THE 2020 NHIAA football season will kick off at locations throughout the state tonight. To many, this is a very big deal.
New Hampshire is the only New England state that will offer tackle football at the high school level this fall, and is one of 34 states scheduled to be playing 11-on-11 high school football by the end of October. COVID-19 caused some states, like Massachusetts, to push high school football to later in the school year. Other states will not have a football season.
“Our team, like so many around the state, has put in a lot of work while dealing with an unprecedented set of circumstances,” Windham coach Jack Byrne said. “The current world situation has pushed our seniors to become even better leaders than they already were. The chance of losing football really revealed how much our guys loved the hard work and how much they love the game.”
Currently, 54 of the 58 NHIAA schools that offer football are moving forward with a season this fall. ConVal, Epping/Newmarket, Kearsarge and Somersworth have not approved football, although Somersworth school officials have said there’s still a chance they could play games at some point.
“We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to get to participate this fall,” Souhegan coach Robin Bowkett said.
Things will have a different look this season for sure. Teams will play no more than five regular-season games; restrictions have been placed on crowd size and many safety protocols will be in place for players, coaches, officials and media members.
Other things have changed for reasons unrelated to COVID-19. NHIAA realignment took place after the 2019 season and altered each of the state’s four divisions. Here’s how things will look for the next two seasons:
DIVISION I (20 teams)
North: Bedford, Concord, Goffstown, Manchester Central and Manchester Memorial.
South: Londonderry, Pinkerton Academy, Salem, Alvirne and Windham.
East: Dover, Exeter, Portsmouth/Oyster River, Spaulding and Winnacunnet.
West: Bishop Guertin, Keene, Merrimack, Nashua North and Nashua South.
DIVISION II (18 teams)
East: Gilford/Belmont, Kennett, Kingswood, Merrimack Valley, Pembroke Academy, Plymouth, Sanborn, St. Thomas and Timberlane.
West: Bow, Hanover, Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton, Hollis/Brookline, John Stark, Lebanon, Milford, Souhegan and Manchester West.
DIVISION III (10 teams)
North: Laconia, Winnisquam, Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough and Stevens.
South: Pelham, Trinity, Monadnock and Campbell.
DIVISION IV (10 teams)
Bishop Brady, Epping/Newmarket, Fall Mountain, Farmington/Nute, Franklin, Mascoma, Newfound, Newport, Raymond and Somersworth.
EACH of the four divisions will have an open tournament this year, which means every team playing football this fall will be able to participate in the playoffs. Divisions III and IV will each have an eight-team tournament, since eight of the 10 schools in each division opted to play football this season. Division III has been divided into two four-team conferences, and the North champion will play the South champion in the Division III championship game.
Things are a little trickier in the larger divisions. Since both Division I and Division II have more than 16 teams, five weeks will be needed to complete the playoffs before Thanksgiving. Week 5 will be a play-in week for some teams in each of those divisions.
In Division II, the No. 8 and No. 9 seeded teams from each conference (East and West) will be involved in a play-in game to determine the two No. 8 seeds. Other Week 5 games will determine seeds 1-7. One team from the North and one from the South will meet in the Division II championship game.
Week 5 will also feature four play-in games in Division I, two in each 10-team bracket (North/East and South/West). No. 7 will face No. 10, and No. 8 will meet No. 9 in each bracket. As in Division II, the winners will advance to the Round of 16. The North/East champion will play the South/West champion in the Division I title game.
The NHIAA football point-rating system will be used to seed teams for the postseason. There’s still some uncertainty regarding what games will count toward a team’s rating. It could be all games, or only games between teams from the same division.
LONDONDERRY ended a 22-game losing streak to rival Pinkerton Academy when the Lancers beat the Astros 42-24 during the 2019 regular season. It was the first time Londonderry beat Pinkerton since 2001.
The teams will open the season against one another tonight in Londonderry. The Lancers also beat Pinkerton 45-3 in the Division I quarterfinals last season, but Pinkerton leads the all-time series 32-8-0.
The following teams have first-year head coaches: Bishop Brady (Tony Johnson); Epping/Newmarket (Nick Derocher); Goffstown (Nick Hammond); Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough (Paul Lavigne); Salem (Steve Abraham) and St. Thomas (Ed McDonough)
Former Brown University head coach Phil Estes has joined the Kingswood staff. Estes played at Laconia High School and the University of New Hampshire. Brown had a 115-94 record during his tenure as head coach from 1998 to 2018.
Union Leader Power Poll champions since the poll’s inception: 2008 (Nashua South), 2009 (Bishop Guertin), 2010 (Pinkerton), 2011 (Exeter), 2012 (Exeter), 2013 (Concord), 2014 (Pinkerton), 2015 (Goffstown), 2016 (Bedford), 2017 (Winnacunnet), 2018 (Bedford), 2019 (Londonderry).