PREPARING A TEAM to play well in a playoff game is never easy, but the task can become more challenging when the teams also faced each other the previous week. If nothing else, it gives a head coach a few extra things to think about.
If a team posted a double-digit victory in the final game of the regular season, for example, the winning coach might have a hard time keeping his team focused, and convincing his players that they can’t take anything for granted in the rematch. After all, we are talking about teenagers.
There’s also situations where one or both teams had very little, if anything, at stake in the first meeting. Those teams can be vanilla on both sides of the ball, so you’re never sure what you’re going to get the second time around.
“The first thing you have to do is talk to your guys and make sure they understand it’s a whole different season — the most important season has begun,” said Exeter coach Bill Ball, whose team beat Nashua South 30-14 last weekend and will also face South in Saturday’s Division I quarterfinals. “That adds a whole different element to it right there.
“Everybody has their base and everybody hangs their hat on certain things, but everybody has more. It does present a challenge there. You’re always concerned about trying to foreshadow what’s going to happen ... predict what’s going to happen. You want to make sure you have enough in your game plan to make adjustments if teams do change up.”
The Exeter-South matchup is one of three playoff games Saturday that features teams that also met last weekend. The others are the Division II games between eighth-seeded Souhegan (5-4) and top-seeded Bow (9-0), and seventh-seeded Alvirne (6-3) and second-seeded Milford (8-1). Bow beat Souhegan 41-31, and Milford topped Alvirne in overtime, 28-27.
Milford played Alvirne, and Bow faced Souhegan on the final weekend of the regular season and in the first round of the playoffs last year as well. In each case, the same team won both games (Souhegan and Alvirne).
Souhegan coach Robin Bowkett said playing the same opponent during the final week of the regular season and in the first round of the playoffs has advantages as well.
“One advantage is by the end of the regular season that’s who that team is,” he said. “If you played them Week 2, they may have still been working out the kinks, trying to figure out who to get the ball to — things like that.”
Alvirne coach Tarek Rothe said as long as each team is playing for something meaningful in the first meeting (playoff berth, home playoff game, etc.) and goes all out to win, he likes finishing the regular season against the same opponent his team is going to face during the first round of the playoffs.
“I do because it’s fresh in your mind,” he said. “I was probably up until 3 or 4 in the morning (last Saturday) wondering what I should have done different against Milford.
“You can tell your team anything you want, but ultimately it’s in the hands of 17-year-old kids.”
You have to wonder how much sleep Londonderry coach Jimmy Lauzon got this week. Lauzon has the best team he’s coached since he took over the Londonderry program in 2014, and who do the Lancers draw in the Division I quarterfinals? Their nemesis: Pinkerton.
For those who don’t know, Pinkerton had won 22 games in a row against Londonderry until the Lancers prevailed 42-24 in Derry during the regular season. The teams will meet Saturday in Londonderry, which is where the fourth-seeded Astros upset the top-seeded Lancers in the quarters last year.
Londonderry, the No. 1 team in the Union Leader Power Poll, pulled away from No. 6 Pinkerton during the regular-season meeting by outscoring the Astros 28-7 in the second quarter to take a 35-7 lead into halftime. Pinkerton pulled within 11 points before Londonderry quarterback Jake McEachern scored on a 10-yard run with 7:40 to play.
Pinkerton leads the all-time series between the rival schools 32-7.
One thing Souhegan will have to do to give itself a chance of upsetting top-seeded Bow on Saturday is limit running back Steve Guerrette’s production. Guerrette ran for 268 yards and five touchdowns on 28 carries in Bow’s victory over Souhegan last weekend. Guerrette has run for 1,140 yards and scored 19 touchdowns this season.
“He’s all of 6-2 and 200 pounds,” Bowkett said. “He’s a bruiser, and he’s always falling forward. Definitely one of the best players in our division.”
Fall Mountain of Langdon’s Division IV semifinal against Raymond is the program’s first playoff game since 1994, when the Wildcats lost to Somersworth in the Division III semifinals. Fall Mountain is 0-3 in the postseason since the NHIAA instituted a playoff format in 1972. The Wildcats lost to Plymouth in the 1977 Division III championship game, and to Newport in the 1991 Division III semifinals.
Fall Mountain is one of seven current NHIAA programs that has never won an NHIAA playoff game. The others are Raymond (0-1), Merrimack Valley of Penacook (0-2), ConVal of Peterborough (0-2), John Stark of Weare (0-3), Newfound of Bristol (0-4) and Manchester West (0-6).
Here’s our best guess as to which team will win the state championship in each of the four divisions:
Division I: Londonderry.
The Lancers have most talented roster in the state.
Division II: Hollis/Brookline.
There are at least five, and maybe six teams capable of winning the Division II championship.
Division III: Lebanon.
The margin that separates No. 1 Lebanon, No. 2 Trinity and No. 3 Campbell is razor thin.
Division IV: Winnisquam.
The Bears are two touchdowns better than any other team in the division.
NHIAA teams with the most playoff victories: Plymouth (54), Pinkerton (38), Exeter (27), Bishop Guertin (21), Laconia (20) and Londonderry (20)