181111-spt-campbell4

Campbell High’s Keegan Mills takes flight during the Division III state semifinals last season against Stevens. Mills was injured later in the game and missed the state final, but he’s back healthy this season.

Campbell High School of Litchfield and Monadnock Regional of Swanzey have met in the Division III championship game in each of the past two years with each team winning once, but don’t count on seeing a rubber match this season.

For starters, Monadnock was a senior-laden team last season and was gutted by graduation. There’s also this: Division III appears to be much deeper this year than it was last season. At least four teams — perhaps five or six — have a realistic chance of advancing to the Division III title game.

Let’s start with Campbell, which dropped a 15-12 decision to Monadnock in the 2018 championship game. The Cougars return seven starters on each side of the ball, including running back/linebacker Keegan Mills, a four-year starter who missed last year’s championship game with a foot injury.

“Campbell has Mills back so they have to be the front-runner,” Lebanon coach Chris Childs said. “I definitely think there are three or four teams that could be in the running. In this division it’s all about health. If they had Mills for the championship, do they win that game?

“After that, I would say there’s us, Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton — you can’t sleep on them — and Trinity, which has a lot of good skill kids back. Monadnock isn’t the same team as they were last year, but they’re not as down as people think they are. Who knows? At they end they could be there too.”

Lebanon and Trinity each return 17 starters, and each team qualified for the playoffs last season. Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton also has plenty of experience. The Redhawks return 16 starters — eight on each side — from a team that earned the program’s first playoff victory last season. It wouldn’t be wise to look past Stevens either, since the Cardinals have one of the top players in the division in running back Keaghan McAllister.

Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough has a void to fill with the graduation of 6-foot-2, 270-pound offensive lineman Ryan Caswell, who was selected to play in the 2019 CHaD East-West All-Star Game; and Laconia will build around fullback/linebacker Tyler Richter and guard/defensive tackle Bryce McCrea. The Sachems have switched to an option offense with senior quarterback Ryan Dee, who missed last season with an arm injury.

There are four new head coaches in the division this year: Anthony Nalen (Epping/Newmarket), Cody Anderson (Kearsarge/Mount Royal), John Proper (Newport) and Jeremy Lambert (Somersworth).

“We’re looking at the same teams we had trouble with last year in terms of teams that should be there,” Trinity coach Rob Cathcart said. “Campbell ... obviously you have to expect them to be involved in it. Stevens is a scrappy team that plays real hard. They have a good coach and a good concept. I know Lebanon gave us trouble. Those are the three I think have a good shot to do some things.

“We have a lot back. We just have to take it one at a time and try to be there at the end. We have a job to do to get there.”

Players to Watch

Peter Alisandro (QB/DB) Trinity; Cam Barrett (RB/LB) Campbell; Quentin Bicknell (QB/LB) Stevens; Ryan Dee (QB) Laconia; Joey Drew (DT) Monadnock; Avery Fraser (G/LB) Trinity; Nolan Haley (OT/DT) Kearsarge; Nathan Harris (WR/LB) Kearsarge; Jack Horne (TE/DE/S); Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton; Justin Joslyn (RB/LB) Monadnock; Phil Mason (OT/DT) Stevens; Keaghan McAllister (RB/DB) Stevens; Bryce McCrea (G/DT) Laconia; DeMarco McKissac (OL/DE) Laconia; Philip Mellish (RB/LB) Lebanon; Keegan Mills (RB/LB) Campbell; Josh Mondragon (OL/DL) Lebanon; Andrew Normandin (WR/DB) Kearsarge; Colby Quiet (RB/LB) Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton; Wade Rainey (RB/LB) Lebanon; Tyler Richter (FB/LB) Laconia; Caleb Smith (TE/DE) Lebanon; Conor Sweeney (RB/DB) Campbell; Paul Taraszuk (OT/DT) Campbell; Tre Taylor (RB/CB) Trinity; John Thibault (RB/LB) Trinity; Carter Vedrani (TE/LB) Campbell; Vincent Waddell (G/LB) Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton.

Three Key Games

Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton at Monadnock (Oct. 11)

This game will be a measuring stick for Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton. It could be one for Monadnock, too.

Stevens at Trinity (Oct. 25)

Have to believe there will be plenty at stake when these teams meet in Manchester. There’s a chance this could be Trinity’s first game on its new turf field.

Campbell at Lebanon (Nov. 1)

This matchup falls on the regular season’s last weekend. It’ll come as a surprise if at least one of these teams isn’t still in the hunt for the No. 1 seed.