IT MAY be hard to believe, but some NHIAA football teams will be playing their final regular-season games this weekend.
Because each of the four divisions will have an open tournament and all teams will be invited, play-in games will be needed in some divisions so the championship games can be held the weekend before Thanksgiving, as they traditionally are. Those play-in games are scheduled to begin next weekend.
Based on information provided by coaches, athletic directors and members of the NHIAA football committee, here’s the NHIAA’s plan for the football postseason, starting with Division IV and working our way up:
NOTE: It appears teams will be seeded based on win/loss record, and games played between teams from different divisions will count. Keep in mind that things can change in a hurry, as we’ve already seen this season, and there is a football committee meeting scheduled today at 1 p.m.
DIVISION IV: This is a 10-team division, and nine teams are playing football this fall. Somersworth and Epping (minus Newmarket) joined late. The quarterfinals are scheduled to be held Oct. 31. If all nine teams elect to participate in the postseason, a play-in game will be needed next weekend to trim the field to eight teams for the quarterfinals. One possible issue: Somersworth doesn’t play its first game until next weekend, so it will be interesting to see how the NHIAA determines which teams participate in the play-in game if there is one.
DIVISION III: Things appear to be straightforward in this division, which has 10 teams but only eight currently playing football. After Week 5 (next weekend) there will be three playoff rounds (quarterfinals, semifinals and championship game). No play-in game will be needed.
DIVISION II: Division II is an 18-team division, and all 18 schools are playing football this year. For playoff purposes, the division will be divided into four regional groups or “brackets.” Two brackets will have five teams and two will have four. Here’s how the brackets will look:
• Timberlane, Sanborn, St. Thomas and Pembroke.
• Souhegan, Milford, West and Hollis/Brookline.
• Lebanon, Hanover, John Stark, Hillsboro-Deering and Bow.
• Plymouth, Merrimack Valley, Kennett, Kingswood and Gilford/Belmont.
There will be a play-in game in each five-team bracket and the winner of each play-in game will earn the No. 4 seed. Teams not involved in a play-in game will play a Week 5 regular season game. Originally those Week 5 games were going to help determine the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, but now the plan is to have the seedings finalized after the Week 4 games. Teams will compete in their bracket until a champion is determined, so each bracket will have a representative in the semifinals.
DIVISION I: This is a 20-team division broken into four five-team brackets. All 20 teams are playing football this fall, although Pinkerton suspended fall sports on Wednesday. As in other divisions, some teams may also have travel restrictions that prevent them from competing in the postseason. If all five teams in a bracket are participating in the playoffs, a play-in game will be held in that bracket to determine the No. 4 seed. Everyone else will play a Week 5 contest. As in Division II, the Week 5 games will not help determine where teams are seeded. Teams will continue to compete in their bracket until a champion is determined. The four champions will advance to the semifinals.
For those in need of a refresher, the Division I brackets look like this:
East: Dover, Exeter, Portsmouth/Oyster River, Spaulding and Winnacunnet.
North: Bedford, Concord, Goffstown, Manchester Central and Manchester Memorial.
South: Alvirne, Londonderry, Pinkerton, Salem and Windham.
West: Bishop Guertin, Keene, Merrimack, Nashua North and Nashua South.
According to the NHIAA web site, the Division III and Division IV championship games will be played Nov. 14, each at a neutral site. The Division I and Division II championship games will be held Nov. 21, also at neutral sites.
Londonderry safety/slot receiver/kick returner Eric Raza sustained an ankle injury during a kickoff return against Bedford last Friday and will miss the rest of the season. Raza, a senior captain, was a two-way starter on Londonderry’s Division I championship team last year.
“When the injury happened he was upset and told me it wasn’t about the pain, it was about the end of his season,” Londonderry coach Jimmy Lauzon said. “I’m sure he’s down, but he’s handled it extremely well.
“Other guys will try to step up and replace him on the field but his leadership on the field is also a big loss, although I’m sure he’ll be with us every day. He’s just a great leader. Great kid.”
Four midweek changes were made to this weekend’s schedule:
• John Stark’s game against Bishop Brady was canceled because of injuries to several Bishop Brady players. The Generals will play at Hanover instead.
• As mentioned above, Pinkerton suspended fall sports for reasons related to COVID-19. That wiped out Pinkerton’s scheduled game against Salem tonight. The Blue Devils will be at home against Merrimack tonight instead.
• Merrimack was originally scheduled to play Nashua South tonight, but that game was cancelled for reasons related to COVID-19 as well. That allowed Merrimack to play Salem. South does not have a game.
• Friday’s Nashua North-Alvirne game was canceled, reportedly at Alvirne’s request.