Division I semifinal: Regular-season matchup was decided by one point.
PINKERTON ACADEMY has reached the Division I championship game in 11 of the last 14 seasons, and the Astros are one victory away from getting there again this season.
Salem is the team standing in Pinkerton’s way. The third-seeded Blue Devils (8-2) beat fourth-seeded Pinkerton (8-2) 15-14 during the regular season and will be at home when the teams meet in Saturday’s Division I semifinals.
“They’re always in it,” Salem coach Rob Pike said. “I’m sure they’ll come here Saturday and be ready to roll.”
The regular-season game between these teams was decided on a bad snap on a point-after attempt that Salem turned into a two-point conversion late in the second quarter. Kyle Poulin’s pass to Brandon Wall for the conversion capped the scoring.
Pinkerton running back Gannon Fast scored on runs of 7 and 8 yards in that contest. He gained 127 yards on 13 rushing attempts in the loss.
Wall gained 145 yards on 27 carries and scored on a 4-yard run. The Astros (8-2) led 14-7 until Poulin connected with Michael Ference for a 33-yard TD pass with three seconds left in the half.
Pinkerton was limited to 15 offensive plays and three first downs in the second half of the game.
“Both defenses played well,” Pike said. “We’ll have to try and slow down their running game.”
Pinkerton also lost to Salem in the regular season a year ago, but upset an unbeaten Salem team in the semifinals. The Blue Devils will be attempting to advance to the Division I championship game for the first time since 2009, when they beat Nashua North 28-21 to win the title.
“As always, turnovers will be a factor,” Pike said. “If we can come out plus in the turnover battle, it’ll certainly increase our chances.”
Winnisquam Regional, which first fielded a varsity football team in 2005, will attempt to make history Saturday. If top-seeded Winnisquam (8-0) defeats third-seeded Franklin (6-2) in the Division IV championship game, the Bears will have finished unbeaten for the first time in the program’s history and earned the program’s first championship as well.
Winnisquam’s only other appearance in a championship game came in 2009, when it lost to Inter-Lakes, 6-0, in the Division VI title game.
Franklin’s biggest challenge will be containing a Winnisquam offense that scored 31 points or more in six of its eight games. The Golden Tornadoes did a respectable job against the Bears’ offense when the teams met during the regular season. Winnisquam prevailed 20-0, but its defense scored one of the three touchdowns in that game.
Sophomore Phil Nichols gives Winnisquam a run/pass threat from the quarterback position. Nichols has run for 531 yards and nine touchdowns on 34 attempts, and has completed 54 of 99 passes for 968 yards and 10 TDs with four interceptions. Junior Gunnar Horman is his favorite target. Horman has 29 receptions for 570 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Bears can also attack on the ground with bruising fullback Angelo Glover, who enters Saturday’s matchup with 1,056 yards rushing and 13 TDs on the ground this season.
The Franklin program is no stranger to championships. The Golden Tornadoes won their last title in 2012 by beating Mascoma Valley in the Division VI championship game. Franklin also won the 2008 Division VI championship by beating Campbell 8-0.
Franklin shared the 1964 Division IV championship with Towle High School (Newport); won the Division IV championship in 1966 and claimed the Class M-S championship in 1991.
Franklin will be looking for big games from quarterback Kainan Clark and running back Taryn Laramie, who also takes direct snaps from center.
It may seem like old times for Souhegan assistant coach Mike Beliveau when the fifth-seeded Sabers (7-3) visit top-seeded Plymouth (10-0) in Saturday’s Division II semifinals. Beliveau was Souhegan’s head coach when the Sabers and Bobcats met in the Division III championship game in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2007.
Plymouth won each of those four meetings, but Beliveau said one of his greatest coaching memories came when Souhegan beat Plymouth 14-7 on the road during the 2004 regular season. The Sabers also beat the Bobcats in the Division III semifinals that year before knocking off Milford in the Division III championship game.
“No doubt about it,” Beliveau said. “Finally breaking the ice against them, and doing it up at Plymouth. The irony is Colin Bowkett (the younger brother of current Souhegan coach Robin Bowkett) volunteered to play center that day. Plymouth had an unbelievable nose guard who was a wrestler. Just unblockable. Colin was about half his size, but gave him all he wanted and more that day.
“Other than that what do I remember? Too many lopsided losses. I just felt bad about not being competitive in those games.”
At the top of Souhegan’s to-do list Saturday is containing Plymouth running back Owen Brickley, who has run for 1,265 yards and 17 touchdowns on 338 carries this season. Brickley has also returned four punts for 128 yards, and has three kickoff returns for 117 yards.
Second-seeded Merrimack (8-2) has a tall task when it travels to top-seeded Bedford (10-0) for Saturday’s Division I semifinals. The Bulldogs are the only unbeaten team in the division, and breezed past the Tomahawks 56-14 two weeks ago.
“They could have beaten us 150-0 that night,” Merrimack coach Kip Jackson said. “The score wasn’t even indicative of how one-sided that game was.”
Bedford led 28-0 after one quarter that night. Bedford quarterback Thomas Morgan ran for three touchdowns and had two touchdown passes in the first half of that game.
Jackson said controlling the time of possession and avoiding turnovers will be among the things the Tomahawks will have to do Saturday to be competitive.
“And a better job tackling,” he said. “I’m hoping our kids aren’t shell-shocked and come ready to play.”
The Division III championship game could feature the same two teams that met for the title last year, when Campbell beat Monadnock 12-6. Both teams have to be considered heavy favorites in Saturday’s semifinal matchups.
Top-seeded Monadnock (10-0) will face fourth-seeded Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton (7-3), a third-year varsity program that made the playoffs for the first time this season. Monadnock beat H-D/H 46-6 during the regular season.
Third-seeded Campbell (8-2) will meet seventh-seeded Stevens (6-4). The Cardinals entered the playoffs with a four-game losing streak, but upset second-seeded Trinity, 7-0, in the quarterfinals. Campbell and Stevens didn’t meet during the regular season, but the Cardinals did upset the Cougars in the quarterfinals two years ago.
The Joe Yukica Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame will hold its annual Jeff Francoeur Huddle on Nov. 29 at Manchester’s Sweeney Post. All coaches, officials and others interested in New Hampshire high school and college football are invited to attend.