountain 20-12.

rbrown@unionleader.com


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